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Archive for the ‘Fathers and Sons’ Category

Man’s Anger Does Not Accomplish God’s Righteous Purpose

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I never thought of myself as an angry man. I did not grow up angry, as I recall, nor would I say that anger was really an issue in our home. My father disciplined me, as he should have, and I recall a few times where it was clear he was truly angry, but there was no cowering in fear on my part or that of my siblings. As a young man, it always seemed like it took a lot to get me truly angry.

But I think perhaps that only meant it took a lot to bring me to the point of outbursts of anger. Perhaps there was anger simmering inside. My first real experience that anger was a part of my sinful and rebellious character came after college, and it became apparent to me that my anger went all the way down to bitterness and rage towards God. I was angry at Him for ostensibly not governing my life well.

I saw some of this anger come out in the ways I dealt with my students when I was teaching. I did not engage in outbursts in class, but I could feel in my heart and hear in the tone of my voice that I was scolding them, feeling arrogant over them, and taking an angry tack toward them. I justified much of it as “righteous indignation” over their spiritual indifference, but I see more clearly now, having children of my own, that most of it was my own pride and desire for control.

As I say, I now have four children of my own, and thus, it is now clearer than ever that I have not truly humbled myself and repented of my own anger. I see that same scolding, bullying tone I had before, only now it is more intense at times. I see that, again, I want to have control over situations, and so when my kids thwart me, I get angry. I see my pride and arrogance, my desire to not be “inconvenienced” by something my boys are doing, and the anger comes through. It’s there.

St. Paul said to the Corinthians: “For I fear, lest, when I come, I shall not find you such as I desire, and that I shall be found unto you such as you desire not: lest there be debates, envyings, wraths, strifes, backbitings, whisperings, swellings, tumults.” Paul writes to the Galatians: “Now the actions of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, promiscuity, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, rivalry, jealously, outbursts of anger, quarrels, conflicts, factions, envy, murder, drunkenness, wild partying, and things like that. I am telling you now, as I have told you in the past, that people who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

To the Ephesians he writes: “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.” Also, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the training and discipline of the Lord.” Paul tells the Colossians: “Therefore, put to death what belongs to your worldly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desire, and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, God’s wrath comes on the disobedient, and you once walked in these things when you were living in them. But now you must also put away all the following: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and filthy language from your mouth.” And finally, St. James speaks thus: “[E]veryone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.”

It’s clear that anger is not some passing problem to God. As pastor Douglas Wilson says, it’s bound up with heaven and hell, and whether I go to one place or the other. I will say that I am not totally sure what it means for me to repent of my anger, truly repent of it. I can try to forsake it, and indeed I do, but it is too often there, at the ready, as Dallas Willard might have said. How do I become the kind of person where anger is not “at the ready?” It does not seem to be there with my wife. It’s not that I’ve never been upset or angry at her, but I’ve never raised my voice with her, that I know of; indeed, I do not take an angry tone with her, even if I’m frustrated. But with my boys it’s a different story, and I can feel my anger in other situations too, though I may be better at outwardly controlling its expression.

The Lord is the One who grants repentance, and I want and need to turn away from my anger. It will not happen by sheer resolution of the will alone. I need your grace, Lord, and your forgiveness. Show me, and other men like me, the way forward in holiness and gentleness. Show me the roots of my anger, so they can be rooted out. Give me the gift of peace, contentment, kindness and gentleness; the fruit of the Spirit. Amen.



Written by Michael Duenes

June 6, 2015 at 12:25 pm

Pete Rose Jr., Become Indispensable, and Where You Find Yourself

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As often happens in stories where there’s a father and son, Kostya Kennedy’s book on Pete Rose spends a good deal of time exploring the relationship between Rose and Pete Rose Jr. (“Petey”). Or should I say, exploring the impact the father’s life has on the son. How could Pete Jr. not grow up idolizing his father? Rose had put a bat in his son’s hands before the kid could walk. Pete Jr. spent much of his childhood hanging around the Reds’ dugout, picking up on his father’s enthusiasm, and taking in the finer points of the game. As one might expect, Pete Jr. was quite the young ballplayer himself, inviting the inevitable comparisons with his dad. Pete Jr. was eventually drafted by the Baltimore Orioles around the time his dad was neck-deep in baseball’s investigation into his gambling activities. Indeed, Rose went to jail for tax evasion early in Pete Jr.’s minor league career (the length of which was astounding, as minor league careers go.). You can imagine how that went for the son, for Pete Rose Sr. was not the kind of person that baseball “fans” are ambivalent about. No matter where Rose Jr. played, he was subjected to unrelenting harassment and heckling, based on nothing he’d ever done, but on the sins of his father alone. Certainly, Rose Jr. might never have been a legitimate big league ballplayer even if his father had been the next Mister Rogers, but we’ll never know. Living in the shadow of your father, when your father is Pete Rose, is not easy, and it just shows again the massive, incalculable impact that father’s have on their children (The story of Fawn Rose, Pete’s daughter, comes in for very little treatment in the book; but this sentence pretty much sums it up: “As the years went on, Fawn often seemed forgotten by Pete – an afterthought, and heartbreakingly so.”). A father’s impact is one which our culture downplays to much human destruction and ruin.

