Author Archives: Warren J. Ludlow

A Dull, Dreary Affair

Somerset Maugham once wrote, “Death is a very dull, dreary affair, and my advice to you is to have nothing whatsoever to do with it.” If only we could.

Over the past few years, I have thought a lot about death, even though I have tried not to. It began with the death of my sister-in-law and, later, my brother-in-law. Then, last Christmas, I published a sappy little novel called Angels Are Waiting,[i] dealing with death during the COVID pandemic, which has claimed more than a million American lives. After that, I witnessed a person close to me repeatedly attempt death by suicide (fortunately, he was unsuccessful). And then, earlier this month, a close friend died from cancer. And that’s not even considering the constant stories of deaths we hear in the news each day, from Russia bombing civilians in Ukraine to sick people killing school children and others with assault weapons in a country that is supposed to be at peace.

My first experience with death was when my grandpa died. I was only five years old and didn’t understand it. I only remember sitting by my cousin, watching my grandma, and wondering why she kept crying.

When I was twelve, death hit me much harder. My sister died of a heart condition when she was 17. She was Exhibit A of the saying, “Only the good die young.” She was intelligent, talented, loved life, and died too soon. A friend who lived across the street from me died a few years later in a car accident. His death, along with my sister’s, taught me that the saddest deaths are those who die suddenly and whose lives end much sooner than they should.

Fred Rogers, the star of the children’s show, Won’t You Be My Neighbor, was not one to shy away from challenging issues. In this scene from the movie, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,[ii] Mr. Rogers (played by Tom Hanks) teaches us that death is a part of being human:

Although we try to put death out of our minds, many have at least some fear of it. Will the act of dying be painful? Will my family and friends remember me after I’m gone? Is there life after death, and if so, what will it be like? Both of my parents died the right way. My dad died in his sleep at the age of 97. My mom made it to 100 and died peacefully in the arms of her favorite caregiver. They both had long and mostly happy lives and outlived almost all of their friends. And although those of us left behind miss them still, we knew they were ready to move on. I keep hoping one of them will tell me what life after death might be like, but I continue to wait.

My parents’ deaths taught me that it doesn’t have to be painful. People who have had near-death experiences—flatlined but later resuscitated—generally describe the experience as peaceful. And in some cases, death might be a good thing. In this scene from the film, The Life of David Gale,[iii] a death-row inmate (played by Kevin Spacey) tells a reporter (played by Kate Winslet) that death—including his own—is sometimes a gift:

What happens to us after death is difficult for me to answer. I will be the first to admit that I don’t know. Does God exist, and will we live after death? I hope so, but I do not know. Regardless of our beliefs, though, we should be focused on life before death, and whether we believe in God or life after death should not matter to how we live our lives. So, the Christian and the atheist should want the same thing—to make each day special. For believers, to ensure their status in the next life. For non-believers, because this day might be their last. We should not want to be one of those people Benjamin Franklin spoke of when he said, “Some people die at 25 and aren’t buried until 75.”

So, how do we manage death? More specifically, how do we handle the deaths of loved ones around us? Fred Rogers gives us an excellent example in the clip from A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. Here is another example from the movie Lars and Real Girl:[iv]

When dealing with those who have lost a loved one, I suggest the four H’s:

Hug it up – you don’t need to say anything, just a simple gesture of love, like a hug will do. And remember, real men hug.

Hang out – This is what the women in Lars and the Real Girl did. They just hung out. Or, as they explained to Lars: “We came over to sit. That’s what people do when tragedy strikes.” People in mourning or crisis need to be around others, but they don’t always need or want to interact with them.

Hush up – Offering hollow platitudes doesn’t help. For example, a person who suddenly dies, leaving behind a stay-at-home mom with three children, one of them battling cancer and a stroke, does not care to hear that “God must have needed him more on the other side.” Whether statements like that are factual or not (as if we know anyway) are not particularly comforting to the person wondering how God could have taken her husband at a time when she needed him most.

Help out– When you see something that needs doing, step in and do it. Don’t ask if there is anything you can do to help; just do it. So often, a person in crisis or tragedy is paralyzed. They know many things need to be done, but they can’t remember most of them or even how to do them, if they remember them at all. For example, I have seen persons in times of crisis who can’t remember even how to use the phone. So make the calls for them. Arrange for food. Cut the lawn. Do something.

A final thought. When my sister suddenly died at 17, my mother was devastated. For about three weeks, extended family, friends, neighbors, and church members rallied around us. Then their own lives took precedence again, and they essentially disappeared. We were left alone. We don’t blame them, for life does go on. But that was the most challenging part for Mom—the time after the initial shock of the tragedy wore off. So go over and sit with friends in need. Just remember, people need us throughout the entire grieving process., which, in some ways, never ends.

I wish no one had to face death—either their own or that of a loved one. But my wishes are seldom granted, and I know this one will not be. As to our own deaths, let’s remember the words of Mark Twain: “The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man [or woman] who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.” As a comfort when a loved one dies, let’s remember these words of George Eliot: “Our dead are never dead to us until we have forgotten them.” So, let’s tell their stories and pass them down through the generations, so we never forget.

In the final analysis, I like this philosophy of David Gerrold: “Life is hard. Then you die. Then they throw dirt in your face. Then worms eat you. Be grateful it happens in that order.”


[i] Angels Are Waiting (and all my other books) can be purchased on Amazon.com. Just search “Warren J. Ludlow.”

[ii] A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood:

  • Production Companies: Big Beach Films, Tencent Pictures, and TriStar Pictures
  • Director: Marielle Heller
  • Screenwriters: Micah Fitzerman-Blue, Noah Harpster, and Tom Junod
  • Starring: Tom Hanks, Matthew Rhys, and Chris Cooper
  • Release Date: November 22, 2019

[iii] The Life of David Gale:

  • Production Companies: Universal Pictures, Intermedia Films, and Dirty Hands Productions
  • Director: Alan Parker
  • Screenwriter: Charles Randolph
  • Starring: Kevin Spacey, Kate Winslet, and Laura Linney
  • Release Date: February 21, 2003

[iv] Lars and Real Girl:

  • Production Companies: MGM, Sidney Kimmel Entertainment, and Lars Productions
  • Director: Craig Gillespie
  • Screenwriter: Nancy Oliver
  • Starring: Ryan Gosling, Emily Mortimer, Paul Schneider and Patricia Clarkson
  • Release Date: November 2, 2007

Living Life Authentically

I watched the 75th annual Tony Awards a few weeks back (yes, I am a musical theater geek).  Part of the acceptance speech of Matt Doyle, this year’s winner for best actor in a featured role in a musical, impressed me when he said, “Thank you to my family … who believed in me pursuing my passion and … believed that the only way I’d be happy is to live my life authentically.”

What does it mean to live your life authentically? If you are LGBTQIA, it means, at least in part, acknowledging your sexual preference, and having the courage to tell others about it. To have that kind of courage, you must have enough pride in who you are to not care what others think when you tell them you are different from what much of society considers to be the norm. But we have come a long way during my lifetime. Thanks to so many brave and vulnerable individuals, “coming out” is now almost commonplace. But that is not to say it is now easy.  So, in honor of June being Pride Month, I am revisiting and updating two previous blog posts dealing with LGBTQIA.

The first time I thought seriously about LGBTQIA (or homosexuals, as we referred to them back then) was in the early 1980s. I sat in a church leadership meeting listening to a therapist who explained that homosexuality is a perversion, and a young man becomes homosexual due to the lack of a strong father. Even back then I wondered how true that was. Did that mean every son of a single mother was destined to be gay? If that were true, why did one son turn out gay while another son in the same family did not? But worse, I wondered how that teaching made fathers feel if one of their sons turned out to be gay.

Back then, I didn’t know anyone who was LGBTQIA – at least that I knew of. My first face-to-face experience with a gay person occurred when we moved to Houston in 1986. Two men lived next door to us. They were young professionals, sharp in their appearance, and two of the nicest neighbors we have ever had. They were gay men in a committed relationship. After learning of their sexual preferences, thankfully, my opinion of them did not diminish in the least. The film, Love, Simon,[i] emphasizes this point where Simon comes out to his parents, but tells them “I’m still me”:

Since those days in the early 80s, I have discovered that one of my best friends is gay, one of my best friends in high school is gay (although I didn’t know it at the time), three daughters of other good friends are lesbian, two sons of high school friends are gay, my nephew is gay, one of the top executives of my former employer is gay, and my son’s in-laws have two lesbian daughters, both of which have married their lesbian sweethearts.

And I love each and every one of them.

As the world has more readily accepted those who have come out of the closet, I discovered that Shakespeare was only partly right. It isn’t just absence that makes the heart grow fonder, so does familiarity.

When my good friend came out to us, he struggled to find the courage to do so. How sad is that? Isn’t that what best friends are for – having someone to confide in who won’t judge us? And like Simon, he can breathe a little easier now, with his secret out. After that experience, I now laugh at this next clip from Love, Simon which reverses the roles: 

I watched Love, Simon in a packed movie house, and I am glad I did. The audience laughed and cried along with Simon and his friends and family. I shed more than my share of tears, not just because of what was happening on screen, but I felt the love and acceptance of this audience of all ages, different genders, and ethnicities toward Simon, and indirectly toward all LGBTQIA, and I realized how far we have come since the 1980s.

