The Times They Are A-Changin’ Again

I was one of millions of Baby Boomers who entered the 60s as unknowing, benign peasants and who emerged a decade or so later changed in ways they never could have imagined.
We lived through the Bobby, Jack, and Martin assassinations, a moon landing, Muhammed and the Beatles, folk music, women’s lib, and 56,000 dead in a Southeast Asia swampland. We came out of that time a changed people, a battered and suspicious people, a people roiling from fears, frustrations, and hope denied. I don’t think I recognized it at the time, as a teenager, but I came to recognize what an enormously important time the 60s were. I remain oddly proud to have lived through them.
We are again, without question, in the midst of major, wide-ranging, social and personal metamorphoses. I hope everyone, especially those in the 15- to 30-year-old range, appreciates it and takes advantage of all this era has to offer. They — and we — are witnessing events that will change their very being.
I appeal to young people everywhere to look around.
Look at what’s happening in the policing community. Policing in five or ten years will be radically different from now and, I pray, far, far better.
See the tide turning toward greater acceptance of the LGTBQ community.
Observe the national political community wrestling with a system much too broken for far too long.
Pay attention to these critical events. Read about them. Watch them unfold. And whenever possible, experience them.
Blog, tweet, post.
Make your voice heard.
The times they are a-changin’, and you should be part of them. Times like these come around only rarely, and you’re in one of them.
How very lucky for you — and for all of us.

Black Lives MUST Matter!

  • Florida deputy stops black man on bike, shoots him 4 seconds later
  • South Carolina police officer charged with murder after shooting man during traffic stop
  • NJ cops shoot 9 times, kill black man who had his hands up

Over and over the headlines tell the story. A police officer somewhere shoots an unarmed black man (usually a man, sometimes a woman or child) and then claims it was self-defense.

The officer apparently doesn’t shoot to wound, but rather shoots to kill. Not a single shot, but multiple shots. South Carolina officer Michael Thomas Slager shot Walter Scott in the back eight times and then claimed he thought he was holding his stun gun, not his revolver.

Really? You’re accustomed to firing your stun gun eight times in a row? Come on.

Slager won’t get off, but the vast majority of other officers will be exonerated, the killing determined to be justifiable.

Yes, of course, justifiable. Someone you think might have a gun moves his hand and you, in self-defense, blast him. And then, while he is lying motionless on the ground, dead, you scream at him to hold still and don’t move.

Where did this come from? What training did you get to think it’s okay to assume that every black male you encounter, whether he’s 12, 20, 50, or 70, whether he has his hands up, his back turned toward you, or clearly mentally ill, to shoot him until he’s dead or until you’re out of bullets, whichever comes first?

Now, there are absolutely times when killing a suspect is justified, no question. But lately that “justified” thing has been bent past the breaking point.

Killing a man with his hands up is not justifiable.

Killing a man because he has a steak knife and is walking toward you, when there are two of you, each with a gun, is not justifiable.

Killing a boy because he’s holding a toy gun in a playground is not justifiable.

The argument, well, they should have done what I told them. Who are you? You’re not God, you’re a police officer. You’re supposed to uphold the law, not break it. You’re supposed to use your weapon as a last resort, not a first one. You’re supposed to use your thinking brain, not your racist heart.

I’m sick of this, just sick. It HAS to stop. Black lives matter, just like white ones, just like Asian ones, Latino ones, Native American ones. And if you don’t believe that, I mean really believe it, get off the force before you kill another unarmed black man just trying to survive.

More About Police-on-Black Violence

Eulogy for a Father

So I’m standing in the middle of right field with two outs in the last inning of a Little League game that we were actually — miraculously — winning, and I’m praying, praying, the ball doesn’t come my way. It’s my first year, and my coach — Dad — has wisely placed me in the area on the ball field where most balls don’t go.

I hear the crack of a bat and see a ball heading my way. Uh-oh. I start to run in, but then realize it’s going over my head. I back up, close my eyes as tightly as I can, and throw my hand up. I feel a kind of pull on my arm, look into my glove, and find, there in the webbing, an actual baseball.
I look to the dugout, stunned, and see my father smiling, clapping, and looking equally stunned, but also proud. His son has won the game.
That’s what fathers do, really. They plunk their kids into the world, teach them as best they can, and then applaud their efforts, for better or worse. Our father wasn’t perfect, no father is, but he and my mother raised a half-dozen good, decent people, and that’s a darned good legacy.
He left a legacy in the business world as well. Commended by Richard Nixon for his achievements as President of the Smaller Business Association of New England, Dad was a businessman and an achiever from the word go. He loved bowling and playing cribbage, games that require grace and mathematical skills, neither of which he gave to me, apparently.
He was loyal. Just ask our dear friend, Herb J, who knew Dad for, well, a long time, right Herb? Or Bob D, who couldn’t be here today but who wrote this to me:
He’ll be remembered for his demeanor. 
But most of all, for his smile. 
He is with God now.
Remember the good times. 
Dad loved his grandchildren and his great-grandchildren, and they loved him. They called him “Pop,” “Pop-Pop,” and “Popstar.”
Our family gathered every summer at his house and again at Christmastime, visits he enjoyed enormously. “Christmas to me isn’t Christmas,” he often said, “until you kids get here.”
And when we would say our goodbyes and start to head back to our own homes, he always walked us out to our cars and waved lovingly as we drove away.
Unfortunately my last goodbye to him didn’t go quite as well. He was sitting in a recliner, smothered in blankets. I told him I had to leave and that I would see him again, at some point down the road. Then I said, “I love you, Dad.”
He said, “I love you, too.”
I kissed his forehead and gently patted the top of his head.
Trouble is, my ring accidently clunked his skull.
Suddenly I was transported back to my childhood. Uh-oh, I just hit Dad in the head. I’m in trouble! I started to slink away, hoping, praying, that in his current state, a kind of foggy confusion, he hadn’t really noticed. But he had.
I heard a weak voice behind me. “You’re getting a little too old to be smacking me in the head.”
Fatherhood. I guess it never ends.
Goodbye, Dad, and godspeed.
Oh, and give Ma a big kiss and hug from all of us.
In memory of Joseph F. McPhee, who died March 4, 2015.

The Comfort of Old Friends

I remember a kid back in high school who was an amazing basketball player and a sometimes hellion.

The kid and I went to
high school here.

I remember a kid back in high school who, with a couple of other instigators, set fire to some papers in his desk in Spanish class and who also quarterbacked our hardscrabble football team with grace, strength, and humor against teams from much larger schools and with players much bigger and faster than most of our guys.

I remember a kid who scored more than 1,000 points in his four years of basketball, and I remember his quiet humility the night he hit #1,000. The gym exploded in applause. The coach was off his feet, his hands waving in the air, as happy and proud as we had ever seen him, and he was a very happy guy.

I remember a kid back in college who, like me, majored in pool and ping pong and, what do you know, flunked out the same semester I did, and who, like me, later returned to college and graduated with honors.

I hadn’t seen this kid since our first class reunion many years ago, too many years ago, far too long ago. But a funny thing happened. After missing each other for decades at school reunions — he would go but I wouldn’t, then I would go but he wouldn’t, that kind of thing — we finally met up at our 45th reunion. And it was good.

Then, on a recent visit to Florida, my wife and I had lunch with this kid and his lovely wife, and life, to me, had come full circle. 

And it was good. Very good, indeed.