Tom McLaughlin

A former history teacher, Tom is a columnist who lives in Lovell, Maine. His column is published in Maine and New Hampshire newspapers and on numerous web sites. Email:

Monday, June 29, 2015

Long Time To Pass

Carrying Ryan in his backpack
I now belong to an exclusive club no one wants to join: parents who have lost a child. “I cannot imagine how you must feel,” say other parents not in the club. Neither could I before it happened but I knew it would be awful, and it is.
What happened wasn’t my worst fear, but close. I feared our son might die alone, and he didn’t. He lingered in the ICU for nine days. During the first five he was in and out of consciousness, knew all his loved ones were with him and had the Last Rites. There’s nothing for me to fear anymore, but sadness and grief have taken fear’s place. Those two will be with me, and my family, a long time I think.
I don’t know which is worse but fear had become familiar. Addiction is a terrible thing, debilitating for the addict, but also for his family and for everyone else who loves him. It’s a progressive disease and a fatal result was inevitable unless he could stop, and he couldn’t. Ten years ago I joined a 12-step group for families of alcoholics and it helped me cope, helped me live with the fear and anxiety. The program reduced but didn’t eliminate those two crippling emotions. Now there are two more with which to wrestle.
With his hamster

We buried our son’s body last week but I know his spirit survives, and I will see him again when my own body finally gives out. That knowledge is a comfort, and will it ultimately trump both sadness and grief. He passed peacefully, even if life offered little peace during his last years. He has eternal peace now. I know that, but sometimes I forget and have to remind myself that he’s in a better place.

Our family was open about what caused Ryan’s death. All of us contributed to his eulogy which my wife bravely read at his funeral mass with me standing beside her. Having done three eulogies in one year, the last being one for my brother at which I got very choked up and could barely get through, I didn’t think myself capable of doing one for my own son. While we were both thinking of whom to ask, my wife declared she was going to deliver it. I told her that morning I believed I could find the strength to do it, but she said no, I want to, and she did. We were all proud of her.

As a columnist for twenty-two years, editors have tried to influence me to write more about this or that, but I’ve always written about what was most on my mind any given week — except my son’s addiction. Very often that was what I thought most about, but I’ve never written about it until now. Readers of the newspapers in which this column runs know my son died because his obituary appeared in their pages, but other readers around the country don’t know. Hence, this piece. 
My wife and I are helping each other through this ordeal and I’m grateful to have her. Our children and our grandchildren help too. While we were sitting next to our son’s coffin tearfully listening to the priest’s homily, our four-year-old granddaughter, Lila, came into our pew to hold our hands and console us. She helped enormously. When days later I thanked her, she said: “Friends are supposed to help each other.”
Before Ryan died, we had been at the hospital more than a week consulting with doctors and other specialists. Most of another week was taken up with funeral arrangements. People in our church community and friends in the wider community were sympathetic and solicitous. Everyone in our immediate family gathered pictures to display at the reception in our church hall following the burial. Assembled pictures of Ryan were both endearing the heartbreaking to look at. People hugging me and expressing their condolences triggered more tears. It’s going to take a long time to wring them all out but, as my wife the therapist says, “If you can let it flow, you can let it go.” And that’s the goal, isn’t it? I have to let him go.
I’ve had some practice with that. I’ve had to let go of my obsession with his addiction. My program teaches the “Three Cs”: You didn’t cause it. You can’t control it. You can’t cure it. I had to love and support my son as he struggled for all those years. Thirteen times he went into treatment. He had stretches of sobriety lasting several months, but always slipped back. He was much harder on himself than we ever were on him, and now his struggles are over.
Knowing I won’t be able to talk with him anymore this side of heaven makes me miss him desperately. It’s going to be a while before that longing diminishes to bearable levels, but with God’s help, I’ll make it. When it gets hard I have to consider all the good things in my life, and there are many.