Meanwhile, many continue to campaign against same-sex marriage and teach that being LGBTQIA is a choice because God would never make a mistake. In discussing this with my good friend, he remarked, “Why would I ever choose to be gay?” He then explained that the way society has treated gays throughout the years, he would have to be a masochist to choose such a lifestyle. And he would know, as he went through destructive conversion therapy, and listened to the counsel of church leaders who told him if he married a woman and played the part of a heterosexual, God would remove the feelings of same-sex attraction from him. Instead, like many other gays, he tried it and found it just doesn’t work that way.

Pastor and writer, John Pavlovitz, said it this way: “Yes, LGBT people are absolutely making a choice. They are choosing to be the most honest, authentic versions of themselves. They are choosing to be led by the unfiltered direction of their hearts, just as you and I are. They are choosing to relent to the things that in all of our lives, never can be chosen. The only relevant choices for straight Christians are whether or not we will treat the LGBT community as fully complex, intelligent, emotionally intricate human beings; and whether or not we will be willing to examine both our personal opinions and our theology accordingly. The choice is ours.”

The burden of being authentic is not just on LGBTQIA; it is vital that those of us who are straight do our part. How do we react when someone comes out to us? Notice how Simon’s dad reacted in the clip above. Do we act like it’s a joke or look at them questioningly and ask, “Are you sure? It might just be a phase.” From my limited experience, a person has thought long and hard about it before coming out; it’s not a spur of the moment decision.

In this scene from Rocketman,[ii] Elton John has finally summoned enough courage to admit to his mum he is gay:

I realize that sometimes we are caught off guard when someone shares with us their sexual preference. But most of the time, we have at least an inkling. So, when someone becomes vulnerable enough to share with us this intimate part of themselves, I hope we can listen unquestioningly and return only love and understanding.

But it is not just LGBTQIA who need to live authentic lives to be happy. Each of us have phobias, quirks, or destructive thoughts that we often don’t share with others. Or maybe we have a mental illness that we keep secret because we worry about being labeled by our illness. But we are not our diseases, mental illnesses, or our phobias, although admittedly they influence us. While I don’t necessarily believe we should air all our vulnerabilities on Facebook or Instagram, we should consider sharing our authentic selves with those we love.

While in my early 20s, my girlfriend at the time tried to break up with me. But I wouldn’t let her. She told me all the reasons why we were not good for each other, but I wouldn’t listen. I told her I would be better. Frustrated with me, she finally agreed to go out with me again. During that next date I was the perfect gentleman. I did everything I thought she would want me to do, and said all the things I thought she would want me to say. And at the end of the date, she complimented me on being so nice—and that maybe we had a future after all.

But at some point during that date I realized I could act like the person she wanted me to be but I also knew that person wasn’t me, and ultimately, I would never be happy being with her. And so, I responded, no, we didn’t have a future together. Neither her way nor my way was right; we were just different. And neither of us could live authentic lives with each other.

C.S. Lewis said, “Be weird. Be random. Be who you are. Because you never know who could love the person you hide.” I believe those who show their authentic selves—who don’t let others define them—are the smartest, most successful and happiest among us. Ashton Kutcher, playing Steve Jobs in the movie Jobs, says it better than I can: “Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

I’ll end with my favorite quote from Audrey Hepburn. She calls it her greatest beauty tip: “For attractive lips, speak words of kindness. For lovely eyes, seek out the good in people. For a slim figure, share your food with the hungry. For beautiful hair, let a child run his or her fingers through it once a day. For poise, walk with the knowledge that you never walk alone. People, more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed. Never throw out anyone. Remember, if you ever need a helping hand you will find one at the end of each of your arms. As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands; one for helping yourself, and the other for helping others. Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those that matter don’t mind.”


[i] Love, Simon:

  • Production Companies: Fox 2000 Pictures, New Leaf Literary & Media, and Temple Hill Entertainment
  • Director: Greg Berlanti
  • Screenwriters: Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker (based on the novel by Becky Albertalli)
  • Starring: Nick Robinson, Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel
  • Release date: March 16, 2018

[ii] Rocketman:

  • Production Companies: Paramount Pictures, New Republic Pictures, and Marv Films
  • Director: Dexter Fletcher
  • Screenwriter: Lee Hall
  • Starring: Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell, and Bryce Dallas Howard
  • Release date: May 31, 2019

Crazy Is as Crazy Does

Yesterday marked the end of Mental Health Awareness Month. Did anyone notice? With two mass shootings in America during May which killed at least 31 people (most of them children), mental health has been in the news lately. Some blame those killings on mental illness, although neither shooter had been diagnosed with one. Persons diagnosed with a mental illness cause only four percent of violent crimes in America. It is more common for those with a mental illness to be the victim of a violent crime than the perpetrator of it. But I will leave gun control for another blog post.

I believe we are all crazy in our own way, as most of us have some form of mental illness. But most of us live everyday, productive lives despite our craziness. Somehow, we can manage it. For example, I am claustrophobic. Put me in a stuck, crowded elevator, and I will start to panic immediately. A plane trip becomes almost unbearable if I don‘t get an aisle seat. When I read a news report several years ago of a man killed on a plane by fellow passengers when he went crazy and rushed the cockpit, I thought that could have been me—and might be someday. As I have often said, claustrophobia is irrational, but the fear is real. I also have tinnitus—a constant ringing in my ear. When I first came down with it, I couldn’t sleep and could barely function. The only thing I could focus on was that constant ringing. It took over a month to “make friends with the ringing,” where I could focus on something other than the noise in my head. And it didn’t help to know that there is no cure, meaning the ringing would stay with me forever. But some are not so lucky. I recently read that the CEO of Texas Roadhouse restaurants died by suicide because he could no longer handle his tinnitus.

But living with tinnitus and claustrophobia is easy compared to what some people have to live with. So, in honor of May being Mental Health Awareness Month, I want to make us more aware of three forms of mental illness that some of my family and friends suffer with. And to help that awareness become more accurate, I will use only documentary films to discuss them.

Bipolar Disorder:

Also known as manic depression, a person with bipolar disorder will have extreme shifts in mood—cycles over time, ranging from deep depression to extremely elevated mania. While people with bipolar disorder may have difficulty managing everyday life or maintaining relationships, many afflicted individuals live outstandingly successful lives, particularly between their episodes of depression and mania.

More than 10 million Americans have bipolar disorder. It affects men and women equally and all races, ethnic groups, and socioeconomic classes. Although bipolar disorder more commonly develops in older teenagers and young adults, it can appear in children as young as six. You might recognize many of these people with bipolar disorder: Mariah Carey, Carrie Fisher, Mel Gibson, Brian Wilson, Ernest Hemingway, Ted Turner, Frank Sinatra, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Patty Duke, Winston Churchill, Kanye West, Selma Gomez, Sting, Florence Nightingale, Buzz Aldrin, and Virginia Woolf.

The episodes of both depression and mania are dangerous. During the depression, death by suicide is a constant worry, as the person sees their lives as hopeless. But the mania can be even worse. The person has inflated self-esteem or grandiosity. They rarely sleep more than a few hours at night—if at all. They talk a mile a minute with racing thoughts and are easily distracted, often by unimportant details. In addition, the person usually has an increase in goal-directed activity as they attempt to make millions of dollars, save the poor, and resolve all social injustices. Some persons turn hyper-religious and might have “visions” of God, Christ, or departed loved ones. But with such thoughts and goals comes excessive involvement in activities that have a high potential for painful consequences, such as engaging in unrestrained buying sprees, sexual indiscretions, or foolish business investments. You could read all the books written about bipolar disorder, but you will not fully understand it until you see it yourself.

Sadly, under current laws (at least in Texas), mental help for a person with bipolar is limited. The person can be involuntarily placed in a behavioral facility only if they are a danger to themselves or others. And being stupid (e.g., unrestrained buying sprees, sexual indiscretions, or foolish business investments) does not qualify. On the depression side, all the patient needs to say is they do not have suicidal thoughts to stay out of the treatment center. On the manic side, all the patient needs to do is “act normal.” Typically, a person in a manic episode involuntarily placed in a behavioral facility will be heavily dosed with antipsychotic drugs for a few days. Then, the patient acts normal and says all the right things and is returned to the streets but still manic, often returning to the facility a short time later to do it all over again.

Fortunately, medication helps—if you can keep the person taking them. For who doesn’t love the feeling mania brings? Why would you want to take anything that takes away that high? From my experience, stress exacerbates mood swings, so a person with bipolar needs to take their medication, learn their stress triggers and change their lifestyle to lessen or avoid those triggers.

The documentary Of Two Minds[i] follows the lives of a handful of persons with bipolar disorder. Here is the trailer:

You can watch Of Two Minds on YouTube or rent it on Amazon Prime Video for two dollars. I love what one person in the documentary says: “We are your mother, we’re your sister, we’re your brother, we’re friends, we’re your neighbors, and we’re out there, and we want to be respected for who we are, and we don’t want to be in the closet.”

