Archive for December, 2019

December 28, 2019

Families can change

by Rod Smith

The Mercury / Friday

I love families no matter how complex, and all are.

No exceptions!

After many years of being in a family and consulting with families here are a few enduring truths:

• Faith, language, culture, nationality, wealth or poverty, educated or uneducated, make very little difference in how people love and hurt each other. Jealousy is jealousy, selfishness is selfishness. Brave love is brave love and forgiveness is powerful no matter where or who you are.

• Themes repeat in families despite loving efforts to avoid negative generational patterns. An ignored problem does not disappear. It will go into hiding, brew, and emerge into something more pernicious than when initially denied. But, change, real change, is possible. Authentic change comes at a cost that is well worth it. Nonetheless, there will always be some family members who resist it. Bank on it.

• Keys to family change are held by any family members who are willing to risk everything in pursuit of individual emotional health. Those who are determined to remain “connected” to family while simultaneously refusing to be sucked into the family issues are the ones who are most empowered to bring lasting change.

• All growth and change, even when planned and desired, will involve grief, and loss, and will require the courage to move into new, unknown territory. “Unknown”? Yes, if “growth” leads you into what you planned or attempted to control, it’s probably not real growth.

December 24, 2019

Today I’m 65

by Rod Smith

The Mercury / Tuesday

On Christmas Eve I’ll be 65. My grandparents were 65. Then, dad. Then my sister, brother.

Now it’s my turn.

Our mother died at 53.

I won’t ask where did the time go. I know where it went. I watched it, year by year, felt them coming.

Soon I will have spent more of my life in the USA than South Africa. That’s astounding to me.

For almost a third of my life I have woken every weekday to write for The Mercury, a newspaper thousands of miles away. I also spent a good portion of life playing music at Umhlanga’s Oyster Box Hotel.

Most fulfillment has come from being a dad, a sibling, traveler, and speaker. I frequently look at an audience and consider the irony. Any second my life-long stutter can rise and arrest every sentence and bring it to a grinding halt.

I have been loved beyond reason. I have used and hurt people. There are times the memories of my willfulness and selfishness stop me in my tracks, keep me awake at night. Unsettles my bones.

The years reveal that, like you, I am “fearfully and wonderfully made.” They confirm I am flawed, fallible, often fragile.

They loudly declare I have known grace, kindness, and generosity wildly beyond my deserving.

Despite common belief, Christmas Eve is a great day to have a birthday, even if you have to draw attention to it yourself!

December 19, 2019

Teach your daughters

by Rod Smith

Parents please teach your daughters:

• You never have to shrink, soft-pedal, or sell yourself short, in order to secure a loving, lasting relationship. Any potential partner that is threatened by the power of your personality or the breadth of your talent is not worth your time or investment. Move on.

• You do not have to give up your dreams, talents, desires, and skills in exchange for a loving relationship. The potential partner who is man enough to love you will amplify your dreams, talents, and skills. He will do nothing at all to try and silence you. This is to be especially noted in religious circles – flee communities that silence women.

• You do not have to hide your imperfections or pretend they do not exist. The person who is man enough to respect and love you will not expect you to be perfect and will seldom notice your shortcomings. A loving man will regard your imperfections as assets.

• You will benefit from having Zero Tolerance for people with less than perfect manners. If a potential partner swears at people, if he’s short-tempered, if he’s unkind to strangers – move on. There are myriads of men who are pure-mouthed, patient, and kind. Why would you spend a minute longer with one who is not?

As requested by Luther Matsen.

December 16, 2019

How to be good

by Rod Smith

The Mercury / Tuesday

How to be good – a personal challenge for you, and especially for me…

1. Focus on your most immediate relationships. Do the kind thing, the right thing, and the honest thing, with the people closest to you. No one can be really good if he or she is only good to the people whom he or she knows only casually. It is easy to come off to strangers as a great or wonderful person when at the same time you are treating those who live and work with you with less than perfect respect. Being good begins at home.

2. Focus on being faithful to yourself and others. This is more than honesty, sexual fidelity, or financial integrity. It’s about all that AND it’s about protecting the reputations of others, standing up for what is right. It’s speaking up about matters of justice at times when it is much easier to remain silent and anonymous or remain out of the fray. Faithfulness is a heart condition.

3. Focus on setting the trend, on determining the tone, on deciding to lead in precarious or difficult situations. Lead, rather take your cue from others, or allow people’s seemingly natural negativity to determine your responses. Leading anything, especially for goodness’s sake, takes remarkable courage.

December 9, 2019

Your family is organic…….

by Rod Smith

Mercury, Tuesday……

Your family is ORGANIC.

It’s a living, growing entity.

While all sane parents want to do what is good and right for their children, we get into trouble in our parenting when we look for sure-fire formulas, quick fixes, rigid rules, easy solutions.

