Letters to the Editor

This is Perspectives for Saturday, June 14, 2008

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THUMBS UP

Houston County eighth-graders who scored better than the state average on the CRCT math section of the test. Forty percent of the state's students failed the test, compared to only 22 percent in Houston County.

THUMBS DOWN

The Medical Center of Central Georgia received only $3.55 million from the Trauma Commission for unreimbursed expenses.

THEY SAY

Quotes from last week's newsmakers:

"This little bit helps but doesn't come close to solving the problem."

- The Medical Center's Andy Galloway commenting on the Georgia Trauma Commission's decision to give more money to smaller facilities and to the state's lack of a long-term funding source to help manage trauma expenses.

"I think the only other acceptable solution is to lay off employees."

- Macon City Councilman Erick Erickson commenting on what the city must do if it does not privatize garbage pick up.

"I endorse him and throw my full support behind him and I ask of you to join me in working as hard for Barack Obama as you have for me."

- Sen. Hillary Clinton

For Father's Day: Son of a ....'

Get this: Dads are essential to kids.

According to the National Fatherhood Initiative, kids who grow up without dads are more likely to grow up poor, drop out of school, end up in jail and encounter numerous other struggles in life than kids who grow up with dads.

This information comes as no shock to most men. We know that boys are prone to stupidity and that the creature best suited to taming them is the like-minded fellow called dad.

When I was five, my father told me to stop jumping around the tub, but I did so anyway. I slipped and hit my head on a ceramic soap dish. It busted into a dozen pieces. My father responded to my stupidity the way he often did.

"Son of a !!!"

I pretended to be hurt, but he knew I was fine. He knew a noggin as hard as mine could have busted a dozen soap dishes without so much as a bruise. Breaking things was one of my talents.

Over the years, I clogged a toilet with an apple core, shattered a picture window with a baseball and hit a golf ball through a neighbor's window (I fled, was later apprehended and had to mow a lot of lawns to pay my father back for the cost of a new window).

I made it hard for my father to fix the things I broke, though. This is because I lost many of his tools over the years. I was permitted to use them to build shacks and go-carts, so long as I put them back where they belonged. But I didn't always put them back. He'd usually find them lying in the yard â” after hitting them with the lawnmower blade â” which prompted a familiar reaction.

"Son of a !!!"

When I was a teen, I destroyed more expensive items, such as automobiles. My father made the mistake of purchasing a 1979 Ford Pinto with a powerful six-cylinder motor â” it could burn rubber at will.

When he discovered that a right-rear tire only six weeks old was worn to the threads, he had but one response.

"Son of a !!!"

In addition to costing him money, I saw it as my duty to butt heads with him â” or, to be more precise, it was his duty to butt heads with me. He grew up without a father and he remembered the dumb things he did in his youth.

He knew that most any boy is only one or two knuckle-headed decisions away from heading off in a dangerous direction. His job was to keep me in line, a task that was often unpleasant for him.

In high school, I began making a lot of money running a stone-masonry business, and I announced I was going to buy my own car. But the unenlightened old man made me do something stupid with the money: Save it for college. I was furious and fought him hard, but he wouldn't relent.

The friction my father caused me, I now know, was also the basis for my respect for him. A father gives a boy someone to look up to and model himself after. And all that friction over the years polishes an average lump of coal into a diamond.

I'm glad people are doing studies that confirm what a lot of folks have always known about fathers. When boys don't have committed fathers to agitate â” and when caring fathers aren't around to inflict unpleasantness on their sons â” the result is too often tragic.

When dads are around, things work out in the end. My dad had the satisfaction of seeing me turn out all right. A few years after I graduated from college and bought my first nice car, I let him take a drive. He revved the motor, dropped the transmission into gear, then burned rubber all the way up the road.

I had but one thing to say to that.

"Son of a !!!"

Tom Purcell is a humor columnist nationally syndicated exclusively by Cagle Cartoons. E-mail him at Purcell@caglecartoons.com.

A really special gift for a father

All the Father'™s Day ads that dominate television and newspapers this time of year promote the idea that mom and the kids owe dad something extra special (and preferably expensive).

I admit that some of the merchandise in those ads are pretty appealing, because I enjoy my toys and gadgets just as much as the next guy. But it doesn't take much deliberation for me to decide that I'™m happiest with the gifts I'™ve already received.

Top among those is my favorite dental patient and piano partner, who also happens to be my 9-year-old daughter, Abbey. Blessed with a perpetual smile and love for animals, Abbey is a pretty typical third-grader, although she often surprises me with her simple, yet profound wisdom.

Whether she's singing, playing the piano or acting on stage, I can see not only a developing talent, but an innate joy to perform and to make people laugh. But as composed and mature as she seems, Abbey still enjoys the companionship of all of her stuffed animals, playing dress-up with friends and spending hours reading her favorite books.

Abbey'™s happy approach to life is not in the least diminished by the neuromuscular disease that necessitates the use of leg braces. Although they may slow her down physically or limit her movement, she never lets them get in the way of life. Her determination to participate in school activities such as dance class and yoga inspires her teachers and fellow classmates alike.

