VIEW VIDEO  When I was a kid, there was a family who lived in our neighborhood with kids our age, so we played together. A lot of times when kids play together, the parents come to know one another, which is what happened to our families. Occasionally, they’d come to our house for a cookout, or we’d go to theirs, but even as a child I could sense my father, who was normally very affable and extroverted, didn’t enjoy our get-togethers. He’d be somewhat reserved, which wasn’t like him. The kids would be playing, the mothers chatting away, while my father grilled hamburgers, barely acknowledging the man.

Then the couple divorced, a rarity in that day and age, and the man moved away. A short time later, I overheard my parents discussing the matter and learned the husband had been unfaithful, not for the first time, the wife had reached the limits of her forgiveness, and had filed for divorce. The mother and children moved across town to a smaller house, the children found other kids to play with, and the father moved to an apartment in the city. I never saw him again.

Fast forward 50 years, my mother had died, I was visiting my dad at the retirement center where he lived, we were reading the newspaper and, lo and behold, there was the man’s obituary. I read it aloud to my dad, then said, “You didn’t care for him, did you?”

“No, I didn’t,” Dad said.

“Was it because he cheated on his wife?” I asked.

“That didn’t help, but that wasn’t the only reason.”

Being a pastor, I think it’s important to help people process their feelings, so I pressed my father for details, not out of nosiness, mind you, but only in the interests of helping my father get in touch with his feelings.

“Why didn’t you like him?” I asked.

 “He was selfish,” my dad said. “He spent all his money on himself without ever doing anything for his wife or children. He had a responsibility for his children, and he neglected it.”

I’ve been talking about my geezer’s manifesto, the stuff I want to do before I croak. Today, I want to speak about our duty of care for those who come after us, our determination to devote our resources to their needs and not our wants.  Today, we have it exactly backwards. Government funding for children has declined every year since 2010. Thirty-seven percent of our tax dollars go to programs for the elderly, while only 9.8% go to programs for children. That is predicted to shrink to 6% in the next decade. If the United States budget were a person, my father wouldn’t talk to it.

I received a hateful missive this past week from a man who called himself a Christian and called me a tax-loving liberal, thinking I would be offended. I wrote back and told him he had me dead to rights. I love taxes. Now, I have at times been a fickle lover. Sometimes I don’t like taxes. I especially don’t like them on April 15th. But then I’ll go somewhere where people hate taxes and won’t pay them, and I notice the same thing time and again—that when the adults don’t pay, the children will. They pay in malnourishment, substandard schools, lack of opportunity, and unsafe housing.  They pay in environmental degradation, domestic violence, and shoddy healthcare. You can take this to the bank–whenever and wherever we adults hate taxes and refuse to pay them, when we bellyache and moan, and only elect politicians who promise to cut them, the children are the first to suffer.

My father’s side of the family were coal miners in southern Illinois. We used to go down to Valier, Illinois every July for family reunions where my great-uncle Dennis lived. He was about 150 years-old when I knew him. He loved sitting outside under the trees, telling us stories about the old days of coal mining, back before there were sensors that miners could pin to their clothes that detected poisonous air. He told me when he first started mining in the 1920s, they had parakeets in little cages they’d carry with them down into the mines. If the air was bad, the parakeets were the first to feel it. My great-uncle Dennis told me, “Son, when your parakeet stops singing, that’s when you know you’re in trouble. You got to get out of the mine as quick as you can.”

Our children are today’s parakeets. When they stop singing, we’re in trouble. When they fall silent, we need to act. Here’s a thought: Let’s be good geezers. When we see the federal budget for children’s programs fall from 9.8% to 6%, let’s raise our voices. Let’s be good geezers. Let’s stop getting worked up and angry about taxes and start getting worked up and angry about kids being hungry, unsafe, and unhealthy. Let’s be outraged by dilapidated schools. Let’s be incensed when feeding programs are slashed to the bone. Joan is a librarian in a school of 650 kids. Her school has one counselor to help at-risk children. Her district has 4 counselors for 2,600 kids, but 52 paid coaches. Let’s be offended by that.

You know what I’ve learned? I’ve learned you can judge someone’s character by what angers them. We have all these folks who are furious when women have the freedom to plan their families. They’re mad that children might learn we once enslaved black people. They’re mad gay people can marry one another. But when you ask them to give a poor child a free breakfast at school, they will scream that the end is near. Let’s not be like them. Let’s be good geezers. Let’s be the best Quaker geezers we can be.

This Thursday is Thanksgiving. In addition to thinking of the many things for which we are grateful, let us also give others, especially children, a reason to be grateful for us. Let us not only be grateful, let us be the reason for someone else’s gratitude.