Slick Father’s Day

That’s Slick in the hat. Happy Father’s Day, Mr. Ron!

I’ve had this blog post rambling around in my head for over six months now, and today I’m finally going to write it. I’ve wrestled with this one because it’s about a person I consider family, but we’re not blood related. In fact, we don’t really see one another that often (Facebook helps, but only so much). And to be honest with you, I’m as nervous writing about this man as I was writing about my dad.

But after six months of trying to figure out an angle, trying to think of a legitmate reason to write about this person (beyond my own feelings), I finally have the perfect lede: it’s Father’s Day, and I want to celebrate one of the fathers I’ve been privileged to know.

His name is Ron Wexler. Or, if you go by his license plates, DWG CRZY or SLICK.

I know Mr. Ron because I lived across the street from him growing up. He was the crazy neighbor – had a loud motorcylcle, a sweet black Torino, and his very own Coke machine on the back porch. A University of Georgia season ticket holder, he had me convinced as a kid that the G-Day was a religious holiday much in the same way Christmas was.

I’m writing about him today not to embarrass him, or curry favor with him, but because as I’ve thought about Mr. Ron, I’ve come to understand just how influential he has been on my life. And I want to celebrate that influence this weekend, as a tribute to him.

See, Mr. Ron wasn’t the conventional father figure. I was best friends with his step-son, Pete, and every time I spent the night at their house, or just spent time over there, it was like walking into an alternate universe. Mr. Ron drank beer, so there was always some in the fridge. He had strict rules about what you could and couldn’t touch, which rooms you could and couldn’t go in. He used colorful language and metaphors that were a bit more adult in content than my parents’. And occasionally, he could get upset and scare the living crap out of you.

I type all that knowing that there are some people who will read it and immediately go into judgmental mode. It can’t be helped. Once upon a time, it bothered me too because it was so different from what I knew. I would see or hear something at Mr. Ron’s and come home and talk to my dad about it. And my dad would look at me and say, “That’s just Mr. Ron.”

That helped. I would see my dad go over there to help with a project, or to borrow a tool, or just stand in the driveway and talk, and I began to learn something valuable: how to love a person for who that person is. My dad was different from Mr. Ron, yes, but neither of them let those differences get in the way of their friendship. And I learned that, as different as Mr. Ron was to me and my family, we were different to him. I also learned that the things that made us different were often matters of personal taste; the things that brought us together, our sense of what was right and good in life, were more important.

So I learned to roll with the punches, but more importantly I learned to love Mr. Ron as much as I loved my dad.

I called him “Sir” anytime he asked me a question. I did as he said whenever he gave me an instruction. I told him how I was doing in school, shot baskets with him in the cul-de-sac, and spent a lot of time just talking about life, because his knowledge and experience of life was so fascinating. And he always gave me his time.

When I told him I was headed to the University of Georgia after high school, you’d have thought I’d told him he’d won the lottery. He was as proud as my own parents, and almost five years later, when we came home from my collegiate graduation, he did something that will stick with me the rest of my life. He’d hung, across the front of our carport, a huge sheet of butcher paper, and he’d written “No longer a pup, he’s a BULLDOG now!” in huge, black letters.

A handmade banner to welcome me home and celebrate in my accomplishment.

My parents cried. I cried. I’m pretty certain Mr. Ron didn’t, but I know he was happy for me, just as he was happy for me on the day I got married, and when each of my kids was born. I also remember him being there when my daughter died. I know his eyes were red that day.

Over the years I’ve been able to keep up with Mr. Ron, either by being part of milestones in his family’s life, or him being part of milestones in mine. I performed Pete’s wedding in his front yard, and shared the joys of his first grandchild’s birth at a baby shower in his house. Lately, we’ve seen each other at funerals more than anything else – at the funeral for his father-in-law; at the funeral for my grandfather. I guess it’s a sign that we’re both getting older.

Regardless of when we see each other, we still talk about life – whether it’s football, or golf, or cars, or parenting, or retirement, or whatever else might be on his mind. I’m still amazed at some of the stuff he says, but I’ve noticed a mellowing that gives him a very wise perspective. He and his wife, Ms. Carolyn (I’ll have to write a blog about her later – she certainly deserves one!) are still living life to the fullest, whether it’s road trips to Georgia games or spending time with their grandkids, and that life yields some wonderful observations about what it means to be human.

I drink it up when I can.

I’m going back and reading this as I type it, and I know I’m not really nailing the man down. But even if I tried, I don’t think I could; this is man who defies easy description. Just as I could never write the definitive profile of my dad, I don’t think I could for Mr. Ron, either.

But I can tell you that he’s impacted me. Taught me to look beyond the usual categories and behaviors that we often use to organize the people in our lives. Taught me that people don’t have to believe as me in order to be decent, kind, wise people. Taught me that, come heck or high water, you stay faithful – to your wife, your team, and yourself.