Eating Disorders:

A person with an eating disorder has a severely destructive relationship with food. Out-of-control eating (or not eating) rituals and obsessive food or body-related thoughts dominate that person’s life. Anorexia and bulimia are the most well-known eating disorders. 

An estimated 4.39 million women and 1.09 men have an eating disorder. Every 62 minutes, a person dies due to an eating disorder. About one in five persons with an eating disorder attempt death by suicide. A traumatic experience brings about an eating disorder in about 30 percent of those who have one. But sadly, 75 percent of people with eating disorders do not seek professional help.

You might recognize many of these people with an eating disorder: Princess Diana, Russell Brand, Paula Abdul, Demi Lovato, Lady Gaga, Elton John, Jane Fonda, Taylor Swift, Angelina Jolie, Karen Carpenter, and Jessica Alba.

The documentary Thin[ii] follows several patients at a Florida treatment center specializing in eating disorders. One of them, Brittany, had an eating disorder since age eight when she binged everything in sight. Now a teenager, she dropped from 185 pounds to 97 pounds in a single year. Here is a discussion between Brittany and her counselor:

Counselor: “Why are you so concerned about what other people think of you?”

Brittany: “Because that’s what I’ve always cared about my whole life. That’s the reason I lost weight in the first place. This is what I want. I want to be thin. And if it takes dying to get there? So be it.”  

Here is my favorite scene from the film:

You can watch Thin on HBO Max or rent it on Amazon Prime for three dollars.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD):

OCD is a pattern of overwhelming thoughts and fears (the obsession) that lead to repetitive behaviors (the compulsion), which interfere with daily activities and overall health. The obsessions vary from person to person, but common ones include order and symmetry, worries about turning off the gas or locking the door, counting or following a particular order of actions, and germ phobia.

In the U.S., three million Americans struggle with OCD. According to the World Health Organization, anxiety disorders like OCD are more prevalent in developed countries than developing countries. OCD affects men and women equally. Researchers have also noticed a link between childhood trauma and OCD.

You might recognize many of these people with OCD: Daniel Radcliffe, Cameron Diaz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Megan Fox, Justin Timberlake, David Beckham, Katy Perry, Howard Hughes, Howie Mandel, Billy Bob Thornton, Charlize Theron, and Nicolas Cage.

The documentary OCD: The War Inside[iii] tracts the lives of several individuals with OCD. Tricia is my favorite. Here is a scene from the film:

You can watch the documentary on YouTube for free.

In another part of the film, Tricia says this:

“I was showering ten to twelve times a day. I started off with just, like, you know, soap on my body, shampoo, conditioner. Then it became soap, shampoo, shampoo, conditioner, soap, shampoo, conditioner on my whole body. Then, then it became dish soap, shampoo, conditioner, soap. Then it became dish soap, shampoo, conditioner, soap. Then it became laundry detergent, shampoo, conditioner, dish soap. Then it became Comet [cleanser], laundry detergent—yeah, I knew I had a problem when I was like using Comet to clean my body and laundry detergent. When your whole day is OCD, if you can get like 14 seconds, one minute, two minutes, anything, it’s worth it. It’s worth scrubbing the skin off of your body just to get two minutes of peace and quiet. Like when it’s all day, every day when you go to bed thinking about it, you wake up thinking about it, you have nightmares about it, that two minutes is worth more than anything in the world.”

Notice how Tricia’s thoughts and actions continually spiral downward into a “parade of horribles” until she can barely function. It is a hard way to live. Fortunately, medication and therapy can help those with OCD, like most mental illnesses.

In his book, Turtles All the Way Down (about a teenager suffering from OCD), author John Green sums up how I feel about mental illness: “There is hope, even when your brain tells you there isn’t.”

But people with mental illness need the help of others. We need to drop the stigma associated with mental illness and stop thinking about those with mental illness as somehow less of a person or less than ourselves. As Glenn Close said, “What mental health needs are more sunlight, more candor, and more unashamed conversation.” For the help of all of us, let’s have that candor and conversation.


[i] Of Two Minds:

  • Production Company: MadPix
  • Directors: Douglas Blush and Lisa J. Klein
  • Starring: Terri Cheney, Carlton Davis, and Cheri Keating
  • Release date: April 2012

[ii] Thin:

  • Producers: R. J. Cutler, Lauren Greenfield, Amanda Micheli, and Ted Skillman
  • Director: Lauren Greenfield
  • Starring: Shelly Guillory, Brittany Robinson, and Alisa Williams
  • Release date: October 21, 2006

[iii] OCD: The War Inside:

  • Production Company: National Film Board of Canada
  • Directors: David Hoffort and Mark Pancer
  • Starring: Marvin Freedman, Tricia Huggins, and Chris Krija
  • Release date: October 3, 2002

The Unfinished Work

Mark Twain once said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” I think he meant that circumstances change over time, but today’s issues sound like past issues.

My wife and I recently returned from a nine-day tour of Civil War sites. Our trip included the battlefields of Manassas (Bull Run), Fredericksburg, Antietam (Sharpsburg), and Gettysburg. Antietam is still the bloodiest one-day battle in American history, where close to 25,000 died. Gettysburg is the deadliest three-day battle in American history, where over 40,000 soldiers lost their lives. By comparison, 2,500 American soldiers died on D-Day. We don’t know the total number of soldiers’ deaths in the Civil War, but educated guesses range from 620,000 to 850,000, almost more than the total deaths from all the other wars America has fought in. And if you look at total casualties in the Civil War (those killed, wounded, captured, and missing), estimates soar to 1.5 million. So taking the lower estimate of deaths of 620,000, those deaths equaled two percent of the entire population of the United States at the time. Proportionately, that would equal six million based on today’s population.

Sadly, I wonder if those deaths were somewhat in vain. The significant Civil War issues of slavery, equality, and state rights existed among the Founding Fathers and continue today, despite a civil war fought to decide them.

Let’s look at each issue of slavery, equality, and states rights and see how much progress we have made over the past two hundred years.

Slavery

America’s great paradox is how a nation founded on the principle of “all men are created equal” could allow slavery to continue for almost a hundred years. Thomas Jefferson, who wrote those words in the Declaration of Independence, is perhaps the most outstanding example of that paradox. He wrote those hallowed words and produced other important documents urging the end of slavery, yet in 1800, he counted as family eleven free whites and 93 enslaved people, two of whom were his own children. In 1772, Jefferson owned about 200 enslaved people, making Jefferson the second-largest slaveholder in his county.

The delegates to the Constitutional Convention from several states wanted slavery abolished. But it became clear that if slavery remained an issue, the states would never agree on a new form of government. So, to ensure getting a new constitution, the delegates kicked the slavery issue down the road. We are all familiar with the infamous compromise in the Constitution for determining a state’s number of representatives in Congress. Northern states didn’t want to count enslaved people since they were merely property. Southern states wanted them counted to prevent disproportionate representation favoring the North. The convention ultimately agreed to count each black as three-fifths of a person.

Many Constitutional delegates opposed slavery on moral grounds but saw no practical way of ending it. And so, for the next 50 years, led by political leaders such as Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, and John C. Calhoun, the country entered a series of compromises that kept the country together but delayed the ultimate resolution of the slavery issue. But as those willing to compromise died, the country became more polarized—similar to today’s politics.

In a four-way race, Lincoln won the presidential election of 1860 with less than 40 percent of the vote. Although morally against slavery, he thought the Constitution prevented him from abolishing slavery in the states where it already existed. And so, his initial goal as President was to preserve the Union and prevent the spread of slavery into newly-created states.

He traveled by train from Illinois to Washington, D.C., for his first inauguration. But as he neared Baltimore, an undercover Pinkerton detective discovered a plot to kill the President before he could take office. A similar scheme took place recently when, on January 6, 2022, rioters stormed the Capitol to prevent the certification of Joe Biden as our new President. President Lincoln disguised himself, changed routes, and snuck into the Capitol to avoid the plot. How ironic that the President had to employ methods used by the Underground Railroad to evade his pursuers.  

In Lincoln’s first inaugural address, he tried one last time to appease the Southern states: “I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the states where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.” He then hoped the “better angels of our nature” would realize the value and importance of preserving the Union.

But his words fell on deaf ears. The day after his address, the South demanded federal troops evacuate all federal facilities in the South. Then, a few weeks later, the South fired on Fort Sumter, and the Civil War began. 

The end of the war brought with it the adoption of the 13th Amendment, which says: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for a crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” But a close reading of the language reveals a loophole. The prohibition against slavery does not apply to anyone convicted of a crime.

The documentary 13th[i] argues the government has effectively continued slavery by “law and order” policies that have disproportionately incarcerated people of color. Here is a clip from the film that compiles “13 truths” supporting the movie’s premise:

Although slavery does not exist in the same form as before the Civil War, if you are a felon, an abused spouse, or a young person trapped in human trafficking, you would consider yourself enslaved.

Equality

Most of the country’s early leaders, even those who opposed slavery, did not consider blacks equal to whites. Thomas Jefferson once said, “Blacks are inferior to whites in the endowments of both mind and body.” In his autobiography, Jefferson wrote: “Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than these people are to be free. Nor is it less certain that the two races, equally free, cannot live in the same government. Nature, habit, opinion has drawn indelible lines of distinction between them.”

