Fathers Should Kiss Their Sons

Every time I walk through the terminal at the Syracuse airport, I cry.

I don’t even attempt to stop it anymore.

As I pass through the sliding doors to the drop off/pickup area outside, I reach a small, nondescript patch of concrete that has become a memorial site for me: it’s the last time my father and I had physical contact.

Seven years ago, my wife and children and I were heading back to North Carolina after a relaxing week with family. As always, he pulled me close, pulled his cheek against mine, kissed me and said, “Love you, sweetheart.” 

I never saw him again.

He died suddenly while on a cruise a month later.

I’m grateful for that one last kiss.

I’m grateful to have heard him call me “sweetheart” one final time. 

I’m glad my father adored me and let me know that. I know without a doubt that it’s made me a better father and a more compassionate human and a more affectionate man—and I feel really sorry for men who don’t understand what a gift this is to a son.

Recently, there was social media criticism from Conservatives, of a photo of Joe Biden embracing and kissing his adult son, Hunter. Supposedly grown men threw out every sophomoric homophobic slur and all kinds of ridiculous incest joke garbage—which revealed far more about them than about the Vice President. They revealed the poverty of manhood we have in this nation: the absence of real, mature, complex role models on the Right.

Joe Biden is a fiercely loving father. That’s something we should celebrate. That should be normal.

I tried to fathom how emotionally-stunted someone has to be to find this strange or even newsworthy, let alone fodder for ridicule: how embracing your child at any age is something adult men are unsettled or intimidated by. What is the appropriate cut-off age for affection of a father to a son, and how exactly is it an indictment on their masculinity? 

The pundit who initially posted the photo, did so with the caption: Does this look like an appropriate father/son interaction to you?

To which I replied, “Maybe your father never loved you that much.”

Fathers are supposed to love their sons—unashamedly, completely, and affectionately. They are supposed to be overflowing in their pride and exploding with joy. That’s the whole point of being a father to begin with.

If you’re at a place where you’re making fun of a father who lost one son, for tightly holding and kissing the son he still has with him—well, that probably explains a lot about you and the kind of men you emulate and look up to and vote for.

My father died before I received national attention for my writing, and never saw me on TV or read one of my books, but as I wrote in the dedication to my first one: “he loved me before I went viral.” I never once doubted how much I meant to him because he made sure there was no doubt in me or to anyone else. Not a day goes by that I’m not grateful he was effusive with his affection for me, and for teaching me that real men show the people they love just how much.

Fathers should kiss their sons so that their sons grow up to be men who don’t see compassion as a character flaw, who don’t mistake toughness for strength, who aren’t afraid to love people fully, who are secure in expressing deep emotions.

We could use more men like that these days, and when we come across men like that we should respect them and not ridicule them.

The bond my father and I have is an embrace that never ends and a kiss that is still pressed against my cheek.

I cry at the airport, because I had a father worth missing.

May all our sons.



No, I Won’t Agree To Disagree About This President. You’re Just Wrong.

To Whom It May Concern,

We recently found ourselves in a now-familiar location: hopelessly stuck in an unnavigable impasse on our respective paths, unable to find a way forward. And, as in so many times before, when the friction became too great and the exchange too heated and the tension too uncomfortable, you dropped an all-too-familiar final salvo designed to stop conversation and temporarily defuse the situation:

“We’re just going to have to agree to disagree.”

I disagree.

I refuse these terms.

Such a concession assumes that we both have equally valid opinions, that we’re each mutually declaring those opinions not so divergent that they cannot be abided; that our relationship is of greater value than the differences—but that isn’t exactly true for me.

We don’t just disagree here—you’re wrong.

I believe you’re deeply, profoundly, and egregiously wrong; the kind of wrong about the kinds of things that I can no longer excuse or make peace with or overlook—because that would be a denial of who I am and what matters to me, the values I have spent a lifetime forming.

This is not a disagreement.

We are not simply declaring mismatched preferences regarding something inconsequential. We’re not talking about who has the best offensive line in the NFL, or whether Van Halen was better with Dave or Sammy, or about what craft beer pairs best with a cheesesteak, or about the sonic differences of CDs and vinyl. On such matters (though I will provide spirited debate), I can tolerate dissension.

We’re not even talking about clear misalignments on very important things: how to best address climate change or what will fix our healthcare system or how to reduce our national debt or what it will take to bring racial equity. Those subjects, while critically important, still have room for constructive debate and differing solutions. They are mendable fractures.

But this, this runs far deeper and into the marrow of who we each are.

At this point, with the past four years as a resume, your alignment with this president means that we are fundamentally disconnected on what is morally acceptable—and I’ve simply seen too much to explain that away or rationalize your intentions or give you the benefit of the doubt any longer. 

