Thursday, February 3, 2011

Diary of a Child Advocate

When I was studying at the University of Texas at Austin in the late 80s to early 90s, I became exposed to so many different forms of music. One form that particularly appealed to me was what is classified as ‘easy listening.’ My favorite group in that genre was and still is The Carpenters. Something about their songs is so soothing to me.
One of my Carpenters’ favorites is Bless the Beasts and the Children. My roommate and I always stayed up late after hours studying and I would often call my favorite radio station because at night they took requests. I often requested that song. I wasn’t even sure why it appealed to me so much but it always seemed to strike the right chord in me.
Almost 20 years later now, I reflect on that song and I know just why it appealed to me so much. It really states something so deep and profound. Check out this excerpt from the song:
By the Carpenters

Bless the beasts and the children
for in this world they have no voice
they have no choice

Bless the beasts and the children
for the world can never be
the world they see

Light their way
when the darkness surrounds them
give them love
let it shine all around them

Bless the beasts and the children
give them shelter from the storm
Keep them safe
Keep them warm

As I look at these lyrics, there’s little wonder why the song appeals to me so much. The fact is that the most vulnerable citizens of this world are the beasts and the children. I’d like to focus on the ‘children’ part of the song, if you don’t mind.

Each day, children are born under various conditions. Some are born to happily married couples; some are born outside of marriage; some as a result of unintended pregnancies. And we could name so many more scenarios that all come back to the same point – they are born, through no choice of their own. They come into the world and until they grow to an age when they can be self-sufficient, they need love, care and devotion in order for them to be the best that they can be.

For quite some time, I’ve had a special place in my heart for kids. Perhaps it’s because during my own childhood, though I had a wonderful home life, I had a very challenging time socially. My speech impediment which caused me to stutter was just one of the many issues that caused me to develop very low self esteem and self confidence. I just wanted to fit in like other kids but those efforts seemed perpetually futile.

Having that experience has given me a special compassion for children. During high school, I was the lead nursery attendant at our church after my sister, who previously held that position, went off to college. To me, reading to children or playing with them and seeing their eyes light up is priceless.

Babies come into the world without prejudice or resentment to anyone. They are innocent as doves. My mom always says, "To the pure, all things are pure." Our innocent, pure kids are the most vulnerable people in society because, as the song says, “…in this world, they have no voice; they have no choice.” Decisions are made on their behalf and whether they like it or not, they have to go along with them.

It really does concern me that every day adults make life altering decisions that affect children in negative ways. Some fathers routinely make decisions to abandon kids because they are an inconvenience that they didn’t want. Some mothers make decisions to keep children away from fathers because they hold a grudge against the men who they're no longer in love with. Courts make decisions that significantly impact the direction of children’s lives and at times, those decisions are made without much basis.

I am a volunteer with a local organization in the Miami area. In that organization, I mentor fathers in the inner city. Just yesterday I went to a meeting at which a family law attorney spoke with the fathers. The attorney shared very good information about how the family law system functions. She said something that resonated with me. Her words were, “Sometimes custody is decided based on whether or not the judge got up in a bad mood that day.” That statement, as shocking as it may sound, is very true.

I am the father of two kids – a 12 year old daughter  and a son who will turn 6 months old this weekend. They are my life and my world. I see in them true greatness that will impact the next generation in a positive way, even as young as they are.

My daughter is from my first marriage. As I shared in the post The Story Behind the Upbeat Dad, when that marriage dissolved, I really had a difficult time dealing with the different issues that arose – legal and otherwise. But when the dust settled, I just wanted to know that the decisions that were made by adults on my daughter’s behalf were in her best interest. Because in the grand scheme of things, my agenda was irrelevant – and so was the agenda of my former wife. All that mattered was what was best for our daughter and her future.

I see myself as a child advocate more than anything. I am not on the side of fathers; neither am I on the side of mothers; I am on the side of children. I believe that today, almost 10 years after that difficult chapter of my life, my daughter is quite fine. I have been an advocate of hers since the moment she was conceived and I continue to this day. And for our son, the same applies. I’m an advocate of his as well. My wife and I are determined to provide both of our kids the best environment in which they can not only survive but also thrive.

In one of my poems I wrote:

How precious are the children
The lights that light our homes;
To know them is to love them
The love that angels know.

Children are so wonderful, so innocent, so special. If we as parents and other adults would really seek to become their advocates instead of seeking our own agendas at times, I believe that each of our kids would be much better for it. In this world they have no voice, as the song says. Therefore, won’t you be that voice for a precious child. Their only voice might just be yours. They deserve the best decisions to be made on their behalf.

Please join me in this quest to advocate for those who will lead our world for the next generation. Anything less than our very best effort is not good enough. Let’s endeavor to do our best for those who in this world “have no voice.”

Enjoy your day.

The Upbeat Dad

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