Abraham Lincoln had a similar opinion. During one of his debates with Stephen Douglas, he said:

“I am not now, nor ever been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races. I am not now, nor ever been, in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people. And I will say, in addition to this, there is a physical difference between the white and black races, which I believe will ever forbid the two races from living on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they remain together, there must be a position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.”

Thankfully, Lincoln’s opinion started to change when he became more familiar with black individuals such as Frederick Douglass. Still, his statement in the Douglass debate was typical of the feelings of most whites at the time.

After the assassination of President Lincoln and the failure of Reconstruction, states began passing laws that became known as Jim Crow laws. And segregation became the rule, especially in the South. But it was more than just where you could sit on a bus or what drinking fountain you used. States in the North as well as the South, and even the federal government, instigated laws, policies, and practices that discriminated against people of color in housing, lending, employment, voting, education, and employment.

In the film, A Raisin in the Sun,[ii] Walter Lee Younger (played by Sidney Portier) and his family have lived in the same small Chicago apartment for years. Then, using part of an insurance payment, Younger’s mother buys a small home in a predominantly white neighborhood. In this scene, the head of the HOA of their new community offers to buy their new house from them, asking the Youngers, “Wouldn’t you be happier living with your own kind?”

A hundred years after the Civil War, people of color were still fighting for equality. Finally, in the 1960s, laws began to change, but not until after years of demonstrations, marches, and protests.

States Rights

The Founding Fathers constantly battled over what the new federal government should look like. Washington, Adams, and Hamilton argued that a strong central government was necessary if the states were to be united. They used the ineffective Articles of Confederation as Exhibit A to their arguments. Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe saw it differently. A strong federal government would most assuredly lead to another monarchy like the one from which the colonies had just declared independence. Therefore, Jefferson considered all domestic policy off-limits to the federal government. He equated the federal government to a “foreign power” that had no authority to legislate for the states. Thus, only the states, not Washington, D.C., had the power to regulate slavery in the existing states. To help firm up Jefferson’s position, Madison, when authoring the Bill of Rights, included the ninth one—that the states retained all powers other than those specifically delegated to the federal government.

Based on that principle, the Southern states saw no prohibition to their secession from the Union. And even after the Civil War and the 13th Amendment, the states still claimed the power to discriminate. In this scene from Selma,[iii] the state of Alabama is determined to prevent any change in their Jim Crow society:

We continue to battle over states’ rights. Thus, for example, many states have passed new laws on abortion that are in direct contravention of the constitutional standard of Roe v. Wade. We have states passing more restrictive voting laws, which depending on what side of the argument you are on, either prevent people of color from voting or preserve fair elections. And you have the governor of Texas “at war” with the President of the United States over immigration.

At Gettysburg, we stood where Abraham Lincoln gave his famous Gettysburg address, commemorating a portion of the battlefield as our first national cemetery. Despite anyone’s political beliefs, the words are profound and inspiring. I close with the final part of that address:

“The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us, the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we can take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion; that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Whether we prefer a strong federal government or preserving power to the states, all can agree that slavery, in whatever form, must be abolished. And equality of opportunity should be our nation’s standard, regardless of one’s skin color. So let’s take Lincoln’s challenge and finish that work.


[i] 13th:

  • Production Companies: Forward Movement, Kandoo Films, and Netflix
  • Director: Ava DuVernay
  • Screenwriters: Spencer Averick and Ava DuVernay
  • Starring: Melina Abdullah, Michelle Alexander, and Cory Booker
  • Release date: October 7, 2016

[ii] Raisin in the Sun:

  • Production Company: Columbia Pictures
  • Director: Daniel Petrie
  • Screenwriter: Lorraine Hansberry
  • Starring: Sidney Portier, Claudia McNeil, and Ruby Lee
  • Release date: May 18, 1961

[iii] Selma:

  • Production Companies: Pathé, Harpo Films, and Plan B Entertainment
  • Director: Ava DuVernay
  • Screenwriter: Paul Webb
  • Starring: David Oyelowo, Carmen Ejogo, and Oprah Winfrey
  • Release date: January 9, 2015

Courage Under Fire

English philosopher G. K. Chesterton said, “Courage is almost a contradiction in terms: it means a strong desire to live, taking the form of readiness to die.” We have seen courage displayed many times in Ukraine over the last month, and none more remarkable than in Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

President Zelenskyy recently spoke to the US Congress. Here is a crucial part of his speech:

“Right now, the destiny of our country is being decided, the destiny of our people, whether Ukrainians will be free, whether they will be able to preserve their democracy. Russia has attacked not just us, not just our land, not just our cities; it went on a brutal offensive against our values, basic human values. It threw tanks and planes against our freedom, against our right to live freely in our own country, choosing our own future, against our desire for happiness, against our national dreams.”

When I first heard President Zelenskyy’s speech, I immediately thought of this similar speech from one of my favorite movies, Braveheart:[i] 

History books didn’t record the actual words of Sir William Wallace back in the early 1300s, but my imagination tells me he must have said something similar to the terms of this clip to inspire his army.

Ukraine President Zelenskyy has likewise been inspiring his troops and the world with his videos deep in the heart of Ukraine as Russian invaders close in around him. He had my admiration and my support early on when he showed courage under fire with his response to the US of safe passage out of Ukraine: “I don’t need a ride; I need ammunition.”  

Since the war began, I have watched the daily news about the war. I have been shocked at what I have seen: the brutality of the Russians against the civilians of a free country, the bravery of the Ukrainians who have stayed to fight against overwhelming odds, the suffering of the 6.5 million refugees (and counting), mostly women and children, who have been forced from their homes with few worldly possessions, and the outpouring of support from the rest of the world.

I have debated what the appropriate response should be, knowing there must be a fine balance between resistance and escalation resulting in the next world war. Could economic sanctions successfully compete against military might and destruction? At first, I doubted it. We have tried economic sanctions before with less-than-ideal results. But I then realized that America’s revolutionary war began as an economic boycott against England’s taxation. The military war began when England sent troops here to put down those financial weapons the colonists were engaged in. And the Continental Army only had to win enough battles to convince England that the cost was not worth it.

Perhaps the odds of Ukraine winning a war against the military might of Russia are similar to the odds the colonists had against the military strength of England back then. But coupled with the economic war, I give Ukraine a fighting chance (pun intended). And the difference today is most of the world is participating in economic sanctions against Russia and Russian leaders. According to the Brookings Institution, thirty countries have imposed more than 2,500 sanctions on Russian targets. Borrowing a military term, Putin characterized the economic sanctions as “economic blitzkrieg,” Sharlyn Alfonso, from CBS’s 60 Minutes, described it this way: “Never before has such a large modern economy been cut off so quickly from most of the world.” Adding to the government sanctions, over 400 companies have stopped operations or pulled out of Russia in just three weeks since the war began. Wouldn’t the closing of 850 McDonald’s be enough to get the Russian people to revolt against their leader?

But seriously, are the sanctions working? Ms. Alfonso recently interviewed Daleep Singh, the Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economics, the White House official responsible for coming up with the economic sanctions against Russia. In response to whether the sanctions are working, Mr. Singh said: “Russia is now on the fast track to a 1980s style Soviet living standard. It’s looking into an economic abyss, and that is the result of Putin’s choices, and I can see from his reaction that’s where it’s headed. The best projections I see out there right now are suggesting that Russia’s economy is going to be half of its size before this invasion.”     

While I hope the economic sanctions will ultimately cause Putin to realize the war is not worth the costs, it is hard to watch the daily atrocities against the innocent people of Ukraine. I recently read an article by former news correspondent Eric Weiner who warns of “learned helplessness,” which results from too much exposure to negative stimuli beyond our control. Learned helplessness can affect us mentally, often leading to low self-esteem and depression, and even drug abuse and physical illness. To prevent the effects of learned helplessness, Mr. Weiner suggests we limit (but not eliminate) our consumption of the news and don’t ignore the brutality of the war but focus on its humanity. Seek out positive stories of heroic resistance and acts of moral beauty. With that in mind, here are just a few:

  • Russian journalist Marina Ovsyannikova held up a sign during a news broadcast that said, “NO WAR. Stop the war. Don’t believe propaganda. They are lying to you here.” In a video posted online before the protest, a woman who appears to be Ms. Ovsyannikova said, “What is happening now in Ukraine is a crime, and Russia is the aggressor country. The responsibility for that aggression lies on the conscience of only one man, and that man is Vladimir Putin. Now the whole world has turned away from us, and the next ten generations of our descendants will not wash away the shame of this fratricidal war.” Her protest has now been seen online by over 2.6 million people. Sadly, she has since been arrested and could face up to 15 years in jail.
  • When Sharon Florio wanted to give her community a way to voice their support for Ukraine, she placed a sign, and some chalk outside her storefront, and the community quickly began writing positive messages on the store’s brick wall. Florio said, “I think it’s wonderful. I love seeing parents explain it to their children. It brings an awareness that not everyone’s as comfortable as we are right now.” 
  • Ukraine defied Moscow’s demand that its soldiers lay down its arms in besieged Mariupol. “There can be no question of any surrender,” in Mariupol, responded Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk. Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov praised the city’s “heroic defenders,” saying their holdout had helped thwart Russia elsewhere. “By virtue of their dedication and superhuman courage, tens of thousands of lives throughout Ukraine were saved. Today Mariupol is saving Kyiv, Dnipro, and Odesa.”
  • When Russia invaded her home of Ukraine, Maria decided she had to help defend it, even if it meant leaving her fiancé behind in Chicago days after getting married. So she married on Saturday and left Monday morning for Ukraine. “People are running out of there, and she is running in,” said a friend at the wedding. Her American husband intends to follow her as soon as he receives his passport.
  • Once in Romania, many Ukrainian refugees have nowhere to go. So one Romanian family has taken matters into their own hands. They have sent cars to pick up refugees at all hours of the day or night, help them cross the border into Romania, and take them to a summer camp owned by the family. The refugees stay there for a few days, and the family then sends them on to more permanent safe houses. This family has helped over 600 refugees in the past two weeks alone.  
  • Former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, in Chicago for a joint speaking engagement, made an impromptu visit to a Ukrainian Catholic church in a Ukrainian neighborhood in the city. In a bipartisan show of unity, and with blue and yellow ribbons on their jacket lapels, they walked side by side to place bouquets of sunflowers, Ukraine’s national flower, at the base of a statue.