For those reasons and a host of others, I want to wish Mr. Ron a happy Father’s Day. And I want him to know that I love him, and – as always – wish him and Ms. Carolyn the very best.

And if you know SLICK, you wish him the same things too.

As Much As I Love Her

Now THAT’S love. Or brain damage. Of course, some might argue they’re one and the same…

This is a picture of my wife and I kissing.

Yeah, underneath all of that flour and chocolate syrup and whatever flying insects managed to get trapped in the goo are myself and my bride, Rachel. We volunteered to be human sundaes if the kids at our VBS could raise $1800 for a mission project. It was a boys vs. girls competition; if the boys won, Rachel would get gunked. If the girls won, I was to go under the drizzle of death.

They raised $2000. $1000 per team. Dead even.

So everybody won. Our mission team got money to do some good work in the Dominican Republic, our VBS workers and kids got to have fun getting the two of us messy, and we got to do something outrageously fun together.

Of course, it’s only natural for us to do this. Saturday marks our 11th wedding anniversary and I believe that we have celebrated our anniversary by doing VBS every single year. Without fail. We’ve never taken a trip, never gone out to dinner, never really done much of anything because we’ve been doing VBS. And loving every minute of it.

As a minister, this is my role. My purpose. To serve the church and its people, to sacrifice myself for the greater good. I’m happy to do it because I believe in the God I proclaim, and feel like it’s the best way to spend my life.

But I also know that I am incredibly blessed to have a wife who’ll not only tolerate my job, not merely support me, but will stand toe to toe with me in ministry. I’ve known plenty of men who sacrificed their marriage on the altar of ministry; some because they let the ministry become more important than their marriage, others because their spouse just couldn’t stay. I’m not judging any of those who’ve gone through that – I’m just saying that I am eternally grateful for a wife who works beside me.

And that’s the point of a marriage, isn’t it? To be in a relationship with that one person you can’t live without, to celebrate the joys and share the sorrows of life with someone who knows you in the most intimate ways possible?

While you may not go in for what the Bible has to say about marriage, the point of the institution is lay bare the human heart – to teach us how to be open and vulnerable with someone else. To be an illustration of what a relationship with God is meant to be: for better or worse, for rich or poor, in sickness and health.

Marriage is, in essence, a life of faith.

I know for me, I could not have put my faith in someone else besides Rachel. I don’t claim to know everything, but I’m pretty darn certain that no one else could have ever been better suited to be my partner for the rest of our lives. And over the past eleven years, that truth has be affirmed and reaffirmed so much that I can’t picture myself ever loving someone as much as I love her.

I mean, we can’t even sleep if the other one isn’t nearby.

I remember something I read about the late John Wooden, legendary coach of the UCLA Bruins, and his wife, Nellie. After her death, Coach Wooden would write her a letter every month and add it to a stack on her side of their bed. At the time the article was written, the stack was over three feet high. Coach Wooden slept in the bed he shared with his wife, but only on his side, and only beneath the cover – never between the sheets.

His reason? He wanted what he shared with his beloved wife to remain theirs.

Some people call that kind of devotion antiquated, impractical, unrealistic. I call it true love.

And I’m grateful that’s what Rachel and I have. Happy anniversary, Rachel, if a few days early.

I’m glad we’re together, forever, for better or worse, rich or poor, chocolate syrup or flour.

Father and Son


Three generations of Brooks men (with a Brooks female). We continue this legacy now with my dad, me, and my son, Jon.

This has been a hectic week: it’s the annual Vacation Bible School for my church, which means I have been parading around for about 200 kids, leading them in silly songs and dances and offering my public humiliation as an incentive for them to give towards a worthy cause. The VBS curriculum calls my position, “Worship Rally Leader.” I prefer to think of myself as “Big Stupid Man.”

(Sidebar: chances are I’ll have some great pictures to post tomorrow of said public humiliation, which in this case would be the kids getting to dump chocolate syrup on me and then throw flour in my face.)

However, my role also means that I’ve gotten to work with my father every day so far this week. My dad is the sound engineer for the entire week, so that means he’s responsible for pushing play on the DVD or moving the PowerPoint slides along while I’m speaking. It also means that he has my very life in his hands, because I’m completely reliant on the sound/projection system for making Worship Rally fun and engaging. Fortunately, my dad is really good at that stuff.

So for me, it’s been a treat. Granted, we’ve been separated by the walls of a soundbooth, so it’s not like we’ve been arm in arm singing Kumbaya around the campfire. But it’s been nice to know that my dad has been my partner.

