Archive for the ‘family’ Category

What it means to be a crunchy conservative

First published Oct. 3, 2016

There are many mansions in the American conservative house, and some of them are old and funky and smell like a pot of organic mustard greens cooking down on the stove.

— Rod Dreher, from “Crunchy Cons”

It wasn’t until I was 45 that I started to think of myself as a conservative.

At heart, I had always been one, even in my 20s, when I called myself a democratic socialist, traveled to Nicaragua, read Hunter Thompson and listened to Neil Young.

I still listen to Neil Young.

Like many of my contemporaries, I had the idea that to be a conservative meant to be a belligerent neocon on foreign policy, a self-centered libertarian on economics and a closed-minded culture warrior on social matters.

I was wrong.

Although I’ve never met him — and he’s several years younger than I am — Rod Dreher had a big influence on my thinking after I had left the Democratic Party over its ideological rigidity, joined an Anglican church and become the managing editor of a daily newspaper.

Dreher’s book that introduced me to a different way of understanding this venerable philosophy had a title that could have been a chapter: “Crunchy Cons: How Birkenstocked Burkeans, Gun-loving Organic Gardeners, Evangelical Free-range Farmers, Hip Homeschooling Mamas, Right-wing Nature Lovers, and Their Diverse Tribe of Countercultural Conservatives Plan to Save America (or at Least the Republican Party).”

Crunchy conservatism, Dreher explained, is not a political program, but rather a “practical sensibility” based on what the wisdom of tradition teaches is best for families and communities.

It is about conserving those things that are good and true.

This summer, I read the book again, and was struck by how much things have changed in the 10 years since it was written.

What a different time 2005 was. George W. Bush was president, Pope John Paul II was succeeded by the even more orthodox Benedict XVI, the Defense of Marriage Act was still the law of the land, legal recreational marijuana was a pipe dream, we were engaged in costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Hurricane Katrina demonstrated how inept big government could be, the housing market was soaring, fueled by bad loan practices, and almost no one could foresee the financial meltdown that was coming.

I’m convinced that if the Republican Party had gone in the direction that Dreher and others suggested, rather than toward the hard-line libertarianism and isolationism of the tea party movement, it would have been able to compete with the Democratic Party for the hearts and minds of younger Americans and could have made a positive difference in our society.

Dreher’s crunchy (read: earthy) conservatism is traditional Burkean conservatism for a new generation. Edmund Burke, an 18th century Dubliner and British statesman, rejected abstract Enlightenment reason and “natural law” as guiding lights. All of us, he wrote, are influenced by our cultural traditions, and while individual liberty is important, community is no less so. We belong to one another, and that affects who were are.

Burke wrote that the individual is foolish, but the species is wise. We must learn from those who have gone before us and not rely solely on ourselves. And we must rely on the greater wisdom of the Supreme Being as handed down through the ages.

Mainstream liberalism and conservatism are both essentially materialistic, Dreher argues, and we should not be surprised that neither has led to the improvement of our national character. He describes his book as a rebuke to both the economic individualism of the right and the moral individualism of the left. Its purpose is to explore ways to live out conservative values in a culture that seeks to separate us from our values, families and communities.

In less than 250 pages, “Crunchy Cons” uses Dreher’s own experiences as well as those of people across the country who are living countercultural lives that are socially, spiritually and physically healthier than the ways of the dominant culture. He looks at organic farming and the slow food movement, new urban planning, walkable neighborhoods and aesthetically pleasing architectural design such as bungalows, the attraction of liturgical Christianity to a generation bored with “relevant” contemporary worship, and the understanding that conservation is the essence of conservatism.

“Crunchy Cons” was not a bestseller and is now out of print. It won’t make a list of the most influential conservative tomes, like William Buckley’s “God and Man at Yale” or Russell Kirk’s “The Conservative Mind.” But it influenced me more than any other book in my evolution into a conservative, and to see that I had been one all along. I recommend it to others.

You probably won’t be able to find it, though, unless you come across it at a secondhand bookstore or on Amazon, so in the weeks to come, I want to share a little more of it and hope it will stir your imagination, as it did mine.