President Zelenskyy’s speeches remind me of another excellent wartime speech—this one given by Winston Churchill to Britain’s House of Commons during World War II. The film Darkest Hour[ii]captures it in this scene:

I hope you will join me in supporting the Ukrainians who have been forced from their homes in the only way I can—with my credit card.

I close with two of my favorite quotes that fit these difficult times:

  • Edmund Burke: The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.
  • William Gladstone: I look forward to the time when the power of love will replace the love of power.

[i] Braveheart:

  • Production Companies: Icon Entertainment International, The Ladd Company, and B.H. Finance C.V.
  • Director: Mel Gibson
  • Screenwriter: Richard Wallace
  • Starring: Mel Gibson, Sophie Marceau, and Patrick McGoohan
  • Release date: May 24, 1995

[ii] Darkest Hour:

  • Production Companies: Focus Features, Perfect World Pictures, and Working Title Films
  • Director: Joe Wright
  • Screenwriter: Anthony McCarten
  • Starring: Gary Oldman. Lily James, and Kristen Scott Thomas
  • Release date: December 22, 2017

Winning at Any Cost

Recently my doctor prescribed me some oral steroids for some arthritis I have in my elbows and knees. As I took my first tablet, I jokingly remarked to my wife, “Well, I just blew my chance to compete in the Olympics!” But, ironically, later that day, I learned that maybe I hadn’t. The news broke that Kamila Valieva, the Russian 15-year-old phenom figure skater, had tested positive for a banned heart medication but had not been banned from competing in the Olympics.

It seems no matter how hard we try, controversy surrounds Olympic figure skating. We first had the infamous injury to Nancy Kerrigan’s knee by Tonya Harding’s handlers immediately before the 1994 Winter Olympics. Then, in the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Canadian pair skaters Jamie Salé and David Pelletier appeared to have easily won the gold over the Russian skaters. But the judges saw it differently. Or did they? The day after the competition, the judge from France claimed she was pressured to pick the Russians over the Canadians. In a not-so-satisfying compromise, the IOC ended up awarding both pairs with a gold medal.

And now we have Kamila-gate.

Former U.S. Olympic gold medalist skater Tara Lipinski said what many of us were thinking: “I have so many mixed emotions. One of those emotions is I have enormous empathy for Kamila. She is just 15 years old. Clearly, the adults around her have failed her, and now she is dealing with their decision-making, and those consequences are now on her shoulders—the weight of the world. But again, she should not be skating in this event after a positive test.”

Johnny Weir, the former gold medalist skater from Canada, echoed Lipinski: “There is no gray area when it comes to doping. If you fail a drug test, you cannot compete.”

But the Court of Arbitration for Sports disagreed, allowing Valieva to continue competing. Sarah Hirschland, the CEO of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, responded to that decision by stating. “We are disappointed by the message this decision sends…. Athletes have the right to know they are competing on a level playing field. Unfortunately, today that right is being denied. This appears to be another chapter in the systemic and pervasive disregard for clean sport by Russia.”

That systemic and pervasive disregard led to one of the most fantastic examples of a distinction without a difference. The IOC banned Russia from the Olympics, but Russian athletes are still allowed to compete under the banner of the Russian Olympic Committee.

I wondered how we got to this place in sports history, so I naturally turned to movies. The Oscar-winning documentary, Icarus,[i] reveals how the Russians doped their way to 13 gold medals (33 overall) in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. It was the most gold medals and total medals ever won by Russia in a Winter Olympics. Here is the trailer for Icarus:

When I heard the decision to allow Kamila Valieva to continue competing, I thought of Sha’Carri Richardson, the U.S. sprinter who could not compete in the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 because she tested positive with THC (marijuana). Richardson took her punishment with honesty and grace, explaining her mental turmoil during the Olympic trials over her mother’s death led her to marijuana to ease her grief and anxiety. But where is the honesty and grace from the Russians? I am still waiting for an explanation from Valieva or her handlers of how the banned substance ended up in Valieva. Valieva’s only comment since the controversy broke: “These days have been very difficult for me. I’m happy, but I’m tired emotionally.” Valieva went on to say the entire process had taught her that adult life “can be unfair to some extent.”  

The banned substance, trimetazidine, increases blood flow to the heart, improving endurance. Is that a possible reason Valieva could perform so many quadruple jumps in her program? On the other hand, there is no evidence that marijuana enhances anyone’s physical abilities. So, of course, we ban Richardson but allow Valieva to compete. Go figure. But karma, I suppose, caught up with Valieva in the end. She fell twice in her free skate program, dropping from first to fourth and off the Olympic podium.    

Before and after Kamila-gate, I have often tried to answer this question: If you win by cheating, do you really win? How satisfying can a win be when you know you had an unfair advantage over the competition? But sometimes, athletes will go to any lengths to win. We are willing to win at any cost, even if we have to cheat to do so. We assume others are cheating, so our only chance of winning is also to cheat.

Sadly, winning at any cost is not limited to athletics. Unfortunately, we see the same occurring in almost every phase of our dog-eat-dog existence. Fortune, fame, and power seem to be our primary motivators, and we are sometimes willing to do almost anything to achieve them. Governments try to regulate fairness, but most of the laws we enact tend to punish the majority who play by the rules, while those that don’t find creative ways to circumvent those laws.

The documentary Downfall: The Case Against Boeing[ii] traces how Boeing, after its merger with McDonnell Douglas, changed from a company primarily concerned with safety to one more concerned with profits. And that change of culture led to two plane crashes within five months that resulted in the deaths of 346 persons. Here is the trailer for the film, which you can see on Netflix:

Rep. Peter DeFazio, Democrat from Oregon and the chair of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee of Congress, said of Boeing: “In the 21st century, to lose two planes within months of each other, and kill so many people, it just never, ever, ever should have happened. The safety culture at Boeing fell apart. It was corrupted from the top down by pressures from Wall Street, plain and simple.”

How did the company react when the truth came out that its 747 Max plane had known design defects that led to these crashes? Boeing’s Board of Directors asked for the resignation of Dennis Muilenburg, the CEO, two months after he testified before Congress and Boeing’s efforts to hide the plane’s design defects became apparent. But he left with stock and pension awards worth 62 million dollars. Sixty-two million dollars! And to me, that’s the problem with corporate America. You can be behind the deaths of almost 350 people and still walk away with a payoff of over $60 million.

I recently watched an interview of Joseph Gordon Leavitt about his latest role as Travis Kalanick, The CEO of Uber, in the upcoming TV series Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber. Leavitt described Travis Kalanick’s core business Value No. 1 as “Always be hustling, even if it includes some ethically questionable behavior.”

When asked how we can change people to act more ethically, Leavitt said, “When a company is prioritizing profits over everything and doesn’t mind who they have to step on or negatively impact in order to produce those profits, you’re going to keep getting companies doing harm. We keep asking, ‘How do we fix Facebook? How do we fix this or that?’ Until we have different incentives where they can care about more than shareholder value, they’re not going to fix any of these problems because it is not good business.”

The film, I, Tonya,[iii] chronicles the rivalry between Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan surrounding the 1994 Winter Olympics. In the court case following the assault on Nancy Kerrigan, the judge punishes Harding where it hurt the most. Here is the scene from the movie:

If we want to stop the Russians (and others) from cheating at the Olympics, we must punish those who cheat consistently by banning them from competing. Likewise, if we want businesses to act more ethically, we must punish them where it hurts the most—their bottom lines.

Let’s support those athletes who can win with class and businesses that stand for more than just profit. Let’s stand with former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart by teaching our children that Ethics is knowing the difference between what you have a right to do and what is right to do.”

And may we live that way as well.


