Fred Was Right

A father sometimes knows his son better than his son knows himself. Occasionally — but rarely — he knows him better than the boy’s mother. Parental conversations leading to decisions about a troubled child’s welfare are private. But the outcomes of such decisions sometimes become a matter of public record.

Mary Anne

Imagine, for instance, a conversation between Fred and Mary Anne about their difficult son whose behavior at school was bringing shame to the family name. Mary Anne, a Scottish-born immigrant raised in a small fishing village on the Outer Hebrides’ Isle of Lewis, was aghast at her son’s rude behavior.

A product of her Scottish Presbyterian heritage, Mary Anne had a high sense of right and wrong, and a low sense of human nature — and of the British crown. “Fred,” she said, “I’m a Scot. We don’t like the Queen! Donald thinks he’s a king! I don’t like that! I didn’t raise my son to be a Brit, let alone a monarch!”

“Mary Anne,” said Fred, “it is troubling and he’s troubled. He needs discipline. He needs boundaries. If we don’t act soon, he’ll be sent off to reform school by the end of the year.”

“Fred, if your strict discipline here at home hasn’t reformed him,” said Mary Anne, ”a reform school won’t do any better. I think we need to think outside the box. I can’t take it anymore. I’m tired of his insults, and the faces he makes. He makes fun of my work with kids who have cerebral palsy and adults with disabilities. They’re not ‘crips’ and ‘morons’! And I’m not ‘illegal’. He thinks he’s the Queen! If you don’t agree with him, you’re just a Scot from the Outer Hebrides, a chamber maid working in his palace.”

“Well, dear, we haveto remember that you were working as a maid when we met at the dance. Donald knows right where to get you. He knows your Achilles heel. He’s taken that ability with him to school and that’s what’s getting him in trouble: finding people’s sore points, their weaknesses, calling them names. The only times he responds to my discipline is when I call him a name.”

“Like what, Fred? I can’t hear your conversations from the kitchen.”

“I hesitate to tell you. I don’t want to hurt your feelings more than he’s already hurt them. I’ve tried different names. Some work. Some don’t. We’re Americans now. America won World War II. We beat the Axis powers. I thought calling him ‘Adolf’ or ‘Benedetto’ might get to him, but he didn’t take it as an insult. He took it as a compliment. He’s a chip off the old block. He likes being strong like Hitler and Mussolini. But . . . I’m sorry, dear, but it’s true — he hates it when I call him ‘Scottie’! He thinks Scots are sissies — crossdressers, guys running around in tartan skirts and knee socks. Sorry to say, dear, Donald’s not proud to be a MacLeod.”

“That breaks my heart, Fred! I know he doesn’t respect his heritage. He doesn’t respect me. He treats me like dirt. He treats me the same way he treats girls and bullies boys who are vulnerable at school.

“There’s only one answer I can see, Mary Anne. A military academy. I put in a call to the Superintendent New York Military Academy this morning. He’s agreed to take him on probation on condition that we not interfere with their discipline. We can visit once a month on the weekend and take him to church.”

“He doesn’t like church, Fred. He hated confirmation class. He says church is for losers.”

Norman Vincent Peale

“I know. We won’t take him back to First Pres. Jamaica is changing. All our neighbors are leaving First Pres. I’ll drive him into Manhattan to hear Norman Vincent Peale. We’re dealing with some hard facts, Mary Anne. So is Donald. He needs some positive thinking. Like Dr. Peale says, ‘Any fact facing us is not as important as our attitude toward it, for that determines our success or failure. The way you think about a fact may defeat you before you do anything about it. You are overcome by the fact because you think you 

“Norman Vincent Peale is President Eisenhower’s favorite preacher, Mary. Who knows? If someone like Donald learns to face facts by thinking positively about himself, he could become president.”

“God forbid, Fred! How could we have raised a son like that?”

Years later, the son returned to Scotland. Over dinner he paid tribute to his mother at the Turnberry Hotel of his Turnberry Golf Club.

“Her loyalty to Scotland was incredible,” he said. “She respected and loved the Queen.”
  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, July 11, 2018.

When at wit’s end

These are strange times that often take us to our wit’s end. No need to enumerate.

A rendering of Psalm 107 from The Book of Psalms in Metre and the Scottish Hymnal , published in 1879 by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, perhaps spoke to the book’s original owner, John Campbell of Blair Mill, Scotland, when he bought the copy now in my possession, inscribed with his name and the date, January 20, 1880. January is nasty in Scotland. Today it’s nasty all across America.

A portion of Psalm 107 is rendered this way:

Who go to sea in ships, and in
great waters trading be,
Within the deep these men God’s works
and his great wonders see.
For he commands, and forth in haste
the stormy tempest flies,
Which makes the sea with rolling waves
aloft to swell and rise.
They mount to heav’n, then to the depths
they do go down again;
Their soul doth faint and melt away
with trouble and with pain.
They reel and stagger like one drunk,
at their wit’s end they be:
Then they to God in trouble cry,
who from them stairs doth free.
The storm is chang’d into a calm
at his command and will;
So that the waves, which rag’d before,
are quiet now and still.

– Psalm 107:23-29

If we cannot one can identify with nothing else, we each know the soul that faints and melts away with trouble and pain. We reel and stagger like one drunk, at their wits end.

Steve Shoemaker’s poem “A Psalm for Each Kind of Day” – posted previously on Views from the Edge – recognizes the breadth and depth of the psalms. Some days the best one can do is recognize the feeling. Only those who feel will find their way to quiet stillness.

Thanks to a comment from Dennis Aubrey of Via Lucis for prompting the reflection this morning.