Following Samuel "Golden Rule" Jones Example

by Sam Melden

This morning I stood in a special place. Today is the birthday of Samuel “Golden Rule” Jones. And over the past few years as I’ve read his own writing and what others have written about him, I have been inspired and encouraged by the potential for values, heart and courage to be present political leadership. 

I believe the way you honor someone is not simply by naming buildings after them, but by living how they lived. So this morning, to honor Golden Rule on his birthday, I visited his gravesite in the Historic Woodlawn Cemetery. And I asked the press to come along so I could invite leaders from every sector in our city to join me in following Golden Rule’s age old example of leading with heart and courage. Golden Rule Jones is legendary because he exhibited Moral Leadership. 

And if Samuel “Golden Rule” Jones were around today, he would not sit back and watch Toledo’s public school students struggle with homelessness at a rate higher than any other city in the state. This is the Moral Leadership Crisis of our day and I am calling on, and inviting leaders from all sectors in our community to join me in meeting this challenge head on. 

Recent reporting has shown Toledo has more homeless students in our community than any other city in Ohio. This is not a TPS problem alone, this is not a homeless shelter problem alone, this is not a faith community problem alone, this is not a business community or economic problem alone. This is our collective problem, and it is going to take our collective resources to solve it. 

So, on August 24th I am inviting community leaders to join myself and the following individuals to get together and come up with a solution to this problem. I am thankful to Dan Rogers, who will host this meeting on August 24th 11am-1pm at Cherry St. Mission’s Life Revitalization Center. We have invited several key community leaders and will be inviting many more over the coming days. 

We can do it. We can meet this moral leadership challenge and together honor the legacy leaders like Golden Rule Jones and in doing so, leave a better legacy for those who come after us. 

If you want to join us, or know someone who should - let me know! (RSVP link coming soon). 🙏🏻

The Cost & The Opportunity: My Decision to Run for Office With Three Small Children

by Sam Melden

(*Originally appeared in the June Edition of Toledo Area Parent. See more here.)

Running for political office is a big decision. It is a big commitment, and quite an undertaking. So when I announced my run for Toledo City Council, it wasn’t my decision alone. My wife and I had several, meaningful and intentional conversation about what the commitment was going to be like, and how much of a challenge it would be for our family. There would have to be boundaries, limits and hard lines in the sand. Because, even if running for office is a huge commitment, it pales in comparison to raising children. So my wife and I had to talk.

Conversation concerning cost and opportunity

What is the cost? What is the opportunity? How do you decide to pursue something that is going to take so much of your valuable time? Our kids are only small once, which is what makes any time we spend away from them quite costly. It’s a sacrifice.

While that’s true, isn’t is also true that everything worth doing requires sacrifice? It requires collaboration, more hands and more energy coming together. When people I know start a company of some kind, from a restaurant to a private law practice, if they work 85 hours a week,often it receives a much more gracious response than I have heard about running for office. Most people ask me “Why would you want to do that?” Or, less subtly, “Are you crazy?” Now, it would take another column to break down all of the baggage that is being dropped off with those words, but for now I want to talk about a few ways to pursue large commitment while staying true to our primary commitment as parents.When pursuing something with such a large cost there are a couple ideas or even mantras that I try to hold close:

Be Where You Are

If I am working late, I work late. If I’m home with the kids, I’m home with the kids. We live in a world that demands multi-tasking. And yet, as parents we know that our kids aren’t looking for an evening of watching us reply to emails or sitting behind a laptop screen at the dinner table. Our kids need us with them when we are with them. Presence is about the only thing we really have to give our children, so when we are with them we can’t afford to let ourselves be there only in bodily form. Put the phone down, leave it in your car if you have to. Sit on the floor with them. Or just find them in the house when you get home and walk into their environment and join in. Nothing shocks us out of our adult, productivity rhythms like an impromptu tea party or jumping into a kids book.