[i] Icarus:

  • Production Companies:  Alex Productions, Chicago Media Project, and Diamond Docs
  • Director: Bryan Fogel
  • Screenwriters: Bryan Fogel, Mark Monroe, and John Bertain
  • Starring: Bryan Fogel, Dave Zabriskie, and Don Catlin
  • Release date: August 4, 2017

[ii] Downfall: The Case Against Boeing:

  • Production Companies: Imagine Documentaries, Moxie Films and Moxie
  • Director: Rory Kennedy
  • Screenwriters: Mark Bailey and Keven McAlester
  • Starring: Andy Pasztor and John Fantasia
  • Release date: February 18, 2022

[iii] I, Tonya:

  • Production Companies: AI-Film, Clubhouse Pictures, and Georgia Film, Music and Digital Entertainment Office
  • Director: Craig Gillespie
  • Screenwriter: Steven Rogers
  • Starring: Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, and Allison Janney
  • Release date: January 19, 2018

Football Is Life

The Dallas Cowboys did it again; they made an early exit from the NFL playoffs. So, as a Cowboys fan, what do I do now their season is abruptly over? Maybe the next best thing: watching movies about football. And that is precisely what I did. In this post, I will focus only on two—one based on actual events and one a documentary. (This post contains spoilers, so you might want to watch them first if you haven’t already!)

Watching 12 Mighty Orphans[i] (available now on Starz) reminded me of one of my best friends in high school. He was an undersized defensive lineman at about five feet ten inches and maybe 160 pounds. But pound-per-pound, he was the most formidable player around. In one game as a junior, my friend lined up across from an All-state center, who towered over him at six foot six. But using smarts and quickness, my friend constantly beat his larger opponent, making tackle after tackle.

12 Mighty Orphans tells the true story of a group of undersized orphans who became known as the Mighty Mites and captured the hearts of the nation during the Great Depression. Their coach, Rusty Russell, left a successful program at Temple High School to start a football team at the Masonic House—an orphanage in Fort Worth, Texas. But unfortunately, they barely had enough players to field a team and had no field to play on. In addition, they had no uniforms or equipment, and none of the twelve players had played football before. Ever. But worse, these young men were “throwaway orphans,” having no self-respect or hope that life would ever get better for them. Or as Doc Hall (played by Martin Sheen), the film’s narrator, says: “Orphans were stigmatized as misfits and outcasts and often referred to not as orphans but as inmates. It didn’t matter that they had done nothing wrong. Kids without parents were simply second-class citizens.”

How many of us spend too much time listening to what others think about us? Remember that what other people might think about me is none of my business. Or worse, how many of us repeatedly tell ourselves negative things about ourselves? Studies show that over 85 percent of what we tell ourselves is harmful. So why do we keep listening to those false narratives?

Coach Russell believed that football would help these orphans develop character. He told his players, “You’re better than most boys. You’re unique. You’ve dealt with some hardship. Now you’ve got something to prove, and that’s called motivation.”

At another time, Coach Russell told his team this:

“It’s tough to believe when all you’ve known is hurt and loss and abandonment. I know because I’ve felt it my whole life. I’m an orphan, just like all of y’all. I know what it feels like not to have a mother or a father cheering you on from the stands. I look at you boys, and I can honestly say I’m proud to be an orphan. I’m not ashamed, and I’m not worthless. I’m a mighty warrior. And you’ll feel the same way if you can believe in yourselves and believe in each other. You do that, you’ll be able to do what they all say is impossible. So say it with me. I am worthy. I am valuable. I’m a mighty warrior. I’m a mighty orphan.”  

For the players to believe in themselves and each other, there had to be some success on the field. And how do you win against bigger, stronger opponents? You use some creativity and emphasize the abilities you do have. So speed became the name of the game for the orphans. Coach Russell revolutionized football by developing the spread offense, which relied on forward passes (rarely used in the game up to that point), sweeps around the ends and misdirection plays. And it worked. Soon, the Mighty Mites found themselves in the Texas Class A championship game.

The Mighty Mites found themselves down seven to zero at halftime in the championship game. Their opponents had figured out how to stop their spread offense and punished them repeatedly with hard hits against their much smaller opponents. The orphans were ready to give up, but then a player took over in the locker room:

The Mighty Mites battled back and scored a touchdown of their own but missed the extra point. And their final drive came up short, losing 7 to 6.

That was the same score as my friend’s high school football game. And even though the Mighty Mites and my high school lost those games. I considered the Mighty Mites and my friend the real winners because they accomplished so much despite the odds stacked against them. And isn’t that the correct measure of success?

Undefeated[ii] (now available on Netflix) is a documentary about the Manassas High School football team in Memphis, Tennessee. And like Rusty Russell in 12 Mighty Orphans, Manassas had a terrific coach. Coach Bill Courtney took over a program that had never won a playoff game in its 100-plus year history. Worse, the Manassas Tigers had not won a single football game in over ten years.

In the opening scene of the movie, Coach Courtney describes the state of Manassas High’s football program:

“Let’s see here. Starting right guard, shot. No longer in school. Starting linebacker, shot, no longer in school. Two players fighting right in front of the coach when he’s trying to make things work out. Starting center, arrested for shooting somebody in the face with a BB gun. For most coaches, that would be pretty much a career’s worth of crap to deal with. I think that sums up the last two weeks for me. And you know what? I know damn good and well what I signed up for every year. And I keep coming back because I love this program, and I feel very responsible to make sure that you guys have a football season—that you have a football program you can be proud of.”

Oh, and Coach Courtney is an unpaid volunteer coach.

I love Coach Courtney’s philosophy in his own words:

“The foundation has got to be a solid platform that you can stand on and speak to these kids and say, ‘This is the way you build yourself. If you build yourself this way, and handle yourself this way, and have character, you get to play football. And winning will take care of itself because young men of character, and discipline, and commitment end up winning in life. And they end up winning in football. Well, when you flip it, and the foundation of what you’re doing is football, and you hope all that other stuff follows—well, then you think football builds character—which it does not. Football reveals character.”

As you might expect, all did not go perfectly for the Manassas Tigers. Their first opponent beat them handily. But the life lessons Coach Courtney instilled in them started to pay dividends, and they learned through discipline and commitment they could do hard things, as evidenced in this clip:

Perhaps the best lesson from Undefeated is that we learn more from our failures than our successes. Watch this clip about how we should measure character:

The Manassas Tigers ended up nine and one for the year, earning a trip to the playoffs. As with many things in life, they fell short of their goal, losing their first playoff game by one point. Here is the scene following their heartbreaking loss:

I admit it; I shed a few tears along with Coach Courtney. And like Coach Courtney, in the two hours spent watching this film, I grew to love these young men—for the men of character they had become.

Who knew we could learn so much from a group of high schoolers?

As a postscript, I also recently watched the inspiring film American Underdog.[iii] Although I didn’t have room to write much about it in this post, being fluent in movie quotes, here are my three favorites from the film:

“Destiny belongs to the underdog.”

“Character translates anywhere.”

“Life is not about what you accomplish; it’s about what you become.”

I hope all of us can become people of character, discipline, and commitment. If we do, winning in life will follow us, regardless of whether we ever play football. 


[i] 12 Mighty Orphans:

  • Production Companies: Santa Rita Film Co, Greenbelt Films, and Michael De Luca Productions
  • Director: Ty Roberts
  • Screenwriters: Ty Roberts and Lane Garrison (based on the book by Jim Dent)
  • Starring: Luke Wilson, Martin Sheen, and Vinessa Shaw
  • Release date: June 18, 2021

[ii] Undefeated:

  • Production Companies: Zipper Bros Films, Five Smooth Stones Productions, and Level 22 Productions
  • Directors: Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin
  • Starring: Bill Courtney, O. C. Brown, Montrail “Money” Brown
  • Release date: August 3, 2012

[iii] American Underdog:

  • Production Companies: City on a Hill Productions, Kingdom Story Company, and Lionsgate
  • Directors: Andrew Erwin and Jon Erwin
  • Screenwriter: David Aaron Cohen (based on the book by Kurt Warner and Michael Silver)
  • Starring: Zachary Levi, Anna Paquin, and Hayden Zaller
  • Release date: December 25, 2021

Better Than Bullying

Recently I stumbled across a movie based on actual events entitled Joe Bell.[i] It tells of a man (Joe Bell) who decides to walk across America on a campaign to tell the harms from bullying. But, unfortunately, classmates repeatedly bullied Joe Bell’s son, Jadin, because he was gay. And that bullying was one of the significant factors that led to Jadin’s death by suicide. Here is a scene from the movie, along with the trailer for the film:

As I watched that movie, my mind flashed back to two experiences growing up. When I was in the sixth grade, my teacher selected me to be part of the safety patrol. That meant we helped fellow students, especially the younger ones, cross one of the school’s busy streets. As a reward for our service, the school district invited all the safety patrol members to go on a field trip to a University of Utah football game. After the game, we took a bus back to the elementary school. Upon our arrival, I got my first taste of bullying. Unfortunately, I was one of the guys doing the bullying.

As we got off the bus, one of my friends thought we could have some fun with one of the girls. I will call her Susan. For some reason, he told us to prevent Susan from walking home. And I followed his directions. So, we surrounded Susan and blocked her repeated attempts to leave the school grounds. At one point, after perhaps ten or 15 minutes of our false imprisonment, Susan made a break for it. She got past our circle and raced to the fence separating the school playground from the street. Of course, all the guys chased her. Susan finally escaped our torment by scrambling under the fence and running home.