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Friday, June 12, 2015

Becoming Boatless

Think I’m going to sell our boat this summer. It’s tied up to a slip at the Kezar Lake Marina and this may be the last season. Even though I’m semi-retired, I simply don’t use it enough to justify the cost of maintaining it. There’s nothing like going out there with a book and drifting along on one of Kezar’s three bays on a hot, humid day. If I get too hot while reading, I put the book down, jump in the lake, then climb back up the ladder to towel off and go back to reading. My wife likes to sit in a tube tied to the back. We’ll miss it, but she agrees. It’s time to think about selling.
Mine is small one top center with blue cover
One of my clients wants me to exercise his boat once or twice a week, so I’m out on that one more often than my own. I know, it’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it. Kezar is a lovely lake as everyone in western Maine knows. There’s a lot less boat traffic since Stephen King bought the old camping area on West Lovell Road and closed it down. That’s nice for some of us who like the quiet, but not so nice for fishing guides and others who lost business. Can’t please everybody.
Middle Bay Kezar Lake
My first experience floating in something was when my childhood friend Philip and I salvaged a steel tub used by a neighbor for mixing cement. When school got out in June, we dragged it through the woods to a swamp and used scraps of boards to paddle out on the small stretch of open water. We tried to catch painted turtles sunning themselves on logs but they’d see us coming, slip into the water, and swim down into the mud. We’d watch where they hid and lean down and pull up a handful of muck with a turtle in it. We were about ten, I think. Then some older boys used the tub for target practice and shot it full of .22 caliber holes. No more boating for us.
Then there was a raft the older boys constructed on a nearby pond by nailing a few boards onto a couple of logs. Our mothers told us never to go out on it. When we did and someone saw us, we were subjected to blackmail lest they tell. My next craft was a canoe I had for years as an adult. I’d fish with the children and paddle down the Saco with my wife. When the children were old enough, I’d strap it on the truck so my wife and I could slip away for some alone time alone exploring smaller ponds.
When the kids starting leaving the nest about twenty years ago, we splurged on an old, fourteen-foot Corson with a forty-horse Mercury outboard. It was very cheap to run and we’d trailer it around exploring area lakes. Mostly though, we went out on Kezar and noticed there were lots of Corsons tied up at docks. They’re simple boats — fiberglass hull, a windshield and seats — and very light.

People get attached to their Corsons. They were made in Madison, Maine by a family of boat-builders by that name. My wife called ours “Baby Boat” and we enjoyed it for years. The previous owner had a place on Kezar and he would contact me periodically to ask how his old boat was doing. When I sold it to my daughter and son-in-law to use at their place on Crescent Lake in Raymond, Maine, I notified him that the old Corson wasn’t on Kezar anymore but would be well taken care of. He thanked me for letting him know. Several years ago we traded up for the 18-foot Stingray we have now. It’s a thirty-year-old inboard/outboard with comfortable seats to stretch out, but we’re not so attached to it as we were to the Corson.
One morning during a run at Bug Light in South Portland last month, I saw some workmen backing their boat down the launch and recognized it as a big Corson. It had their distinct fiberglass top but was twenty feet long. I didn’t know they came that big and I chatted with the owner and two of his friends. All were heading out to work on Peak’s Island.
Launching Corson at Bug Light
Turns out his mother was a Corson and his father was a boatbuilder. His was built in 1973 and he’d customized it. I told him I remembered when the company was up for sale about fifteen years ago for only around $50,000. He acknowledged that but said government imposed new regulations that would have mandated another $200,000 investment for whoever were to buy it, so no deal could be reached.

“So, government regulation destroyed the company then?” I asked.

“You could say that,” he responded as he turned the boat around and headed off.

We still have a couple of kayaks we don't use enough, and they're easier to handle than that old cement-mixing tub I started with. If you're interested in our Stingray, let me know.

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Monday, June 01, 2015

Catechism is Hate Speech?

About three years ago I began wearing a crucifix 24/7. It identifies me as a Christian. Among Christians, it identifies me as a Roman Catholic. Atheists who see it may think me an intellectual lightweight who could just as easily believe in the Tooth Fairy, or that the earth was created six thousand years ago.
Back in 2002 when the homosexual priest scandal broke, I almost left the Catholic church. There are still issues the American Conference of Catholic Bishops champion that make me cringe. Some things Pope Francis says make me uncomfortable too. Nonetheless, to follow the Magisterium (official teachings of the Catholic Church) is to believe abortion kills a human being and homosexuality is “intrinsically disordered.” That puts me on a collision course with the progressive Thought Police who would force me to shut up about what I believe.
Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George, who I’ve quoted in this space before, died a few weeks ago. Five years ago, he said something prophetic: “I’ll die in my bed. My successor will die in prison. His successor will die a martyr. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.” Two years later in 2012, he said he was being “overly dramatic.” Here in 2015, however, rhetoric coming from Democrat and Republican candidates for president in 2016 indicate he was more right than he knew.
The late Cardinal Francis George