Family stories are Kentucky’s history

First published April 17, 2015

When the big snow of February 1994 brought Lexington to a standstill for two days, I didn’t mind because it gave me time off from my job at Transylvania University to read Robert V. Remini’s magisterial biography of Kentucky statesman Henry Clay.

The setting for reading the book was ideal. The building I worked in, Old Morrison, was built under the supervision of Clay, speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, candidate for president and one of the great senators of the antebellum era. He also taught law at the university, and his little law office still stood about a block away from my apartment, which overlooked the backyard of the Hunt-Morgan House in historic Gratz Park.

Clay and his family worshipped at the Episcopal cathedral on the other side of the park, Christ Church, and theirestate, Ashland, was only a mile or so away.

Living in the Bluegrass, I was always reminded of the Clay family. The old Colby Tavern near my parents’ home in Clark County was a stagecoach stop between Lexington and Winchester where Henry Clay sometimes stayed the night before trying cases at the Clark County Courthouse.

On the way to Richmond, where I cut my teeth as a young reporter, was White Hall, the mansion of Henry’s cousin, Cassius Marcellus Clay, the famous abolitionist, newspaper editor and President Lincoln’s ambassador to Russia. The hospital in Richmond was named for his daughter, Pattie A. Clay.

And in Mount Sterling, I lived on Clay Street, named for Cassius’ father, Green Clay, who owned land for miles around, and a little red brick house down the street belonged to his family.

The Clays’ rich legacy is a reminder that the history of Kentucky is the history of the families that made our commonwealth what it is today. But that history is not only the story of the great and famous, but of those who aren’t as well known, yet made important contributions — families like the Coomeses of Bardstown.

If you read this column regularly, you may remember that last year around Veterans Day I wrote about Bill Coomes, a Marine in World War II who fought in the bloody Battle of Iwo Jima.

We’ve all seen the iconic image of Marines raising the flag atop Mount Suribachi, but Bill saw it firsthand from a few hundred yards away. When I interviewed him, he told me his father had fought in the trenches in World War I, his brother served in Korea and his son in Vietnam.

Days after the column was published, Bill stopped by the office to thank me for mentioning him, and he had a thin green folder containing some family background.

I learned the Coomeses played an important part in Kentucky’s story long before the 20th century.

If the genealogy is accurate, Bill’s great-great-great-great grandparents, William Coomes and Jane Frances Greenleaf Coomes, were an Irish Catholic couple from Maryland who came to Kentucky in 1775 with a party led by Abraham and Isaac Hite. They helped establish the first colonial settlement in Kentucky, Fort Harrod (now Harrodsburg) and defended it against Indian attacks.

William, who also fought in the Battle of Blue Licks during the Revolution, and his family moved in 1783 to Kentucky’s second city, Bardstown, which they also helped establish. They played a major part in the formation of the Catholic Church in this area, and donated part of their farm to the new western diocese for its see, which is now the Basilica of St. Joseph Proto-Cathedral.

And Jane Coomes, according to the history, was Kentucky’s first schoolteacher.

That, as the late radio announcer and armchair historian Paul Harvey would say, is “the rest of the story.”

Parents, teachers, students must end bullying

Published Jan. 23, 2015

As a reporter for more than 30 years, I have covered the funerals of three police officers who were murdered. I have interviewed parents and grandparents of soldiers who died in battle and the young daughter of a firefighter who gave his life trying to save the lives of others at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

In my work for newspapers, I have also attended memorial services for children, including the football stadium funeral of a high school athlete who died in a horrific accident in front of a crowd of onlookers, as well as a concert honoring another teenager, and her mother, who were brutally slain.

I have even sat next to the hospital bed of a young acquaintance in the last days of a terminal illness and talked with him about life, faith and death.

But the saddest thing I’ve ever had to cover was the funeral Jan. 10 of a little 12-year-old girl who took her own life because she was being bullied — at school and after school — and thought she couldn’t bear it any longer.