We thought it was all in good fun, but Susan understandably did not. She told her parents about it, and a few minutes later, her dad drove up to us as we walked home. He loaded us in his car and took us back to his house, where he lectured us on the harm of bullying and made us apologize to his daughter, who was still in tears. Until then, it hadn’t even entered my mind that I might be participating in bullying. It was a wake-up lesson for me. I saw how easy it was to follow the crowd and do something unkind. Sadly, I didn’t learn very well.

The following year, a young woman I will call Barbara decided she liked me. We had an English class together, and Barbara began passing me notes. Since I had no romantic interest in her, I never responded. We had an after-school dance soon after that, and I danced with several girls, but I never asked Barbara to dance even though she stood close to some of the other girls I had danced with. So, the next day at school, she passed me a note stating how hurt she was that I had not asked her to dance. I finally decided to write Barbara a letter to let her know I was not romantically interested in her.

I then made a mistake I have long since regretted. I asked two friends to help me write it. Under the influence of these friends, I wrote a hurtful note. Essentially, I told Barbara I was not interested in being her boyfriend because I would have been embarrassed to have a girlfriend as ugly as she was. Ouch! I later heard from one of her friends how surprised Barbara was that I had been so mean. I apologized to Barbara through her friend, throwing my two friends under the bus for the mean language of the note. That indirect apology seemed to help some, but I could tell, watching Barbara in class, that I had hurt her badly. Barbara moved the following year. I often wished that she hadn’t moved so I could have apologized to her face-to-face.

Technically, the two incidences I related above do not meet the government’s definition of bullying because each was a one-time event. But I doubt that would make either girl feel better about what they experienced. The federal definition of bullying has three components:

  1. Unwanted aggressive behavior;
  2. An observed or perceived power imbalance; and
  3. Repetition or high likelihood of recurrence of the bullying behavior.

Admittedly, my two bullying experiences were relatively tame. I hope my actions had no lasting impact on either Susan or Barbara. But some victims of bullying are not so lucky. Research shows that bullying affects the bullied youths, those doing the bullying, and those witnessing it. Often, the adverse effects of bullying continue into adulthood.

The National Center for Educational Statistics found that about 22 percent of youth ages 12 through 18 have been victims of bullying. In addition, about 15 percent were victims of cyberbullying. And 70 percent of LGBTQIA youth say they have been bullied.

The documentary, Audrie and Daisy,[ii] tells the story of two young women who experienced a different form of bullying—sexual assault. Unfortunately, Audrie’s bullying went even further, as another boy video recorded the assault and posted it on the internet. Even though the sexual assault occurred only once, to Audrie, it felt like her attacker repeatedly assaulted her every time someone watched the video. But law enforcement didn’t help Audrie much when they granted her abuser probation.

Daisy’s story is similar, although no internet abuse occurred. Unfortunately, neither Audrie nor Daisy could overcome their abuse, and both eventually died by suicide. In Daisy’s case, four months after Daisy killed herself, her mother also died by suicide. Daisy’s brother had died earlier in an automobile accident, and the deaths of her two children were too much for Daisy’s mother. Here is a collage of scenes from the documentary:

The film, A Girl Like Her,[iii] is not based on actual events, but the tagline says it well: “Based on a million true stories.” In this movie, Avery constantly bullies Jessica, who used to be her best friend. Finally, with the help of her friend, Brian, Jessica secretly begins video recording Avery’s bullying. Avery must face the truth with the evidence on camera, but it might be too late for Jessica, as she lies in a coma following a suicide attempt. Here is a collage of scenes from the film:

The causes of death by suicide are always complex, and we should never assume a death by suicide is solely the result of bullying. But it could be. And A Girl Like Her raises an interesting point. We mainly focus on the victims of bullying, who undoubtedly need our help. But often, the persons doing the bullying need our help, too. Here is another scene from the film:

As Rodney King famously once said, “People, I just want to say, can’t we all get along?” Perhaps Dr. Wayne Dyer said it best: “When given the choice between being right and being kind, choose kind.”

As we start a new year, I hope kindness can be our primary focus—for the victim of bullying, the bullier, and all those affected by such acts of unkindness. Kindness is always better than bullying.


[i] Joe Bell:

  • Production Companies: Argent Pictures, Closest to the Hole Productions, and Endeavor Content
  • Director: Reinaldo Marcus Green
  • Screenwriters: Diana Ossana and Larry McMurtry
  • Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Reid Miller, and Connie Britton
  • Release date: July 23, 2021

[ii] Audrie and Daisy:

  • Directors: Bonni Cohen and  Jon Schenk
  • Starring: Robin Bourland, Daisy Coleman, and Charles Coleman
  • Release date: September 23, 2016

[iii] A Girl Like Her:

  • Production Companies: Radish Creative Group, Bottom Line Entertainment, and Parkside Pictures
  • Director: Amy S. Weber
  • Screenwriter: Amyh S. Weber
  • Starring: Lexi Ainsworth, Hunter King, Jimmy Bennett
  • Release date: March 27, 2015

No Experience Required

Someone once said, “The trouble with being a parent is that by the time you are experienced, you are usually unemployed.” Yet, C.S. Lewis said, “Children are not distractions from more important work. They are the most important work.” I believe both of those statements. Life becomes exciting and dangerous when your most important work is one that requires no experience.

I have thought a lot lately about being a parent, as my daughter recently gave birth to Nora, our 17th grandchild. Nora was unexpected, as my daughter and her husband thought three kids were enough. Nora’s arrival proves, as parents, we should always expect the unexpected. And now that Nora is here, we are so excited to have her as part of our family.  

My wife and I are fortunate to have had five kids. Each of their births was unique and special, but there is always something special about the arrival of your first child as you prepare for the first time bringing a new life into the world. I recently watched a fun movie that was a hit at last year’s Sundance Film Festival that illustrates the challenges of preparing for a child. In Together Together,[i] Matt (played by Ed Helms), although a single divorcee, decides to become a father. And so, he hires Anna (played by Patti Harrison) to be his child’s surrogate mother. Here is a scene from the film, as well as the trailer:

Preparing to have a child has become more and more complicated, as many so-called experts have various theories of good parenting, especially in those early years. In another scene from Together Together, Matt tries to decide what color to paint his new nursery. He shows the room to Anna, who notices dozens of color swatches taped to the wall. When Anna asks about all the colors, the dialogue goes like this:

Matt: It’s very hard to pick a color for the nursery because there’s a lot riding on it. For example, take orange. Orange is usually good for joy and creativity. But a dark orange can trigger deceit or distrust. Uh, yellow. Usually associated with happiness and intellect, but it can also symbolize sickness or decay. Green makes us think of growth, renewal, safety, nature. Well, guess what? It’s also greed, money, avarice.

Anna: Where are you getting all this?

Matt [picking up a book]: This. ‘Opening the Shades: The Deeper Meaning Behind Colors and the Subconscious Hold They Have on a Developing Mind.’

   I was unable to find such a book, but you get the idea.

I also recently rewatched the rom-com Life As We Know It,[ii] in which a married couple is tragically killed in an automobile accident, leaving behind a tiny infant. In the couple’s will, they leave guardianship of the child to the child’s godparents, who are not married and don’t particularly like each other. And neither have had any experience with babies. So in this scene, again relying on a so-called expert, these new parents try to teach the child to “self-soothe”:

I don’t mean to bash child psychologists, as many intelligent people have provided us with valuable tips on improving as parents. But what is suitable for one child might not make a bit of difference in another. For example, as “Anonymous Panda” points out in the recent article, “Most of Your Parenting Choices Don’t Matter,”[iii] as you walk down the street, can you tell who was breast-fed as a baby and who was not?

As our children get older, our job as parents starts to shift. We are less concerned with meeting their physical and safety needs and more about training them to be functioning members of society. With that in mind, I watched King Richard[iv] with mixed emotions. The film is the true story of Venus and Serena Williams and their very involved father. Here is a featurette about the film, which includes two of my favorite scenes from the movie:

While I admire the self-esteem Richard Williams helped develop in each of his daughters, I wonder how I would have felt if my parents had planned out my entire career before I was born. I am sure I would have rebelled and done the exact opposite of their plans. But if the movie accurately portrays the Williams family, it seemed to work well for them. Obviously.

British American journalist Sydney J. Harris said, “The commonest fallacy among women is that simply having children makes one a mother—which is as absurd as believing that having a piano makes one a musician.” I am not the greatest parent (just ask my kids), despite what a T-shirt or mug might say. But after five children and 17 grandchildren, I have come up with some parenting guidelines, many through trial and error (with emphasis on the errors). Here are some of my favorites. Take them for what they are worth, but remember, you get what you pay for.