It’s also been amazing, as a son, to give direction to my father and watch him humbly take it. Now, if you know my dad, you have no reason to expect otherwise; he is one of the most gracious and humble men you could ever hope to meet, the kind of guy that would rather serve than star (which is why he gravitated towards the sound booth).

But I also know that it can’t be easy when the kid you raised starts telling you what to do and when to do it. I mean, the man literally wiped my bottom until I learned to do it myself – so it has to be a little weird for me to suddenly become the expert on something. Yet he simply listens intently, smiles, and says, “Not a problem. I’ll handle it.”

If you’ve ever worked with another human being, you know how precious those words can be.

Which makes it all the more gratifying to hear them from my father because he, of all people, would be justified in copping an attitude with me. He could reference any number of embarrassing anecdotes from my childhood, or pull some other time-tested parental card on me, but he doesn’t. He just works with me, making me look good, making the few minutes a day we’re partners work seamlessly.

And like any good production guy, nobody thanks him. Nobody comes up to him and says, “Great job of balancing that split track!” or “Mr. Rickey, I love the way you play DVDs.”

I get all the glory, but all the credit belongs to him.

Which makes me all the more thankful, as we approach this Father’s Day weekend, that I have him in my life. That I can work with him, talk to him, give him orders, ask him for advice, or just wordlessly stand in the sound booth with him. Even when we don’t say anything, a lot is still spoken between us.

Which is how I know that this weekend will be tough for him. Not only are he and my mom volunteering to keep my kids so Rachel and I can celebrate our 11th wedding anniversary, but this will also be his first Father’s Day without his dad. If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you know that my dad’s dad, my grandfather, Harold Brooks, passed away last year on August 29th. So the past nine months have been difficult because it’s brought all of the firsts after his death – Thanksgiving and Christmas were rough; so was Pop’s birthday in April.

So this weekend will be challenging.

I’ll most likely never see him shed a tear. At most, he’ll probably mention something about Pop in passing, or when he thinks nobody’s really listening. My dad is not one for working his grief out in public. I respect that.

But since I am, I just want him to know that I love him. That I am grateful to have him in my life, and in the lives of my children. I am grateful that when my kids hear the word “Poppy” they light up as if you’d just told them Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny were break dancing in the kitchen.

Most of all, I am grateful that a long-standing family tradition of a son loving his father and grandkids loving their grandfather, will continue unabated this Sunday.

It is our legacy.

It is our gift.

Taking Exception

This morning, in between fetching my kids glasses of milk and trying to schedule a doctor’s appointment for Ella, I took a few minutes to read an interesting email exchange between the writers Malcolm Gladwell and Bill Simmons. The exchange was part of an article for the website Grantland, and it was ostensibly about how the world has changed with the advent of non-stop, always available media.

But as any good discussion does (whether spoken or in print) this one turned towards other matters, and Gladwell – in a tangential paragraph – related a story from his own personal experience: that once, while waiting in an airport security line, he watched a professional football player get escorted to the front of the queue for an expedited clearance. And Gladwell points out that the crowd – full of “teachers, salesmen, nurses, working moms, and hack writers” – instead of getting irate at the special treatment for the player, collectively said, “Cool. There’s [Player X].”

The author’s grand point: “Standing in line in airports and other everyday rituals of modern life are the kinds of things that civilize us: As annoying as they are, they remind us that we are all equal and they teach us patience, and they grant us a kind of ultimately useful anonymity. [Player X] and celebrities of his ilk never have the privilege of those moments.”

By now you’ve most likely stopped reading, but given the week I’ve been having, this small anecdote fascinated me because it made me realize that the only thing that makes people exceptional is the fact that we make exceptions for them.

And everyone, whether they’ll be honest about it or not, wants to be exceptional.

I know I do. Whether it’s regarding my writing, or my daughter’s health, or my finances, or some other non-important exception that only becomes important when it would benefit me in some way, I want to be exceptional. Because exceptional is just that – allowed to bend the rules that normally apply. Granted special privileges. Bestowed with particular honor for some mutually accepted and appreciated reason.

I mean, who wouldn’t want to get escorted to the front of the line, eat in the finest restaurants, have their personality flaws overlooked and their gifts embraced by the general populace? Who doesn’t want to be able to flaunt the rules or completely circumvent them, all while being adored by people to whom the rules apply?

Nobody, that’s who. Which is why our culture has created entire niches for people to develop skills that allow them to become exceptional. Football players. Baseball players. Basketball players. Musicians. Actors. Writers. Politicians. CEOs. People who are famous for being famous. Reality TV. Blogs. Podcasts.

In fact, if you look at popular culture today, it’s become a race to see who can become exceptional; and the irony is, there’s nothing exceptional about them at all, other than the fact that the collective public is willing to cede them that status.