My wife passed along a piece of sage advice from Cal Newport’s blog. Newport was quoting Mike Rowe, who said: Stop looking for the “right” career, and start looking for a job. Any job. Forget about what you like. Focus on what’s available. Get yourself hired. Show up early. Stay late. Volunteer for the scut work. Become indispensable. You can always quit later, and be no worse off than you are today. But don’t waste another year looking for a career that doesn’t exist. The words, “Become indispensable” shot through me, and I took them to work with me all last week, into every task I attempted. This is fantastic stuff. I’m working in the energy sector now. Do I have a “passion” for energy? No! Is it the “thing I’ve always wanted to do?” Not even close. But when I was in law school, contemplating what classes to take during my second year, I decided to take Oil and Gas Law, on nothing more than the encouragement of my study group leader who was then taking it. Oil and Gas was by far my lowest grade in law school, so I up and enrolled in the advanced Oil and Gas class the following semester, and did better. I took Water Law, too; and now I’m working in public utilities (thanks in great part to my Oil and Gas professor). What’s more, I intend to give my employer the best that I’ve got, with heartiness, “as unto the Lord,” as God commands. Will I become indispensable? I don’t know, and it would likely be arrogant to assume that I will. But what I can do is aim to become so. And I will indeed aim for this, Lord willing, not for my own vainglory and self-promotion, but because each day is “a great day to be alive,” as my friend, Rod Howard, so often says. It’s a way to take the gifts God has given me and put them to redemptive effect in this world. It’s a way that work will become satisfying, because it will be in accord with the purposes for which God created us, and it’s end, if faithfully done, will be an inheritance from the Lord. Rowe is right when he says, “Happiness does not come from a job. It comes from knowing what you truly value, and behaving in a way that’s consistent with those beliefs.” And one can behave in this way at countless types of jobs. You can read Rowe’s whole piece here.

I was musing with a friend the other day about the decision to go to law school, and it reminded me of how, in the Lord’s providence, we find ourselves in unexpected places. In the summer of 2010, I was gearing up for the thought of PhD. work. I began studying for the GRE exam, and kind of threw the LSAT in as an after-thought. But as my wife and I considered things more, we realized that I should take the LSAT and the possibility of law school much more seriously. At that point, there was certainly no thought of living in Kansas, much less in a city like Topeka, nor of working as an attorney for a state public utilities commission. That was not even in the universe of my thinking. Yet here I am, doing just that, and quite glad about it. It’s still a weird feeling, but I’m anxious to see what God does with it.


Written by Michael Duenes

August 9, 2014 at 12:37 pm

The Sequester, Entitlements, and “The Least of These”

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esolenWhen someone close to me once asked why I was generally opposed to our current welfare state, I told him it had little, if anything, to do with “taking my tax money.” If the government could take my tax money, give it to others as welfare payments and programs, and produce virtuous and thriving people, I’d gladly hand over the money. The problem with the welfare state has never finally been the money, but the effect the money has on human flourishing in every area of life, from spirituality, to the economy, to sexuality, to marriage, to parenting, to cities, to prisons, to community life, to human relationships in general. The issue has never been: “The welfare state hasn’t hurt your pocketbook, so it shouldn’t be a problem for you.” Rather, the issue is: What does it mean to love my neighbor as myself, and to do unto others as you would have them do unto you? The issue is: What do justice, mercy and the love of God require? For far too many U.S. citizens, good intentions and feeling like we’re “doing something” are quite good enough.