  1. Love each of your children equally by treating them differently. I learned this one from my father-in-law, who often quoted John Wilmot, who said, “Before I got married, I had six theories about bringing up children. Now I have six children and no theories.” I echo those sentiments. Each of our five children came pre-wired, and we soon learned that we had to treat each of them a little differently.
  • The way to bring up a child is to start at the bottom. Please don’t misunderstand me here; I am not a big believer in spanking, although there were times when I wanted to beat my children. (Luckily, I never did.) But discipline is a must. Kids need to learn boundaries, and the best way for them to understand them is when parents set them and stick to them. Boundaries are necessary for a child’s safety and to learn how to live in a world surrounded by others. My wife tended to follow Reese Witherspoon’s mantra: “I always say if you aren’t yelling at your kids, you’re not spending enough time with them.” I more often tried to use reason to get my kids to behave. Admittedly, her way was usually more effective than mine, but we were united in believing our children needed discipline regardless of our parenting styles. And that brings me to my following guideline.  
  • Never let your kids divide and conquer. It’s vital to have good communication between a parent and a child, but it’s more imperative to have good communication between parents. Kids will always try to play parents off of each other. So, when setting boundaries, administering discipline, or consenting to activities, make sure you first discuss it with the other parent. And always keep in mind what French essayist, Joseph Joubout, said: “Children have more need of models than of critics.”
  • Train them well enough so they can leave; treat them well enough so they won’t want to. This guideline is a saying by Sir Richard Branson. I also like this quote from Dr. Lyman Abbott: “Parents have a duty to govern their children. But the object of all good government is to prepare the subject for self-government.” So, don’t be a helicopter or bulldozer parent. Several years ago, I read an article in Newsweek on this subject. Part of it stated: “Parents who hover risk crippling their children’s fledging sense of self-sufficiency. Missa Murry Eaton, an assistant professor at Penn State University who studies parent-child relationships, says she’s seen a number of parents who think it’s OK to call their freshman sons or daughters early in the morning to make sure they wake up or check in late at night to see if they’re studying. ‘They don’t allow their children to deal with the consequences of their decisions,’ says Eaton. Children and young adults build up confidence by tackling things that are hard. When they do succeed, they earn real self-esteem.”
  • The best thing to spend on your children is your time. This guideline comes from billionaire businessman Arnold Glasgow. In this regard, I love this advice from philosopher John Locke: “A father will do well, as his son grows up, to talk familiarly with him; the sooner you treat him as a man, the sooner he will begin to be one; and if you admit him into serious discourses with you, you will raise his mind above the usual amusements of youth, and those trifling occupations which it is commonly wasted in. Nothing cements and establishes friendship and goodwill so much as confident communication. When your son sees you open your mind to him, he will know he has a friend and a father.”

I could include many additional guidelines in this blog post, but I am sure you are tired of listening to me. The bottom line? The best parents love their children the best way they can. In closing, here is a letter written by Albert Einstein to his daughter:

There is an extremely powerful force that, so far, science has not found a formal explanation to. It is a force that includes and governs all others, and is even behind any phenomenon operating in the universe and has not yet been identified by us. This universal force is LOVE.

When we learn to give and receive this universal energy, dear Lieserl, we will have affirmed that love conquers all, is able to transcend everything and anything, because love is the quintessence of life.

Love is light that enlightens those who give and receive it.

Love is gravity because it makes some people feel attracted to others.

Love is power because it multiplies the best we have.

Love unfolds and reveals.

Love is the most powerful force there is because it has no limits.

Happy Parenting!


[i] Together Together:

  • Production Companies: Wild Idea, Stay Gold Features, and Haven Entertainment  
  • Director: Nikole Beckwith
  • Screenwriter: Nikole Beckwith
  • Starring: Patti Harrison, Ed Helms, and Rosalind Chao
  • Release date: April 23, 2021

[ii] Life As We Know It:

  • Production Companies: Josephson Entertainment, Gold Circle Films, and Village Roadshow Pictures
  • Director: Greg Berlanti
  • Screenwriter: Ian Deitchman and Kristin Rusk Robinson
  • Starring: Katherine Heigl, Josh Duhamel, and Josh Lucas
  • Release date: October 8, 2010

[iii] Annonymous Panda, “Most of Your Parenting Choices Don’t Matter,” Medium (January 2, 2021).

[iv] King Richard:

  • Production Companies: Overbrook Entertainment, Star Thrower Entertainment, and Warner Bros.
  • Director: Reinaldo Marcus Green
  • Screenwriter: Zach Baylin
  • Starring: Will Smith, Aunjanue Ellis, and Jon Bernthal
  • Release date: November 19, 2021

The Movies Are Back!

My wife, Janene, and I just returned from the Austin Film Festival, where we watched 28 movies in eight days. Pictured above are our well-used film passes. Each pass cost us $50, so we paid an average price of $1.79 per film. That’s not a bad deal in this world of rising prices. Sadly, there were several other movies we wanted to see but couldn’t due to scheduling conflicts. I admit it; I’m a movie junkie.

Because of COVID-19, last year’s festival was virtual, and it just wasn’t the same. So, the theme of this year’s festival was “The Movies Are Back!” Before this year’s festival, we had seen only two films in a theater for the entire year. Despite having to wear masks into the venues, it felt good to be back with the crowds in the theaters. And there is nothing like watching a film with movie people. They cry unashamedly, laugh boisterously, and cheer loudly when someone rights a wrong. They applaud at the end of every movie and stay to watch the credits. It always amazes me at the number of folks it takes to make a movie. Of course, we know about the leading actors, supporting actors, and extras performing on screen, the directors directing them, and the producers paying for or arranging the film’s financing. But the list of technical people behind the scenes is almost endless. To name a few, there are screenwriters, casting directors, directors of photography, cinematographers, sound editors, sound mixers, boom operators, costume designers, music composers, musicians, art and set designers, hair and make-up artists, stunt people, grips (electricians and camera operators) best boys (assistants to the grips), gaffers (lighting), script managers, drivers, caterers, and many more. Oh, and don’t forget the lawyers! In the latest James Bond movie, No Time To Die, for example, there are over 1200 people listed as part of the crew. Granted, because of multiple locations and special effects, a James Bond movie requires a larger team than most, but you get the idea.

Movie people can be some of the nicest people around. We often think of those in the entertainment industry as pretentious, and I’m sure some of them are. But most of the ones at the festival were not. Instead, they were friendly, humble, and appreciative of others’ works.

Perhaps the best part of the festival was listening to insiders from each film. At the end of each movie, someone (often several people) connected to the film, such as the writer, director, producer, or star, held a question and answer session about the film. In these sessions, you learned what inspired the people to make the film, insights about the characters and plot, and technical aspects.

The Austin Film Festival divides its films into two groups: the marquis films (sneak previews of movies soon to be released) and the competition films. The competition films are further divided into narrative features, documentary features, and shorts. The feature films are independent movies hoping to create a buzz so major film distributors will purchase them. The shorts are often made by young filmmakers showcasing their talents, hoping major studios will consider them when selecting the director for their next big film. And the Austin Film Festival throws in a handful of classic movies from the past.

This year, the AFF should have renamed  it “The Austin International Film Festival.” There were films from Italy, France, Jordan, South Korea, Cambodia, Columbia, China, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Mexico, India, Peru, South Africa, Canada, Japan, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Iceland, Spain, and, of course, the United States.

Of the 22 marquis films, I recommend only two. Spencer[i] is the story of the royal family’s Christmas from the viewpoint of Princess Diana. If you are a fan of Netflix’s The Crown, you will enjoy Spencer. Here is the trailer:

My other recommendation is C’mon C’mon,[ii] which portrays the developing relationship between an uncle and his nephew, who must care for the child while his mother cares for her husband dealing with bipolar disorder. The movie is light on plot, but the interaction between uncle and nephew is touching to watch and illustrates W.C. Fields’ adage of never working with animals or children because they steal the show. They did in this film. Here is the trailer:

In connection with the competition films, I have several recommendations. Sadly, unless a film distributor purchases these films, most people will never get a chance to see them. Hopefully, though, the movie distributors will enjoy them as much as I did.

The narrative film Jury Award winner was Disfluency. It is the story of a college student who returns home to try and make sense of her senior year. It is a tough film to watch, as it deals with PTSD and sexual assault, but it does so in a tasteful way.

The documentary Jury Award winner was Buried: 1982 Alpine Meadows Avalanche. As the title suggests, it is the story of an unprecedented avalanche that devastated a small mountain community. Unfortunately, some people found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time, and the ski patrol members who, even thirty years later, wrestle with whether they could have (and should have) done things differently.

The other festival movies I highly recommend are Atonement, a tragic tale from India of love, compassion, and sacrifice, and Unsilenced, the true story of China’s Communist Party’s brutal crackdown on a group of innocent students who risk everything to expose the government’s deadly propaganda. As I watched Unsilenced, I wondered if I would have the courage to fight for the truth as these Chinese students did. But then I realized it is often almost impossible to separate the lies from the truth in America today.

We have grown to love the Austin Film Festival. Does anyone want to join us next year for eight fun days of watching movies?


[i] Spencer:

  • Production Companies: Komplizen Films, Fabula, and Shoebox Films
  • Director: Pablo Larrain
  • Screenwriter: Seven Knight
  • Starring: Kristen Stewart, Timothy Spall, and Jack Nielen
  • Release date: November 5, 2021

[ii] C’mon C’mon:

  • Production Companies: A24 and Be Funny When You Can
  • Director: Mike Mills
  • Screenwriter: Mike Mills
  • Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Gaby Hoffman, and Woody Norman
  • Release date: November 19, 2021