He did die in his bed. Will his successor die in prison? That might have been plausible if Pope Francis appointed conservative Cardinal Raymond Burke to take his place after removing him from a key Vatican post. Burke stands his ground, and that’s probably why he didn’t fit in at the Vatican. Instead Pope Francis banished the conservative Burke to Malta and appointed someone more likely to go with the “progressive” flow in Chicago.
Last month, the leading Democrat presidential candidate for 2016 said: “Laws have be backed up with… political will… and deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed.” Hillary Clinton was speaking about “reproductive health care,” her favorite euphemism for abortion, but her remarks indicate how far the left may go pushing their social/political agenda. They’re throwing down the gauntlet for conservative Christians — ready to use the power of government to make us change what we believe about the very nature of God and human life. Obamacare mandates to pay for abortion-inducing drugs were only the beginning.
Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio seemed to pick up Hillary’s gauntlet when he said last week that anyone who believes marriage is between one man and one woman is labeled: “a homophobe and a hater. The next step is to argue that the teachings of mainstream Christianity, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, is hate speech…”
Marco Rubio

Canada’s Supreme Court ruled two years ago that biblical speech opposing homosexual behavior is a “hate crime.” The Province of Alberta passed its Education Act three years ago under which “homeschoolers and faith-based schools will not be permitted to teach that homosexual acts are sinful as part of their academic program.” How long until such rulings are passed down in the USA?
It’s not as if the Catholic Church in America is conservative. With the exception of Cardinal Burke and a few others, it’s not. I attend mass every Sunday in Maine or New Hampshire, and never in the last ten years have I heard a sermon about abortion. Only once was homosexual “marriage” discussed when Maine’s Bishop Malone urged parishioners to vote against a homosexual “marriage” referendum in 2009. Rather, parish priests seem to go out of their way to avoid those subjects. That’s why I was surprised to hear Pope Francis say: “We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods… it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.”
Perhaps it’s different in Rome or in Argentina where Pope Francis comes from, but up here in Maine and New Hampshire, they’re not talked about “all the time.” They’re not discussed at all, and silence implies assent. Prior to Francis, we had two conservative popes in Benedict and John Paul II. Although Francis hasn’t tried to modify the Magisterium, he’s signaling a willingness to bend, even cozying up with President Obama on several issues. Leftists who dominate in our mainstream media are predictably thrilled. Out here in the trenches, however, conservative Catholics are dismayed.
What difference does it make?

Some of us feel we have more in common with conservative protestants than with many of our Catholic leaders in the United State, in Europe, and in the Vatican itself.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

An Idea. A Philosophy

Tuesday, June 2nd is the last day of my encore US History class. At this writing, I have only two more classes left to tie up all that I’ve taught them through the year. To that end, I’ve decided to quote two foreigners who looked at the United States from the outside and described what is great about our country.
The first is Bono, head of the rock band U2, who said: “It’s not a left/right issue. It’s a right/wrong issue, and America has constantly been on the side of what’s right.”
I was quite surprised to hear him say that because he was speaking at Georgetown University - an ostensibly Catholic institution that has become a liberal bastion.  It’s full of professors who probably cringed when they heard it because they’d spent their careers magnifying America’s flaws to the point where all the right things we’ve done are overshadowed.
Slick Willy at Georgtown

“America is an idea,” the Irishman Bono continued. “That’s how we see you around the world: As one of the greatest ideas in human history… The idea is that you and me are created equal… If we have dignity, if we have justice, then leave it to us. We’ll do the rest… This country was the first to claw its way out of darkness and put that on paper.”
He’s talking, of course, about our Declaration of Independence, which laid out our founding principles. Then our Founding Fathers wrote a constitution to make sure “we have dignity” and “we have justice” as Bono put it. That constitution put restrictions on government to see that it didn’t get too big or too powerful and take away that dignity and justice.
“Then leave it to us,” he said. “We’ll do the rest.” In this, he was absolutely right. Government should stay out of our way because the best government is that which governs least,” as John O’Sullivan put it back in the 19th century.
But it isn’t lately. Ours is becoming the government that governs most,  intruding into nearly every aspect of our lives. It’s regulating everything from baby furniture to soda pop to the carbon dioxide we exhale, and there’s no end in sight.
Then there’s this quote from the other foreigner: “Europe was created by history,” said former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. “America was created by philosophy.” Not only did America jettison the European idea of the Divine Right of Kings, we designed a replacement system that restricted government as much as possible while still preserving order.
Thatcher also said: “There are significant differences between the American and European version of capitalism. The American traditionally emphasizes the need for limited government, light regulations, low taxes and maximum labor-market flexibility. Its success has been shown above all in the ability to create new jobs, in which it is consistently more successful than Europe.”
That agrees with Bono’s remarks at Georgetown. He had gone on to praise capitalism as the best way to stem poverty. Speaking about Africa, he said: “Entrepreneurial Capitalism takes more people out of poverty than [foreign] aid.” The progressives in audience must have gasped because then he said: “Rock star preaches capitalism. Wow!” He put his hand to his head and declared: “Sometimes I hear myself and I just can’t believe it.”
Bono appeared to be speaking from his heart and not from notes. What slipped out had become his truth: The best government is the one that, to the greatest extent possible, gives everyone and everything a good leaving alone. If we’re free to, we usually do what’s right.
Small government is the original design for America. It was the American way and it could be again if we dust off the Constitution and actually apply it. That’s what I want to leave my students with.