Touchstone contributor, Anthony Esolen, provides a more articulate and pointed answer to the question, “what’s wrong with the welfare state?” than I could have given to my interlocutor, and you can read the whole thing in his brief piece over at The Public Discourse, entitled “The Least of These.” The power of Esolen’s piece is in its presentation as if out of the mouth of the young urban male toward whom our current government entitlement policies are aimed. Esolen writes:

One group [i.e., the government] profits, in power, from the profligacy of the other, which it “rewards” with money confiscated from the general public. They thus gain millions of publicly funded jobs to manage the people whom their policies have corrupted, and they move far away from those people, assuaging their consciences by voting correctly and holding correct opinions. Their hands do not get dirty. What, on the dreadful day of doom, will that boy in Philadelphia say to the rich who have ignored him, or worse, who have profited by his confusion?

In Esolen’s telling, the young male recounts to the government what he truly needed, and what he got instead. Esolen thus lays bare the crucial human issues bound up in our welfare state, and as such, his thoughts deserve serious consideration. To that end, I could not recommend a more succinct and penetrating account than Esolen’s.


Written by Michael Duenes

February 22, 2013 at 9:49 am

Valentine’s Day: “What To Expect When No One’s Expecting”

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PutinThe Weekly Standard reports that, on average, Russian women are having 13 abortions for every 10 live births. You don’t need a math degree to know what that means. Even Vladimir Putin has figured it out, which is ostensibly why he’s invited Boyz II Men to Russia for Valentine’s Day. The article surmises that Putin wants “to encourage love-making and . . . baby-making to offset Russia’s demographic disaster.” Jonathan Last, in his book, What to Expect When No One’s Expecting, has said, “Russians are so despondent about the future that they have 30 percent more abortions than births.”

In an article entitled: The Incredible Shrinking People, The Economist reports: “Russia’s demography befits a country at war. The population of 142m is shrinking by 700,000 people a year. By 2050 it could be down to 100m. The death rate is double the average for developed countries. The life expectancy of Russian males, at just 60 years, is one of the lowest in the world. Only half of Russian boys now aged 16 can expect to live to 60, much the same as at the end of the 19th century.” In terms of working force, the piece states: “Over the next seven years Russia’s labour force will shrink by 8m, and by 2025 it may be 18m-19m down on the present figure of 90m.” The article goes into various reasons why Russians are not having babies, ranging from “the collapse of the Soviet Union” to the lack of health care to “the curse of the bottle.” The author concludes: “The only solution to Russia’s demographic problems appears to be immigration, . . . but the Russian public is hostile to it.”

Aside from Margaret Thatcher’s dictum – “Eventually you run out of other people’s money” – there’s a cautionary tale here. No, I do not believe that the U.S. is in anywhere near the dire straits the Russians find themselves, and we certainly do not have their historical baggage. But to assume, as The Economist seems to, that such external factors as the collapse of a government or alcoholism are the root of problem, or that immigration is the “solution,” appears misguided. What leaps out is the utter silence as to why the Russian people have taken on such a death spiral. What is it about their character that causes them to abort so many babies, to sire so many children out of wedlock, or to forego having children at all?

Surely the legacy of the Soviet Union, and perhaps other historical forces, is the spiritual barrenness that reigns in the hearts and minds of so many Russian people. The gospel of Jesus Christ does not merely bless individuals, but also spreads like leaven through individuals into marriages, children, schools, churches, local institutions and associations, the professions, and into government. Thus, as Douglas Wilson says, the blessings of the gospel are cultural as well as individual. God redeems and improves cultural and national life for those who honor Him. This does not mean that Russia is devoid of godly people, but it does mean that high rebellion against God over long periods of time brings certain things in its train. And this is true no matter what people or nation we are speaking of. The demographic problems facing the U.S., which are as real, though not as advanced, as the ones facing Russia, are the fruit of the same tree: the failure to trust that Jesus is good and faithful, that His Word is absolutely true and satisfying, that marriage is primarily about Christ and the Church, and that the words, “be fruitful and multiply” are a blessing from the Lord, always and everywhere.

The solution is spiritual and moral, not primarily economic or demographic. Confidence in Jesus brings brings a zest for life and expansive notions of its goodness and spread. It causes people to “enlarge the place of their tent” and to “let the curtains of their habitations to be stretched out.” It causes them to “lengthen their cords and strengthen their stakes.” (Isaiah 54:2).