Reporters, like nurses and firefighters, aren’t supposed to cry. Through training and experience, we learn to steel ourselves against showing our emotions. But on that day, as I sat in that church, surrounded by Reagan Carter’s relatives, friends, acquaintances and many others who didn’t know her, watching images of this child’s once joyful life and listening to songs like “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” I couldn’t help but wipe my eyes with the sleeves of my sweater while trying to take notes.

I have a niece, a couple of years older than Reagan, who won’t go into a school restroom even once during the day because it’s a frightening place. She’s a normal kid with friends and strong family support, but I’ve seen her hurt because of rejection and unkind words spoken by mean girls. I couldn’t imagine losing her.

Being 12, 13 or 14 years old is an awkward time in a child’s life, and it’s hard enough without having to live in fear.

All of us have a responsibility for preventing bullying, but especially parents, teachers, school authorities and other students.

Since this tragedy occurred, I’ve heard from some who say a lack of parenting is a big part of the problem. Many young parents act like juveniles themselves, and instead of correcting their children when they do something wrong and teaching them respect for authority, they let them do whatever they want and confront the educators instead of the child.

Punishment is part of parenting. Sending a child to her room with her iPhone isn’t punishment. Taking it away if she uses it to bully other children is. And any parent who isn’t monitoring her child’s texts, email and social media is neglecting his responsibility.

At a meeting last week with state legislators, the husband of a former teacher’s aide mentioned that teachers are no longer allowed to discipline students. They can’t even touch them on the shoulder to get them back in line, he said. And he told of teenage boys who intimidate teachers by flicking pocketknives open and closed in class. Children shouldn’t be allowed to have anything in school that could be considered a weapon, and their smartphones should be turned off from the time they enter the building until they leave.

We also need to return to strict discipline in schools, including corporal punishment. If parents want to sue, let them.

At the meeting with the legislators, Reagan’s stepfather, Bill Hack, and another man, Jonathan Hahn, asked the lawmakers to look at New Jersey’s anti-bullying law, which Hack said requires immediate reporting of bullying incidents to authorities, investigation of every incident within a short time frame, and more accountability all around. Mediation isn’t the answer, he said, because in his daughter’s case, all it did was give the bullies more information to use against her after they were away from adult supervision. A tougher state law sounds like a step in the right direction, but it’s only part of the solution. One element of it should be to make it easier to take disruptive children out of the school and put them in an alternative program. The victims shouldn’t have to be the ones to change schools.

Changing the toxic atmosphere in schools and among teens is also important. As Nicholasville Police Officer Scott Harvey, whom I knew from church when I was editor of The Jessamine Journal, told Bardstown Middle and High School students last week, “your school will no longer have a bullying problem when the students decide to do something about it.” Students need to stand together and stand with those who are being abused. If anyone deserves ostracism, it is the abuser, not the victim.

Finally, all of us need to engage in a conversation about this problem and ask ourselves what we can do about it. Being role models and mentors, convincing kids that bullying isn’t cool, reporting incidents to those in authority and, as a community, embracing children who suffer ridicule, exclusion and threats are good ways to begin.

Christmas is a season to count our blessings

Published Dec. 19, 2014

I’m dreaming of a white Christmas …

Here in Kentucky, Christmas is more likely to be wet than white, but the meteorologists are predicting a big storm the morning of Dec.25, so one can only hope.

There’s something magical about snow — the crispness of the air, the way it carries scents like cedar and bourbon, the beauty of sunlight on a field of white.

Today is the first day of winter, and I don’t mind. I like all the seasons.

The Season of Advent, which is supposed to be a time to unwind and reflect on the true meaning of Christmas, is an impossibly busy time for newspaper people, as it is for retailers and many others.

As I take a few minutes to write this, I’m exhausted from back-to-back interviews and working well into the night, and I think I may be coming down with the flu.

I’m looking forward to the Christmas season, which goes from Christmas Eve until Epiphany (Jan. 6), so that I can finally get a little relief from the stress.

My family and I have rented a cabin in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., and I can’t wait to visit Gatlinburg’s craft shops, drive through the scenic Smoky Mountains or just sit by the fire with a good book and a cup of coffee and enjoy the company of those to whom I’m closest, but separated from by distance.

Those are the things that matter most, and that we shouldn’t take for granted.