All the more of a gift, then, that Abbey is an ambassador of hope to others with similar diseases. For the past year, she'™s traveled the country with us on behalf of the Muscular Dystrophy Association, offering a simple, shining message: "œWe have disabilities now, but help is on the way. Keep hoping; keep believing."

Abbey wouldn'™t be able to tell others so convincingly that scientists are very close to solving the mysteries of muscular dystrophy if she didn'™t truly believe it herself. Her goal is that there will be a cure by the end of the year for at least one of the 43 diseases covered by MDA.

Not long ago, in a moment of complete innocence, she looked up from a sudden new-found thought and said, "œHey, Dad! Maybe some day I'™ll just get up and start running, and I won'™t need my braces at all!"

As I pictured this event in my mind, I was overcome with emotion as she expressed this dream to be finally released from a disease that she has lived with every day of her life.

Her enduring optimism and faith reminds me to continually hope that Abbey's dream, along with the dreams of those affected by similar diseases could someday become a reality. She'™s my best Father'™s Day gift, every day.

Joel Umali is a Redlands, Calif. dentist. For more information about the Umalis and MDA, visit www.mda.org.

Rebuilding community from the inside out

Inevitably after a crisis event or natural disaster, we see our community pull together. Neighbors helping neighbors, volunteers reaching out and kindness among strangers. And just as inevitably it seems, after a while, we see this community spirit fade.

People go back to their old ways of doing things; we wonder where that unity, caring and compassion went. But I want to share with you my optimism for one neighborhood affected by the Mother'™s Day storm that, with a little help, just might keep that community spirit alive.

Lynmore Estates, the South Bibb neighborhood where the Community Partnership collaborative has its focus on children and families was hit especially hard by the storm, and it is a neighborhood that was already in the despair of poverty long before the storm. In fact, it is a sharp irony that most of the neighborhoods affected by the tornadoes were already struggling economically. Many of the residents in these neighborhoods don't have the means to recover as quickly as some of us do, if at all.

Therefore, I was delighted when one of our partners, Barbara Windom of St. Francis Episcopal Church called to ask how her church might assist Lynmore Estates. I immediately put her in touch with some of the neighborhood residents, and together they planned a community meal which took place the Wednesday after the storm.

In the collaborative spirit, Windom enlisted the help of the neighborhood's Southside Community Church, as well as two other Episcopal churches, St. Pau'™s and Christ Church.

The meal was served at Southside Community Church, which was, at the start of the dinner, still without lights or air conditioning. However, the residents were very gracious and appreciative, not only for the meal, but also for the presence and concern of Community Partnership and the churches which came together to host this event. City Council members Miriam Paris and Lauren Benedict also attended to give their support. A cheer went up toward the end of the meal, almost like a sign from above, when power was restored and the lights came on.

The following Saturday, volunteers from Community Partnership, Habitat for Humanity and these same churches gathered early to host a community cook-out and clean-up event.

Working with the Macon Baptist Association, volunteers were also deployed in teams to go house by house in the neighborhood cleaning up limbs, branches and debris from residents'™ homes.

In the midst of all this activity, the American Red Cross called to offer a donation of a large quantity of canned food from their warehouse. They gave eight pallets of green beans, corn, chili, peaches, pears, spaghetti sauce, and spaghetti. Pastor Rand of the Southside Community Church was able to borrow a huge Ryder Truck to pick it up.

But as wonderful as this outpouring from the community to the residents of Lynmore Estates was, that's not the real story here. As the food was unloaded from the truck, residents who were gathered to eat began asking how they could help.

An assembly line was formed in the church fellowship hall to repackage all this food into boxes that contained two meals for a family of four. One hundred and twenty boxes were re-packaged and distributed in the neighborhood that day, but residents kept going and worked Sunday afternoon, boxing up an additional 360 packages to go to other devastated neighborhoods such as Bloomfield and several trailer parks. To distribute this food, we partnered with June O'Neal and Anita Ponder & Friends.

It was truly inspiring to see these residents reaching out, not only to their own, but to others in need, and on that day, I believe a new spirit of neighborhood identity and sense of community was born in Lynmore Estates.

Miraculously, through the portal of this small, tornado devastated and already impoverished neighborhood, 480 storm affected families in Macon were fed.

The Mother'™s Day storm has opened the door for many of us to reach out to our neighbors, and we need to see this as an opportunity to create lasting change in our community.

If we remain present and active in Macon's devastated neighborhoods, even after the relief and clean-up efforts are over, we can build trust and true community. We can strengthen our neighbors'™ capacity to become stable and self-sufficient, even to the point of reaching out to others, both in times of crisis and those of peace.

We can rebuild our neighborhoods from the inside out. Let'™s make it a long term commitment.

Travis Blackwell is executive director of Community Partnership, a Georgia Family Connection Collaborative which facilitates community planning to improve the well being of children and families in Bibb County.

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