Written by Michael Duenes

February 13, 2013 at 11:44 pm

Tom Cruise: Always Living in His Father’s Shadow

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One of my all-time favorite movies is A Few Good Men, and while I had a bit of free time tonight, I was watching it again. Being in law school adds to its charm for me, and it’s an eminently quotable film. But something else struck me in watching it as well, namely, that Tom Cruise’s characters are often living in the shadow of their fathers, trying to live up to the father’s reputation, and gain the father’s approval, even the father who is no longer alive.

One sees it in A Few Good Men, where Cruise’s character, Navy trial attorney, Colonel Caffey, is working constantly under the pressure of living up to the talent and prowess of his father, Lionel, who Caffey’s assistant attorney, Lt. Weinberg, brands, “the best trial lawyer ever.” At a crucial point in the film, Caffey asks Weinberg if he would put Colonel Jessup (Jack Nicholson’s character) on the stand. Weinberg says he wouldn’t. Then Caffey asks him: “Do you think my father would put him on the stand?” Weinberg says he doesn’t think so, but he tells Caffey that if he were the defendant in the case and had to choose between Caffey and his father Lionel to represent him, he’d take Caffey “any day of the week and twice on Sunday.” So Weinberg says, “Neither I nor Lionel Caffey are the lead attorneys in the matter of the United States v. Dawson and Downey. So the real question is: Would you [put Jessup on the stand]?” What son can imagine himself in Caffey’s position, having a father who was the best at something, and not feel a certain sense of yearning and pride to think that one had lived up to his father’s billing?

It’s the same story in Top Gun. Cruise’s character, Lt. Mitchell, call sign Maverick, is a great pilot, but finds his confidence shaken after an accident which costs the life of his co-pilot, Goose. Maverick goes to see the head of the Top Gun program, Viper (Tom Skerritt), to find out what his options are. Viper tells Maverick: “The fact is, you feel responsible for Goose’s death, and you have a confidence problem.” Why does Maverick have a “confidence problem?” Because Maverick’s father was also a top pilot, one of the best, whose name was besmirched in some way, and thus, Maverick was always trying to live down his father’s reputation. So Viper says to Maverick: “What I’m about to tell you is classified; it could end my career. Your father was in one of the worst dog fights I’ve ever seen, the bogeys were all over the sky like fireflies. His plane was hit, he could’ve made it back. But he stayed in it; took out three planes before he bought it.” Maverick replies: “How come I haven’t heard this before?” Viper says, “It’s not the kind of thing the state department likes to talk about when the battle happened behind the wrong lines on some map.” To which Maverick says: “So he did do it right.” Viper: “Yeah, your old man did it right.” Again, this is the pinnacle of the film, the palpable sense of pride and release that Maverick finds now that he knows his father “did it right,” and that Maverick is, in Viper’s words, “a lot like he was, only better…and worse.” It easily eclipses Maverick’s love interest in the beautiful flight instructor.

Finally, I’ve written before about Cruise’s role in Magnolia, the raw, brutal film that shows the power of the patriarchal relationship as few others I’ve seen. Unfortunately, the power of the fatherly relationship is seen through the wreckage that two morally horrific fathers foist upon their children. The central relationship is between the character played by Jason Robards (father) and his son, played by Cruise. Cruise’s character is so traumatized by his vile father that he has convinced himself that his father is dead. Cruise has gone on to be a disgusting “self-help” guru who basically makes money off seminars designed to teach men how to have sex with any woman they want. Cruise’s character is a filthy, disgusting man, and his father is lying in a bed dying of cancer. Yet his father wants to see him. Seeing the father’s desire to make a final peace with his son, the father’s caretaker (played brilliantly by James Seymour Hoffman) tracks Cruise down before the father dies. Reluctantly, Cruise comes, and when he sees his father, the power of the relationship becomes clear. Cruise aims invective after invective at his father, even as he breaks down crying, saying at the end to his father, “Don’t leave!”

I’m not saying that Cruise takes these roles because he has some unresolved “father issue.” I know very little about Tom Cruise, or his motivations in taking movie roles. What I do know is that films illustrating the relationship between a father and his son are powerful and compelling because, try as we might, we cannot rid ourselves of the fact that a father’s impact on his son is powerful and compelling, even where the father is a vile wretch, or is dead. We tell ourselves that fathers don’t matter and that children can be raised perfectly fine without them. Our laws create the sense that a father’s utility goes not far beyond being a mere sperm supplier. But Tom Cruise keeps putting the lie to such ideas through his filmmaking, for which I am truly grateful.


Written by Michael Duenes

August 19, 2012 at 6:38 pm