Sure, there are only a handful of men who can say they are professional athletes. But that doesn’t mean they are the only ones possessed of that type of athletic giftedness – it only means they were the ones who possessed that gift and good fortune. Becoming exceptional, as much as we may argue otherwise, is as much about luck and timing than it is about skill or personal drive. If it were purely about ability, then we would be overrun with exceptional people because there are scads of folks who excel at football or baseball or singing or dancing or acting who just never catch a break that propels them to better circumstances.

Or, as someone once said to me, “There’s a lot of wasted talent in prison.”

Why am I bringing this up? Because for me, this week has been frustrating because of its ordinary-ness. My daughter’s been sick, which has meant time spent within the bowels of our health care system, and if you’ve ever had to deal with that then you know why being exceptional – having access to instant care, the best doctors, the most cutting edge treatment, all without having to worry about the cost – is desirable. If I could choose just one area to be granted exceptional status – the ability to cut to the front and get special treatment – it would be the health care field.

And I say that fully aware that there are cases far worse than my own.

Everyone wants to be exceptional, but only few get there, and they get there on the arms of our approval. But what if we quit granting exceptional status to football stars and actors and other folks, and started granting it to a different classs of people.

Like wounded veterans. Or the chronically ill. Or students in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods.

Sure, we occasionally make exceptions for folks like that, but nowhere near as frequently and certainly with far less fuss. We elevate people who don’t necessarily need it and miss out on the ones that do because we are inured to suffering. We’re conditioned to it. It’s our daily life, and there’s nothing exceptional about our daily life. It’s common.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. If we were to choose, we could flip the script and make the ordinary, extraordinary; we could make the plain, exceptional, and in doing so we would all get our chance to shine. We could learn to celebrate life and it’s imperfections, instead of holding up a standard of perfection that so few can possibly hope to attain and torturing ourselves for our inability to meet it. We could, as an ancient piece of wisdom goes, “Think of others as better than ourselves.”

To do so would be exceptional.

Small Sorrows

That nick on your dining room table. The way your carpet bunches near the corner. Over there, next to your cookbooks? Yeah, that’s a crack in the counter top that seems to get wider every day.

Your car wheezes to life instead of roaring. Every time the weather changes, you or your kids get sick – sometimes all of you. A piece of siding wants to fall off your house and crush your azaleas, which probably deserve to be crushed given how sad they look.

A hangnail.

More gray hair.

Some stain on your favorite jeans that refuses to go away.

These are the small sorrows of life. Read separately and they are perceived as small; taken together, they become sorrows. It’s a strange phenomena, but one that you’re likely very familiar with. Chances are, you’ve been noticing the pile up, kind of like dishes in your sink or the insurmountable load of laundry you just can’t make yourself wash.

They’re a lot like toy cars, these wretched, tiny sorrows, in that one or two on the kitchen table doesn’t bother you. And if your son is like mine, then you also know that the next time you turn around every single freaking one of them will be on display, covering the table and clattering to the floor because there’s simply not enough room for them all.

Another way of describing it is drowning. Single drops of water are no threat, but when you toss a bunch of them in a pool, pretty soon you’re in over your head, struggling to stay afloat, wondering if someone – anyone – will come to your aid. Occasionally, there’ll be a lifeguard. Often, you’re on your own.

Sink or swim.

On the bad days, sinking seems the better option. What could be simpler than to just give in to the sorrow, let it overwhelm you, and hope that the “experts” are right and that drowning really is the most peaceful way to die? So you quit kicking. You quit struggling. You take a last breath and allow the water and darkness and sorrow to wash over you.

Only to discover that you still float.

Now you have to make a choice: take another breath, or let this one completely go? Keep floating or sink? Only a few sink; most take another breath, gulp another lungful of oxygen and hope. And even the ones that sink get only so far – usually, that survival instinct kicks the legs into gear and suddenly, there they are, breaking through the top of the water like Daryl Hannah in Splash.

And now they have to choose again: swim, float or exhale?

Personally, I’ve done all three, and quite often end up doing some sort of combo maneuver. Today, for example, was a swim-float-swim-punch-yourself-in-the-face kind of day. I was tempted to quit. I was tempted to exhale. But there was something in me that wouldn’t allow it. A sudden realization from my faith; I won’t go into details, but suffice it to say, I was confronted again with a particularly powerful and woefully under-examined (at least in my neck of the woods) truth about God, and I came out the better for it.

I decided that swimming was the choice because only swimming brings you closer to the side of the pool of sorrows. Only swimming gives you the opportunity to actually emerge completely from the water and find dry land. Everything else leaves you in the midst of your sorrows; it gives them power, more power than they deserve.

So your kid got sick after you took her to the doctor for a preventative visit. So she spiked a fever, went pale, slept like a college graduate and threw up all over herself. Small sorrows, my friend. Small sorrows.

Keep swimming, and they’ll be behind you soon enough.