On the day I wrote this, I interviewed a young couple — Breanna Miller and Kevin Murray — who are staying in a homeless shelter in Bardstown. The woman was about to give birth any day to her fourth child. They had come to Bardstown because they wanted to be near Brianna’s other children, who live here with her mother, but there was no more room in the house, so almost as soon as they arrived, the couple were without a home until Bethany Haven took them in.

The same day they came to the shelter, they both got part-time jobs. Things are looking up for them, Kevin told me.

Brianna said she would enjoy having her children at Bethany Haven for Christmas.

Barry McGuffin, the shelter director, mentioned another family that had been sleeping in the woods until they came to the shelter, and a middle-aged man who has been sleeping in his truck.

For security reasons, Bethany Haven can’t take in single men, but the plight of this man, who has been living on the streets in Bardstown for months, has resulted in a flurry of activity on Facebook, and a local effort to find food and shelter for him.

Barry told me people here have raised hundreds of dollars to pay for a motel room for him for several nights, and others have provided gas cards and gift cards for food.

The same day I talked with the homeless couple, I was on the scene of a house fire. Kecia Copeland, a new city councilwoman, and her son, Joshua, who had recently rented the house in Wellington, were lucky to escape unharmed before the structure filled with smoke. They, too, may be without a place to call home for a while.

Someone wise, possibly the Scotsman Ian McLaren, said, “Let us be kind, one to another, for most of us are fighting a hard battle.”

Those are words we should heed year-round, but especially at Christmas, when there is much to occupy our thoughts, and yet many who have it harder than we do.

My wish is that you have a Merry Christmas and a prosperous and Happy New Year, and that you spread tidings of comfort and joy to all you encounter during this time of peace and good will.

St. Andrew’s Day — A celebration of Scots

Published Nov. 28, 2014


Why should the Irish get all the attention when the Scots have given the world as much as their Celtic cousins?

Every March 17, Americans wear green, decorate with shamrocks, march in parades, sing “Danny Boy” and toast each other with a hearty “Slainte!” as we quaff a pint of stout or a drop o’ the pure.

Sure, the Irish have given us William Butler Yeats, U2, Guinness and the Kennedys, and for that we must be grateful. But what about the Scots? They’ve given us Robert Burns, Scotty Reston, whisky, wool, bagpipes, “Braveheart,” plaid and penicillin and let’s not forget, capitalism, the Reformation, the Enlightenment and haggis.

OK, we can forget that last one.

Today is St. Andrew’s Day, and it should be a celebration of all things Scottish in America and around the world.

St. Andrew is Scotland’s patron saint, just as St. Patrick is Ireland’s. But he’s higher on the list. He was one of Jesus’ 12 disciples and the brother of St. Peter, the first pontiff. His white cross, on a field of blue, is the national flag of Scotland, which, this year, to my pleasure, decided to remain part of the 300-year-old union of Great Britain.

In Scotland, people celebrate the day with poetry, céilidh dancing, and traditional music, food and drink. Given that so many Americans are the descended from Scots, I’d like to see some of those traditions catch on here.

At least, we should wear blue and toast each other with a hearty “Slainte!” which is the same word in Scottish as in Irish Gaelic.


For many years, I believed my Patrick ancestors were from Northern Ireland. A few years ago, however, I was taking an obituary from a man named Douglas Patrick from Staunton, Va. We learned we were related, and he had a history of the family that goes back to the 15th century. How accurate that genealogy is, I don’t know, but here’s the story in brief.

My first identified ancestor, John Patrick, was born in 1429 in Ayrshire, near the English Borders, and was a notary. His grandson, William, moved his family to Edinburgh. Seven generations later, Hugh Patrick married Mary Campbell and had four sons, Robert, Hugh, William and John. All four emigrated to Philadelphia in 1725. Hugh, a Revolutionary War soldier, owned land in Virginia. His son, Robert, described as “a solitary, restless soul,” was born in 1764 in Augusta County, which included all of Kentucky and most of West Virginia.

Robert served in the Kentucky militia in the War of 1812 and had 17 children by two wives. He died an old man in Arkansas just before the Civil War.

