My Son, This is What it Means to be Southern

My son,

You asked me today what it means to be ‘southern’.

It’s good that you asked. You are being raised in the South, and you will be shaped by its meaning. Now you are very young and were given a simple answer, but as you grow this meaning will grow with you.

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Being southern means being tied to the land – overgrown and luscious, maddening in density. Our land is fragrant, and always resisting cultivation. The slopping fields, deep woods, and coursing rivers bear the names of British monarchs, founding fathers, and peoples long ago stripped of the land they alone had loved. We utter all these names and thus give them power to shape us.

Being southern means enduring our summers. The heat and humidity make us a little wild. This wildness permeates our language, our posturing, our emotions, our very ideas of life, and meaning. We often straddle a desire to be both gracious and raw in authenticity.

We’ve created literature, music and cuisine celebrated the world over. We’re a land of celebrated authors and musicians, as well as countless women and men who had to leave their work nameless.

We recognize that “y’all” is the single most satisfying phrase to utter.

We crave porch sitting and tea sipping.

We showcase in no quiet or subtle ways the very marrow of human nature. We as a people have loved intensively and hated in tragic proportions. Our language is spoken with meandering poetry, and with arresting derogatoriness. We are renowned for our hospitality and made infamous by our segregation. There always seems to be a war brewing. It will be your generation’s job to finally bring peace.

Southerners claim the most paradoxical of heritages. A heritage that birthed modern ideals of liberty and freedom while simultaneously enslaving many of its members. Some people liberated while still oppressing. Some people lived in chains, but never stopped dreaming of freedom. We have tended things that should have been left behind and neglected many thing that only propelled us toward justice.

We southerners are not a melting pot, but a boiling stew, in which the influences of countless civilizations are colliding and marinating with one another. You must remember those who still yearn to taste true freedom.

My son, you must one day come to terms with the paradox of your heritage. You will be proud, but you will also feel anguish. You may love, but only after knowing that loving something doesn’t make it perfect. You can speak of your experiences, but you must also listen and learn from voices of those who have not shared your experiences.

For you, being southern will mean carrying on traditions that bring beauty to the world and embracing changes that make our culture worthy of the land which nourishes us.

 

 

A Humble Father’s Day for Humble Men

A Humble Father’s Day

If I could give my husband the world this Father’s Day, I would.

As it stands, the only thing he has requested is a homemade enchilada dinner. He’ll say the meal is “delicious” with a big grin, but I’ll know it’s mediocre at best. Trust me!

The father of my children has embraced parenting with tremendous love, dedication and very little fanfare. He sacrifices and never asks for recognition. He willingly takes on the supportive role in our family and gives all he has so that we can find sanctuary in the center of his world. My husband is the one cheering loudest from the sidelines as my children and I run our lifelong races. He hands us water when we are parched and encourages us when we are weary. When we cross our finish lines, he celebrates with abandonment and does not mention how close we came to faltering without him by our side.

Although I obviously believe my husband to be the most extraordinary man in the world, his quiet and humble service to family is the hallmark of many incredible fathers who walk in our midst.

These are the fathers who ceaselessly give without waiting for praise. Come Father’s Day they will accept their tacky ties and oversized mugs and find nothing missing in the celebration.

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Fatherhood’s Quiet Gift of Self

Fatherhood’s quiet gift of self often begins in the first weeks of his child’s existence, as he holds his pregnant wife’s hair back during the throes of morning sickness, and carries her to bed each night after she passes out on the sofa. It occurs in the midst of whispered encouragement to his mate when she doubts, and in his affirmation of her strength when she senses vulnerability. It’s found in his ability to give unwavering reassurance to the one in travail, even when all he wants to do is take away her pain.

But this kind of loving humility is also found when the wait for a child is long or the ending is met with loss.  It’s found when a man affirms to his partner that the wait has no bearing on their union or in his search to find a child not of his blood, but of his heart.

The journey may begin in different ways, but a humble father’s gift of self never ceases from the moment he holds his child in his arms.

It’s found as a father nestles his newborn upon his chest, savoring a meager paternity leave. He soaks up those precious few days with his squishy baby, knowing that the more he gives, the more his heart will ache upon his return to work. It’s there when he passes on career opportunities to gain time with his family or when he decides it’s best he stay at home with his children even though he’ll be met with stares and cutting remarks from others.

A father of this caliber forgoes vacations because he’s welcomed babies into his life. His humility means laboring long hours and coming home with his sleeves rolled up ready to work some more. His sacrifice is found when he has a gym membership card in his pocket, but rushes straight home from work because he cannot wait to see his family. It’s found in wanting the last bite of his dinner, but giving it to the ravenous wildebeests around his table. It means willingly stepping into a minefield of Legos late at night because his toddler needs one more glass of water.

He has forgotten what it’s like to sleep in on the weekends because his kids proclaim he makes the world’s best pancake breakfasts. He realizes that being passed on the highway by a sexy sport car comes with the territory while safely maneuverings a mini-van. He doesn’t even mind being teased for his wheels, realizing that his manhood isn’t in question while driving a carload of his progeny.  

A humble father can be found up extra-early each morning praying for his children and up late at night figuring out ways to make the world a more just place for them.

This quiet giver copes with unrelenting stress and pressures from a hundred different directions. He has precious little space in society to discuss them. Although he is sometimes misunderstood by friends and family who can forget how hard it is to be a good father, he trusts things will turn out well in the end.

This father has the courage to redefine what strength means and models it for his children. He holds them in his arms while owning his responsibility in shaping their sense of security and self-worth.

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He embraces fatherhood in a world that continually inundates men with reasons not to be fathers. A world that tells him to glorify sex, but not procreation, pursue wealth, but not generosity, seek power, but not service, accumulate self-fulfillment, but not opportunities for self-sacrifice.

He hears the million reasons why he shouldn’t give of himself in fatherhood, but realizes his capacity for love makes him worthy of the task.

And so this father does not look for praise, because he finds fulfillment in the children he loves. He gives and serves the whole year through and celebrates his life-giving fatherhood over a plate of enchiladas.

Happy Father’s Day to all the incredible fathers in our midst!