Children enter the organic system jam-packed with POTENTIAL and our challenges as parents are multifold:

To –

• engage without manipulating

• encourage without indulging

• discipline without squelching

• protect without over-or-under protecting

• be aware without prying or policing

• love without worrying

• help without over-functioning

• be present without dominating

• get “out of the way” without disappearing

Your child is probably stronger than you think, more resilient than he or she may appear, and probably wants more and more “space” to be, to grow, to discover, than he or she is letting on.

December 9, 2019

Five things I know about divorce

by Rod Smith

The Mercury

Divorce is as war. It is rare indeed for things NOT to get really ugly even with people who appear reasonable, amicable, and when both parties desire the divorce and still claim they love each other.

Divorce turns children into diplomats, negotiators, tight-rope walkers, no matter how much the divorcing parents try to avoid this from occurring. It is better accepted than denied.

Divorce is sometimes necessary, even unavoidable. It is necessary where there is on-going infidelity, violence, cruelty. It is necessary for “the persistent, slow murder of a woman” through the covert and overt controlling behavior of a jealous or possessive husband. I am sure there are men who are victims of this pathological behavior. In my limited experience it has always been the woman.

Divorce challenges the couples’ long-term friendships with people the couple knew under happier circumstances. It takes great wisdom and courage for “outsiders” to remain neutral. These connections often do not last. Sides will be taken.

While many couples try to resist involving lawyers it is my opinion that person is better off using his or her own lawyer. I have known several couples who admit that remaining married might have been easier than being divorced. Divorce may solve some aspects of a couples issues but it also creates issues of its own.

There is life after divorce – it just may take a while to really find it. Patience, patience, patience.

December 6, 2019

I want my children…….

by Rod Smith

The Mercury

I want my children….

• To know and to love the world and to be as comfortable and free abroad as they usually are in their neighborhood and always are in their home.

• To be aware and proud of their race and history without allowing the bigots of this world to determine anything about their futures or to wield any power over my sons at all.

• To know and to love a small group of peers and to discover the power that friendship has to shape and inspire.

• To live in respectful, equal, and mutual intimate relationships where they are challenged to speak their minds, explore their hearts, share dreams, and understand and deploy the qualities of mercy, freedom, reciprocity, and creativity.

• To understand the power generosity, forgiveness, and hospitality have to heal the scars of meanness, madness, and cruelty.

• To understand their boundaries and have growing knowledge of who they are and who they are not, what they can and cannot shape, what they are and are not able to control.

• To have a growing, vibrant faith that includes, loves, accepts, and learns from those who mainstream faiths have, very unfortunately, traditionally rejected or marginalized.

• To have “unconquerable soul(s)” – heads that are “unbowed” and to become people who are unafraid as they learn to be “master(s) of their fate” and “captain(s) of their soul(s)” (INVICTUS).

December 5, 2019

Naming my fears

by Rod Smith

Sometimes my fears are loud, dominating, even crippling. Usually, they whisper or lurk beneath the surface.

If one of my sons calls unusually late at night my anxiety surges. It subsides when he expresses a typically benign request. Sometimes one calls just to say goodnight.  

A really large tree fell on our house once and sometimes I fear it happening again. Although not enough to avoid certain foods, I fear my arteries clogging. I fear my children rebelling in ways costly to all of us, although neither overtly reveals harmful inclinations.

My fears, perhaps like  yours, are linked to experience, to regrets, to horrible mistakes, and therefore they do make some sense.

My more subtle, even ominous fears, are about living with my successes as if there are to be no more. I fear my age rendering me invisible. I fear my sons treating me like I treated my dad when I was their age. I don’t fear a heart attack as much as I fear living halfheartedly. I don’t worry as much about a tree falling on our home as much as I do about living in one that is unwelcoming to strangers.

Naming my fears, I find, fuels my faith.

Let me know yours, please. 

December 2, 2019

Some boys want to be like their daddies

by Rod Smith

I wasn’t the child who wanted to be like his daddy.

I am now.

As a boy I could see only his failings. As a man, I see his successes.

His addiction to alcohol ruined so much.

When I was 12 he went to Alcoholics Anonymous and got sober.

It took me quite a few years to see that he was sober for much longer than he was a drunk. It took me longer to find out that In his sobriety he helped many, many men re-establish their broken lives as they too joined AA and had my dad as their sponsor.

Also, he was also ripped off a lot.

But, here’s the thing, he almost always knew it. The people who ripped off were seldom fooling him.

As I assess his apparent willingness to be ripped off I know it was always attached to a perceived need. I know because I heard the debates.

“Yes,” he’d say to our mother, “I know they probably won’t pay the loan but there are children involved.”

Of course no one wants to be ripped off but I am not sure he was given that he was a willing accomplice with a benevolent goal.

These are just two of about 12 reasons I want to be like my dad.