I know what your reaffirmation of him is telling me about your disregard for the lives of people of color, about your opinion of women, about your attitude toward Science, about the faith you so loudly profess, and about your elemental disrespect for bedrock truth. I now can see how pliable your morality is, the kinds of compromises you’re willing to make, the ever-descending bottom you’re following into, in order to feel victorious in a war you don’t even know why you’re fighting.

That’s why I need you to understand that this isn’t just a schism on one issue or a single piece of legislation, as those things would be manageable. This isn’t a matter of politics or preference. This is a pervasive, sprawling, saturating separation about the way we see the world and what we value and how we want to move through this life. 

Agreeing to disagree with you in these matters, would mean silencing myself and more importantly, betraying the people who bear the burdens of your political affiliations— and this is not something I’m willing to do. Our relationship matters greatly to me, but if it has to be the collateral damage of standing with them, I’ll have to see that as acceptable.

Your devaluing of black lives is not an opinion.
Your acceptance of falsehoods is not an opinion.
Your defiance of facts in a pandemic is not an opinion.
Your hostility toward immigrants is not an opinion.
These are fundamental heart issues.

I’m telling you this so that when the chair is empty this Thanksgiving, or the calls don’t come, or you meet with radio silence, or you begin to notice the slow fade of our exchanges, I want you to know why: it’s because I have learned how morally incompatible we are. It doesn’t mean I don’t respect you or even love you, but it means proximity to you isn’t going to be healthy.

I’ve been disagreeing with people all my life. That isn’t the issue here.

Were we talking about anything less than the lives of other human beings, I’d be more than willing to disagree with you and, but since we are talking about the lives of other human beings—I can’t.

I believe you’re wrong in ways that are harming people.
You’re wrong to deny the humanity of other human beings.

You’re wrong to justify your affiliation with this violence.
You’re wrong to embrace a movement built on the worst parts of who we are.

I simply can’t agree to that.

God is Pro-Choice

This shouldn’t even be a conversation.

The idea that America is here at this place and time in our planet’s history, still debating whether or not women should have autonomy over their own bodies, shows we aren’t maturing or progressing or evolving as a nation.

It also shows that millions of people of faith here are defiantly defying God’s primary will.

Christians of all people, should be unequivocal in moments like these: God is pro-choice.

We know God is pro-choice because the Bible tells us so.

If you believe that God exists, and if you believe the Christian Scriptures to be your primary guide in understanding the character of that God—you find out pretty early on that free will is kind of a big deal.

The opening chapters of the book of Genesis describe in poetic language, God speaking all creation into being, fashioning out of dark and formless chaos every radiant bit of this planet and its inhabitants: all the light, shape, and color of the disparate beauty here.

Whether you’re a believer or not, you likely know the Genesis story: six days of grand artistry, six days of spectacular displays of creative power, a boatload of animals, two people, a seventh day of rest in its very goodness (followed by one tree, one piece of fruit, one serpent, and the mess that follows.)

The heart of the Creation narrative, is God giving human beings the right to determine their own path.
They are divinely endowed with self-determination.
They are co-creators in their own stories.
They are not mindless robots or blind sycophants.
They get to choose, because God wants them to choose.
God doesn’t choose for them, and other people don’t choose for them, and the Government doesn’t choose for them.
Anything else is a form of slavery—and God emancipates people from all kinds of captivity.

Though not a literal account, the book of Genesis presents the Maker of All Things as creating every member of humankind inherently good, specifically original—and able and qualified to decide who they are and what they do, and how they live and move and breathe through this life. 

For professed Christians, it is antithetical to that God’s intentions, to attempt to legislatively control a woman’s body, because the higher law says that she is in control of it. Period. There is no Biblical precedent or Scriptural justification for a person of faith to partner in any human-made law that supersedes the free will of a woman.

This isn’t about abortion.
It isn’t about the semantics of pro-life or pro-birth or anti-abortion labels.
This isn’t about the minutia of when you believe life begins.
Those are diversions from the central issue at hand.

For professed Christians, this shouldn’t be about debating anything but whether or not women should be allowed to have what God has already given them: choice.

And for any supposed believer who claims the Bible to direct them, arguing against a woman’s right to choose is arguing against the very heart of God as depicted in the Scriptures.

I am a Christian man and I am pro-life, in the sense that I am pro the lives of women having autonomy over their own bodies. Beyond that, I yield to what they do with that autonomy, because I nor anyone else should have jurisdiction there.

Christian, you’re entitled to believe that life is sacred. I certainly do.
You’re entitled to believe that embryos are sentient human beings. I disagree with that assessment.

But you’re not entitled by any Scripture passage or any Biblical mandate, to legislatively force your will upon another human being, no matter what justification you make for it.

If you want to argue that, you’re fully welcome to.

You’re just going to have to take your agenda above me and above anyone else—to a decidedly pro-choice God.