Bring Them Along

This could mean a few things. First, if you are juggling a busy schedule there are probably opportunities to bring your kids along for the ride. However, throwing them in the car on your way to an event or a meeting is different than really bringing them along. To bring your kids with you requires that we talk with them before, during and after the event. Give them some understanding of what you are going to do. Let them soak it in. And then ask good questions when it’s over. I have been so pleased at how my older girls have responded after they have processing different events we’ve attended. They take in different pieces, and let their tiny little steel-trap memories play it back over the next few days and weeks. All of this adds up and equals a true team-effort.

There is one last thing I should say about our process for deciding to take on such a large task while staying true to our primary task as parents. We both understood two things: it is lopsided, and it is temporary. My wife gets to stay home with our girls, and we are thankful for that. But this decision means even more of a burden on her time and energy. However, the second piece is crucial as well: it is temporary. There will be an election date, and after that, once I’m elected the rhythm will change again.

The rhythm is always changing. But in the midst of the changes if I can be present to my children, and bring them along and share pieces of my life with them at any and every age… I think I will look back with pride on what turned out to be a family endeavor. What an opportunity we have to discover such a blessing.

Run With Me

by Sam Melden

Today was the 7th half marathon I’ve completed. And they’ve all been incredible experiences.

There are really two groups of people on a marathon course. Runners and spectators. Now, I want to be clear, I am so thankful for all those who come and cheer me on during a race. It's wonderful!

In the end, the feeling that is shared between those who ran and those who watched is much different. Those who raise their mug and eat orange slices and wipe sweat from their face share a feeling of joy and collective accomplishment. No matter who finished first, how much someone trained, at the finish line it doesn't matter. What matters for this group is that we all ran together and achieved what we set out to do.

I can't help but think about these two groups when it comes to this other race I'm currently running. Running for office isn't just for those on the ballot. And certainly, in 2017, we've all just been reminded that democracy isn't a spectator sport.

I don’t need you to watch me run.

I need you to run with me.

And here’s what I know: when that last vote is counted and this campaign is successful, the feeling of joy and elation will be ours to share… because we ran together.

Instead of watching, you decided to get involved. You emailed the campaign and asked how you can help. You donated. You called your friends. You knocked doors and helped register new voters. It all added up and in the end, you weren't on the outside of the course boundary sipping coffee, wishing me the best... you were with me. We did it together.

I'm running for office because I care about our city, all of our neighbors and our future together. If you do too, run with me. You can start today.

Picture Your Family

by Sam Melden

(*Originally appeared in the April Edition of Toledo Area Parent. See more here.)

I was recently in a conversation with someone I haven’t seen in roughly 10 years. We covered the basic topics of conversation that you would expect after such a time. As we worked through the names and ages of my children he asked “Wow, three girls! Did you ever think you would have 3 daughters?” Of course my answer was “No.” It wasn’t that I didn’t want three daughters, it was simply that I had never thought about it. I don’t necessarily think I ever considered how many children I wanted at all. And while you can barely control how many children you have, you certainly can’t control how many sons or daughters you have. That is a real trick.

While I had never envisioned a life with three daughters, there are certain aspects of my life right now that I did envision, and I think this is true for all of us. Certainly as parents there are many things that take place that we did not have in mind or plan for, but hopefully there are those other realities that we did have in mind. We all have hopes and dreams for our children. Big lofty dreams. We want them to fall in love, travel the world (safely of course) and get a great education and so on. This is often what we think about when we think about the vision we have for our families. I want to suggest here that the more specific and detailed the vision for our family becomes the more powerful it is in our day to day ives.

Often when when we set long term goals for our family we essentially settle in to vague aspirations. There is a big difference between goals and a vision. A vision isn’t something you can check off a list. A vision isn’t something you can accomplish or move beyond. A vision is a reality you can picture and imagine. It moves and ebbs and flows and changes as you do. So the vision we create for our family twists and turns as our family grows.

Here are two ideas to create a family vision:

Picture It, And Work Backwards. Picture a point out in the future and ask yourself, what does your family look like? What does a normal week look like for this imaginary family? Is everyone running a different direction involved in their own personal lives only sharing just a few moments together each week? Is dinner consumed separately, everyone looking at their own screens? Or do you share a meal at a table together? What else is your future family doing together? Do you volunteer together? Are you a part of a faith community on a regular basis? How do you spend your money? Do you travel together? Is there a regular rhythm to your year or do you try to cram relaxation in to one epic family vacation every year?