His grandson, Charles, who married a cousin, Elizabeth Patrick, of Magoffin County, fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War. He was the grandfather of Malcolm Patrick, my great-grandfather, who, I was told by my grandparents, Norman and Junie Patrick, was a teacher and preacher.

In Magoffin County, the Patricks are as plentiful as Mattinglys are in Nelson. My maternal grandmother’s family were from a different branch of Patricks who fought for the Union.

My father and mother’s families moved to the Bluegrass in the early 20th century and settled near Mount Sterling and Winchester, my hometown.

Someday I hope to visit Ayrshire and Edinburgh, and if I’m fortunate to have a child, I look forward to telling him or her our family’s story.

In gratitude to the greatest generation

Published Nov. 15, 2014

O beautiful for heroes proved in liberating strife

Who more than self their country loved,

And mercy more than life.

Those words, sung by Ray Charles, played in an endless loop in my head on Veterans Day after I had listened to the song the night before.

In my pantheon of heroes, those I hold in highest regard are the old warriors. The “greatest generation.” The ones who saved the world.

They are men like Bill Coomes of Bardstown, whom I interviewed last week for our Veterans Day edition.

We’ve all seen the iconic photograph of U.S. Marines raising the American flag on the island of Iwo Jima in the Pacific in World War II. But Bill, who landed on Iwo Jima on his 19th birthday, was there and saw it, although he was a few hundred yards away.

Bill fought the Japanese in one of the most ferocious battles of the war and lived to remember it. Many of his buddies didn’t. He told me about the last moments he spent with one of them, Calvin Moriarty, who “met his death with serenity and grace” after being hit by enemy fire.

Bill was reticent about discussing it when I brought it up at the library one day.

“This is the most I’ve talked about what I’ve done. I’m not trying to forget it because it was so horrible, but what good does it do to talk about it?” he told me toward the end of the interview. “If you were there, there’s no need to explain it. If you weren’t there, there’s no way you can explain what it was like. It would make no sense.”

Bill’s family has a long legacy of serving our country. His father fought in the trenches in World War I, his brother was wounded in the Korean Conflict, his son was in Vietnam, and his grandson is in the U.S. Air Force.

I never served in the military, and I regret that I didn’t. Nor did my father, who was 27 and had a wife and two children when the war in Vietnam was at its zenith.

Being a 27-year-old husband and father, however, didn’t keep my grandfather from being drafted, because in 1945, the Army needed every man. Fortunately for him, he didn’t have to go into the maelstrom. After he completed his training and was about to be shipped out, the war ended.

His brothers were not as fortunate. Otis, Lawson and James all served. Two of them came home. James didn’t. He gave his life liberating Europe and protecting America and the rest of the world from the Nazi menace.

My grandfather didn’t talk about it except to say his brother had died in the war. For years, I believed James had been killed in Italy, but one summer afternoon, I was traveling the back roads of Montgomery County with my family, and we stopped at a little roadside cemetery at Antioch and discovered my great-uncle’s grave. According to his headstone and a newspaper clipping Dad later found, Pvt. 1st Class James Edward Patrick had been killed in action in France on Aug. 12, 1944, only a few weeks after the Normandy Invasion. He had been in service since October 1942. His brothers, both corporals, had served more than two years.

The article said he was a member of the Assembly of God in Jeffersonville and who his relatives were, but not who he was.

So I asked my friend Mary, who knew him, and this is what she told me on Facebook.

James was a “quiet, handsome fellow” and “a good friend of all of us teenage girls,” she said. “But it was Bedford Brown’s sister Rachel, a petite little blonde and as shy as James was” that he adored. “They went together until James went into service. When he was killed, Rachel grieved for years, finally joined the (Women’s Army Corps) and stayed in Japan with the Army several years. She finally married when she was in her 30s, but I know she died loving James.”

The best Mary could recollect, James’ brother, Otis, was captured by the Germans in Italy. That may be why I was confused about where James had died.

I would like to have known him, but knowing more about him — who he was, whom he loved — gives me a deeper appreciation of what he and others like him sacrificed in those dark days to restore freedom’s light.

June 2017
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