Do you ever have one of those moments when you feel as though you have taken a left turn off of the reality super-highway and merged right into the twilight zone? My moment occurred last Sunday when my wife and I were enjoying our morning coffee and reading the newspaper (if you consider the Kansas City Star a paper containing actual “news,” that is). The kids, hyped up on chocolate milk and cinnamon rolls, had apparently decided that it was a good opportunity to reenact the final battle scene from The Chronicles of Narnia—I don’t know, all I heard was screaming children and swords hitting the basement walls. Hey—as any experienced parent will attest, holes in the sheetrock of the basement are a small price to pay for 30 minutes of uninterrupted java consumption and the opportunity to read something other than Dr. Seuss. My wife, who hates the morning and all of its inconveniences (like sunshine and alarm clocks), was still wiping the sleep out of her eyes and beginning to rev her engines over the editorial headlines. To this day, I cannot understand why she feels compelled to start her daily newspaper reading experience with the editorial page. Why not ease into it with the “FYI” section or a good dose of “Travel and Entertainment”? All was not lost, however, for given her near comatose state, I was able to get away with having ESPN on the television in the background.
As I was perusing Saturday’s box scores and bracing myself for the first “This-woman-is-absolutely-out-of-her-freaking-mind” comment from the other side of the table, I heard this little nugget come flying across the air-waves from the ESPN anchor: “The U.S. Center for Disease Control released its study this week which shows that 40% of the children born in the United States in 2007 were born out of wedlock.”
WHAT did he just say?
I furiously began sifting through the sections of newspaper strewn about the table, searching for the DVR remote to rewind that clip, certain that I had misunderstood the quote, when I was hit with the next one: “The study also revealed that 71% of African-American children are now born out of wedlock.”
“Did you just hear that?”
“This woman is absolutely out of her freaking mind.”
ESPN (yes, my friends—ESPN) was doing a story on retired NFL running back, Travis Henry, who played for the Buffalo Bills and, most recently, the Denver Broncos. Henry, who is single and still lives in Denver, apparently decided at some point in his life that it would be a good idea to father NINE children by – count ‘em – NINE different women. Throughout the course of the interview with Henry, it became apparent that he wants all of us to feel sorry for him due to the fact that his various child support obligations currently total a staggering $17,000 per month. You see, while he did make in excess of $20 million during his brief NFL career, most of that money is now gone (financial genius), and he simply cannot afford to continue paying child support at that rate. Thankfully, he did have enough money to go hire himself a lawyer who is in the process of filing numerous motions with the various courts (all over the United States where his children and their respective mothers are located) in an attempt to lower all of these support obligations. To further complicate Mr. Henry’s life, it appears that, after the ESPN story initially aired, yet another Baby-Mama has surfaced in Florida who claims that she has 2-year old twin daughters by Henry, and she has produced the DNA tests, which now means this thirty-something former African-American sports star will have to grapple with 10 different mamas over the care and support of his 11 kids. And, oh yes, by the way – he has never been married to any of them.
Look, I’m a practical person. I understand that the days of chastity belts and virgin brides are long gone. Heck, my wife was seven months pregnant on our wedding day. In fact, I am certain that, in this day and age, most of us would be hard-pressed to find anyone who wasn’t having sex with their partner before they were married to that person – except those Duggars (those people are just weird).
Regardless, that’s not really my point here. During the course of this interview with Travis Henry, I just kept asking myself, “Whatever happened to personal responsibility and holding one’s self accountable for his/her actions?” I mean, sure, the court system in this particular situation is clearly doing everything it can to force Mr. Henry to be responsible for screwing (apparently) every woman he came into contact with during his professional football career. But what about Henry holding himself accountable? Ah yes, wishful thinking, I know. But is it really? My point is…why does it have to be wishful thinking? Why is it too much to expect that an American citizen, regardless of race or circumstance, who lives in the most prosperous and blessed nation in the history of the human race, would want and desire to be a responsible steward of all the riches and blessings which have been bestowed upon him/her?
I am a student of history – American history, in particular. And I can tell you without hesitation or regret that the type of personal accountability of which I speak used to be the brand and trademark of this nation. And you know what? That mindset is what made this the greatest country in the history of the world. But somewhere along the timeline of history, we lost that mentality. We, as individuals, have become selfish and arrogant. I still believe to this day that the ultimate display of that self-centered, narcissistic behavior came to the forefront on January 26, 1998, when our then President stood in front of the American people, looked us in the eye, and with finger wagging, defiantly told us that “[he] did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.” Of course, the weeks and months that followed that fateful day would prove otherwise (depending on which definition of “is” you use), and America would truly would go on to hit the rock bottom of the accountability cesspool. Unfortunately, we as a nation are still treading water in that cesspool, waiting on someone somewhere to toss us a line.
Fast forward 11 years or so to last Sunday, when I sat there in my kitchen, and learned the story of Travis Henry – the poster-child for personal irresponsibility (is that a word?). You catch my drift…
I don’t mean to pick on Bill Clinton. God knows we have hundreds of other public figures that we could utilize as examples of people who our children should be able to look to as a shining example of everything we want our kids to aspire to be, but who fail miserably and leave us trying to explain how or why it is that we are supposed to admire and respect these clowns. The reason I use the Clinton example is because I really, truly believe that this was the moment not only in my lifetime, but in the history of my country, when true accountability and personal responsibility died. Bill Bennett wrote an entire book about it called “The Death of Outrage.” If you have not read it, you should.
While Travis Henry’s story may be an “extreme” example of the self-absorbed, irresponsible culture we have become, the fact is, we have still become a self-absorbed, irresponsible culture. And until we correct this insidious, outrageous behavior, and once again start living for something and/or someone other than ourselves, then America’s best days are behind her. I, for one, refuse to believe that our best days are behind us…call it naïve…call it wishful thinking…call it my own version of “the audacity of hope”…call it whatever you want. All great movements throughout history started with one person. And my hope lies in knowing that there are millions of us out there who feel the same way.