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Monday, May 18, 2015

Better Get Your Mind Right

Most of us remember scenes in western movies in which a gun hand forces a sodbuster to dance by shooting at the ground near the reluctant dancer’s feet. That’s what comes to mind when I see American citizens who don’t believe there’s any such thing as same-sex “marriage,” but are forced to dance to whatever tune homosexual activists wish to play.

Don’t want to rent out your B&B for a lesbian wedding in Vermont because you’re Roman Catholic and believe homosexual acts are sinful? Too bad. You’re going to dance, sucker, like it or not. You may not be shot at, but you’ll be forced to pay $30,000 to settle a lawsuit by the ACLU and the State of Vermont.

Dance, sucker! Dance!

Don’t want to make floral arrangements to celebrate two men “marrying” each other? Seventy-year-old Christian grandmother Barronelle Stutzman was sued by the State of Washington. "The message of these rulings is unmistakable: The government will bring about your personal and professional ruin if you don't help celebrate same-sex marriage," said Kristen Waggoner, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, who argued before the court in December. It’s not like the men couldn’t find a gay florist to arrange their flowers. They’re about as ubiquitous as gay hairdressers or interior decorators. They singled out the old grandmother to exercise power.

Dance, sucker! Dance!

Don’t want to photograph a lesbian “wedding”? You’re a bigot and you’re going to be sued the way Elane Photography in New Mexico was. The owners, Jonathan and Elaine Huguenin, lost their appeal and had to pay too.  Well, by now you’re perhaps realizing that I could go on and on citing cases of Americans who refused to help celebrate something that violated their religion, their conscience, as well as natural law and historical precedent going back for millennia. If they refuse to dance they lose their businesses and a lot of money.
No more husband and wife

I can’t help wondering if some of the many finding themselves in the crosshairs of the LGBTQ Community ever voted for “gay rights” referenda in their individual states. Do they regret those votes now that they’re finding themselves targets of those laws? They seemed so benign when they were first proposed, but the fangs hidden from voters during the “equal rights” campaigns are now being bared.
Remember those 20th century Psychology and Sociology classes in which instructors insisted there were no differences between the sexes other than the obvious physical ones? Maybe you tried to be open-minded to that feminist claptrap while you were a student. Well, the “T” in LGBTQ means “Transgendered,” and that means a man who thinks he’s a woman can force you to accept him in the locker room at your health club. You have to call him “her” too or be dismissed from the club.
"I can be a nice guy, or..."

Does all this sound like it’s getting to be too much? You didn’t think it would ever get this bad? Well, that’s just tough. You better get your mind right, because like the Strother Martin character in “Cool Hand Luke,” the LGBTQ Community speaks as one voice saying: “I can be a good guy, or I can be one real mean sum-bitch. It’s up to you. It’s all up to you.” You don’t like it? You spend a night in the box.
"Spend a night in the box."

