As I write this, which may be weeks before this makes its way online, Cheryl, Sofie, and I are listening to the audiobook of Sh*t My Dad Says by Justin Halpern when we’re in the van together. Now, despite the title, and the very salty language inside, we’re all enjoying it a lot, and we’ve been able to have some great conversations with Sofie as a result. Halpern’s father, who served in the Navy, comes across as a very wise and loving father, who just has a blunt way of saying things. In fact, Halpern himself says in the introduction that he realized when he moved back in with his parents that his father’s bluntness was a refreshing change from the passive-aggressiveness he dealt with on a daily basis from everyone else.
One of his father’s gems had to do with his brother’s not wanting to share his toys, and went like this:
I'm sorry, but if your brother doesn't want you to play with his shit, then you can't play with it. It's his shit. If he wants to be an asshole and not share, then that's his right. You always have the right to be an asshole -- you just shouldn't use that right very often.
I love this guy. He’s Heathcliff Huxtable with a potty mouth.
But my favorite story from the book so far has to do with the week that Halpern’s mother, a lawyer working in poverty law, decided that for one week the entire family should eat what her clients had to eat. This didn’t sit well with then 10-year-old Justin, who tried to choke down the disgusting food she brought home, and then went to his room without dinner rather than finishing it, hoping that his mother would finally bring him some real food.
A few hours later his father, and not his mother, came to his room, and had a talk with him about what was going on. He explained that both he and Justin’s mother had grown up poor, and thought it was important for he and his brother to understand just how much they had, and just how little poor people had to live with. That’s why they were eating the same shitty food that those people were given when they went to the local food pantry.
That’s when I paused the iPod. I turned to Sofie and said, “And this is why when we buy food for the food pantry, we buy them stuff that we’d actually want to eat. I will never make you go through a week of eating what they have to. Making you eat crap for a week isn’t helping anyone. But when you go to give food to the poor, I don’t want you to cheap out. Don’t buy the store brand just because it’s cheaper and you can save money. If you wouldn’t eat it yourself, then don’t buy it for them.”
And I mean that. When we go grocery shopping every two weeks, we make a point of filling two grocery bags with items for one of the local food pantries. And it’s all brand-name stuff…unless we just happen to like the store brand better ourselves. If I wouldn’t eat generic corn flakes, I’m not buying it for them. Furthermore, after having read A Pretty Good Person, in which author Lewis Smedes mentioned how his poor family was always given the hairy eyeball whenever they managed to scrape up enough money for some small treat, we always make a point of getting some sort of “fun food” too…cookie mix, brownie mix, Pop-Tarts…something besides the bare necessities.
But my point, and I do have one, is this: eating crap for a week isn’t helping anyone who’s hungry. Saying “starving people in Lower Slobovia would love to have this,” and forcing your kid to choke it down out of guilt isn’t making those people less hungry. What will help them is providing food for them.
Food you’d actually eat yourself.
And not a palette of cheap crap.