Good People Didn’t Vote For Him Again

I grew up attending Catholic School in perpetually snow-covered Central New York. One Fall morning in 9th grade, we were talking in a Religious Studies class about morality, and the priest said:

“You know that the Bible says all creation is good—but what makes a person good after being created?”

He paused and then continued. “We’ve all heard people say, ‘Well, he’s basically a good guy. Yes, he beats his wife and terrorizes his children and uses racial epithets and he lies all the time and he gets violently drunk—but he’s a basically good guy.’ “

He scanned the room and then asked the class,

“Can a ‘good guy’ do all those things and still be good?
So what does being good actually mean?
What does it look like?
How do we measure it?
Is goodness our perpetual inherent state, our do we choose goodness every day?
Can we abandon that goodness?”

I’ve never forgotten that day.

Everyone believes they’re essentially a good human being. We all tell ourselves a story, and in that story our cause is always just, our motives are always pure, our side is eternally the right one. We’ve all spent a lifetime learning how to defend ourselves against criticism, even when that criticism is justified; even in those rare moments when even we begin to wonder if we’re not who we say we are. We can gaslight the world and even ourselves, when necessary. The assumption of our own goodness protects us from accountability for thoughts and words and actions that are neither noble nor decent nor redemptive.

I often hear people say, “I’m a good person and I proudly voted for Donald Trump again.”

I now consider that an oxymoron.

I don’t believe any good people voted for this president a second time—or they are in complete rebellion against goodness.

I believe that act is fundamentally antithetical to anything good.

There are things good people simply don’t do:

Good people don’t ignore the assassinations of unarmed black men.
Good people don’t vilify and attack the peaceful protestors of those murders.
Good people don’t create phony ANTIFA conspiracies, just to avoid saying that Black Lives Matter.

Good people don’t incite armed crowds to “liberate” state capitols over protections designed to save lives.
Good people don’t make fun of mask wearers, when life is in the balance.
Good people don’t tear gas citizens for a transparent church door Bible photo op.
Good people don’t defend murderous white vigilantes.
Good people don’t discard people while protecting property.
Good people don’t justify kneeling on a black man’s neck for eight minutes until he expires.
Good people don’t demonize a black woman for being executed in her bedroom in the middle of the night.
Good people don’t repeatedly deny the severity of a murderous virus, knowing people will die while he does.
Good people don’t call veterans losers and suckers.
Good people don’t stammer and deflect when asked to denounce white supremacist organizations live in front of the nation.
Good people don’t take away healthcare from hundreds of millions in the throes of a pandemic.
Good people don’t pounce on the corpse of a Supreme Court Justice after an election has already begun, just to take away a woman’s right to autonomy over her own body and appease religious zealots.
Good people don’t hold unmasked rallies while cases flare wildly, after themselves having a virus they were saved from.
Good people don’t lie as easily as breathing, or make a mockery of a religion they have no interest in, or treat people of color and women as property, or disregard the systems and laws of this land because power and complicit enablers allow it.

And good people, regardless of how good they claim to be—don’t encourage or embrace or support or elevate such people.

They simply don’t.

I could tenuously validate a vote for this president in 2016; an ill-informed and careless choice, a hope (without any evidence) that he might embrace his position and rise to the moment and do something different as a political outsider. Back then, I could have consented to people with essentially good hearts making this catastrophic error, as difficult as that was.

But not now.

Not after we all have this same four-year, disfigured malignant body of work to evaluate.
Not after the past year alone of unthinkable recklessness as a quarter of a million Americans have died, many of them needlessly.

To witness everything you’ve witnessed over the past four years;
every documented lie,
every manufactured emergency,
every incoherent, all-caps tweet-tantrum,
every horribly mismanaged national tragedy,
every failed chance to be a calming presence and choosing instead to escalate enmity,
every absolute refusal to be an agent of unity or healing or equity—and to still choose him is a declaration of your heart. It is a referendum on your decency.

As a Christian, I grew up with the teachings of Jesus, and he spoke clearly about what goodness looks like: it looks like the words you say and the things you’ve done. More than anything you may think you believe, it is the kinds of words that overflow from the source of your hidden heart, and it is the tangible fruit of the works of your life.

Goodness is not a matter how good you imagine you are.
It is not a matter of what you claim to believe.
It is not something you possess simply because you desire to possess it.

Goodness is determined by the way you move through this world: a world that is either more or less loving and compassionate and equitable and kind because of your presence and your decisions.

Voting for this president again is an act of violence against vulnerable people.
It is an affirmation of white supremacy.
It is a celebration of cruelty.
It is a reiteration of homophobia and transphobia and nationalism and anti-Semitism.
It is a ratification of domestic terrorism.
It is a blessing of bigotry.
It is an embracing of inhumanity.

No, this president is not a good human being in any way such things are objectively measured. 

And good people won’t be voting for him again, no matter what story they tell themselves.

They just won’t.

You can argue with me, but you can’t argue with you.