Here in the 21st century though, “the box” is called “Sensitivity Training.” Governor Moonbeam Jerry Brown recently signed a law requiring all California health care providers to undergo LGBT Sensitivity Training because, as wrote: “Jason Galisatus, a gay-rights activist for the Peninsula region of San Francisco claims that gay senior citizens are being drawn back into the closet when dealing with insensitive hospital staff.” Better to brainwash tens of thousands of doctors and nurses at taxpayer expense than have one homosexual feel uncomfortable telling an “insensitive” doctor about his behavior in a gay bathhouse.
You think what is in a mother’s womb is an unborn baby? Well, you better get your mind right. It’s just a clump of cells. You better not think it’s a human life or when Hillary Clinton becomes president, she’ll force you to spend a night in the box. Speaking last month at the “Women in the World Summit” she said: “Far too many women are denied access to reproductive health care…” 
Those last three words are Hillary’s euphemism for abortion because she obviously considers pregnancy a disease. Speaking of people like me who believe dismembering a baby in its mother’s womb is morally wrong, she continued: “…And deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed.”
Got that? You better change your deep-seated religious beliefs if she doesn’t like them, because President Hillary could be a real mean sum-bitch.

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Monday, May 11, 2015

A Pain In My Butt

Spring comes when I stop wearing flannel-lined pants and long-sleeved undershirts. This year it was the middle of April, the latest I ever remember. Summer comes when I start wearing shorts and T-shirts. That’s usually around mid-May. 

My shorts are the “cargo” type that look like British explorers used to wear with pith helmets while exploring the Sahara Desert. I like putting my wallet in one of those low-down pockets with the buttoned flap instead of in the back pocket outside my right butt cheek, and there’s a good reason for this: It hurt when I sat on it no matter what side it was on — quite literally a pain in my butt. Those cargo shorts made life more comfortable.
When traveling in high-crime areas, which could be anywhere outside of Lovell, I used to switch my wallet to my front-left pocket to confuse pickpockets. That worked fine for decades, but now I carry an iPhone in that pocket and there isn’t enough room for the wallet anymore. The right-front pocket is for my pocket knife, change, and car keys when I’m somewhere outside of Lovell and can’t leave them in the ignition. In fall, when I switched back to jeans or Dickies chinos, my wallet had to go in the back again.
There's actually a name for this: Piriformis Syndrome. Who knew?
To mitigate the pain in my butt, I tried reducing the size of my wallet by discarding “discount” cards for Rite Aid, Home Depot, Shaw’s, and all the rest. Then I took out photos, and carried just my driver’s license, concealed weapon permits for Maine and New Hampshire, two credit cards, and cash. That reduced the butt pain, but didn’t entirely eliminate it. Then I started putting business cards in my wallet. First I carried only five, but I’d forget to replace them after giving them out.
Another complication was that I have two versions. There’s the politically correct card which says: “Opinionist” and lists my blog and contact information. Then there’s the politically incorrect card which says: “Heterosexual White Guy Journalists Association,” listing me as founder and president and containing the same contact information. Carrying several of each version made for a fat wallet again and the pain in my butt worsened commensurately.
That was when I bought some cargo pants to wear after it cooled again in fall. Like the cargo shorts, they have nice low-down pockets with buttoned flaps on each side — one on the left for my fat wallet, and one on the right for a small spiral notebook, a pen and a mechanical pencil. That pocket has a little gap in the button-down flap for the pencil to stick up through.
But then it started to get really cold again in mid-November. That’s when I needed my Carhartt flannel-lined jeans, and my Dickies flannel-lined khakis that functioned for dress up here in rural Maine. I really liked those pants, except that the fat wallet was back on my right butt cheek giving me that pain again whenever I sat down for more than ten minutes. What to do?
Well, I was food-shopping with my wife at a Super Walmart in Windham and I was done with my list. Waiting for her to finish, guess what I saw? Their men’s department is right next to the food department, and hanging right there were some Wrangler 34X30, fleece-lined cargo pants — exactly my size! I bought three pairs. There was only one color but I didn’t care, and I wore them all last winter — every single day, I think. No more pain in the butt! What’s not to like?
I hate these

Well, just one thing. It’s another kind of pocket problem. The regular, old-fashioned pocket on the right-hand side of the cargo pants that I put my pocket knife and change into? It’s got sections — for whatever purpose I cannot fathom. When I put my hand down there to scoop out some change, there’s a flap between the two sections and I can’t get all the change out with one scoop. Some gets caught in the other section. I have to dump the first handful of change on the counter, then reach in again to scoop out the quarters or dimes in the other section. Then I’ve got to count coins right there on the counter, slide them over to the clerk, then pick up the rest one coin at a time, along with any lint that came out with them, then put them all back in the sectioned pocket again. There’s usually a line behind me at the checkout by the time I’m done, and I get self-conscious about how long I take to do all this with them watching me.
So now I’m resolved: when these pants wear out and I’m buying new ones somewhere, I’m going to check every pocket and avoid the ones with sections if I can.

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