The key here is to get as specific as you can! Nothing is too small for this exercise. In fact, it probably is better to talk through the mundane activities in life. After all, is that most of family life together? Yes. Yes it is.

Once you’ve pictured it, it’s time to work backwards. While picturing life in the future is fun, realizing and working out it’s implications can be more difficult. Work backwards and figure out what needs to change. What needs to be added to your life? What needs to be taken away? It’s important here to give yourself margin and space to make these changes. Sustainable change needs to happen bit by bit. You can’t get to this future point on the calendar by rushing and your life won’t change that fast either. But as you begin living into this picture more each day eventually you will see it transfer from your brainstorming session to the pictures on your wall and the dates on your calendar.

Remind Your Family Who They Are. The second helpful idea to creating a family vision involves the most central part of any family, identity. One of the most powerful ways to create a family vision is to remember who are you are as a family. What is the character of your family? If you share the same last name, how do people with that last name behave? How do they treat people? How do they treat each other? How do they engage in their community? Why do they get up in the morning? If you don’t share the same last name, what about your physical address? How do people who share that home behave in the world?

This is one of my favorite ways to think about parenting. Now, I certainly miss the boat a lot with my own children. But, it is so much better to call our children back to who they are rather than simply telling them not to be someone. When my daughter is rude to her friends, reminding her that people in this family don’t treat others that way is much more significant than simply telling her not to be rude. We all want to be someone much more than we want to stop being something. The same is true for our families as a whole, isn’t it?

Most of us never could have imagined how many sons or daughters we might have, or what the make up of our family would be. But all of us, with a little bit of effort can imagine what we want that family to look like once it exists. So lets picture it, make it happen and remind ourselves of who we are.

This is a Donut

by Sam Melden

This is a picture of a donut. And petitions. And a sister of mine at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church signing my petition this morning to allow my name to appear on the ballot this fall.

But it is also a picture of oil and water. It's a picture of two things going together that, so often, we have been told belong apart. Faith and Politics.

One of the things I’ve been thinking about quite a bit over the past few years is about this unfortunate, I might even say tragic, divide between faith and politics.

Look, I know we can spend time talking about the bad connections and similarities. We can get into all of the awful misappropriations of personal theological conviction upon political direction and policy decisions. We can spend time talking about the way that money has often corrupted both spaces. We can talk about how hierarchy and bureaucracy have forged apathy and created a disengaged people in faith systems and democracies alike. Slick preachers and corrupt politicians are pretty common images that come to mind as their uninterested, disengaged and sometimes wounded consitituency considers why they gave up altogether. Indeed, we could spend quite a bit of time talking about many of the root causes of our shallow ability to allow both of these cultural properties overlaping space.

But you know what I want to spend time on first? I want to say what else I see in this picture.

When I think about the heart of the church and heart of democracy, I can’t help but see their positive connecting points. These are two groups of people who are fundamentally tasked with answering a very simple question… How do we move forward together? While they may start from different places, and those differences are vitally important to preserve, the questions are quite similar.

How do we organize our life together?

How do we take care of people?

How do we make sure all the people are represented and every voice is heard?

How do we order our life to pursue the common good?

This is what I love about the church and why being a part of a faith community has been so important in my life for so long.

One more thing I see in this photo... hope. Hope that no matter how difficult our past experiences have been or how deep our suspicions lay or how dominant our cynicism has become. I'm hopeful that we will see new pictures and hear new stories that remind us what we have always known to be true... that we are all in this together and our leaders should act like they know that to be true as well.

A Million Open doors

by Sam Melden

(Originally written for the February edition of Toledo Area Parent)

It’s true what they say about your third child getting much different treatment than your first. Think about birthdays. It’s just so anti-climactic, isn’t it? You’ve been there before. You have other kids demanding attention, running around sucking up your time, energy, money and imagination just like that vacuum cleaner you forgot to run. Who has time to plan a party? Before we develop too much pity for the short-straws of our families, of course, there is a flip side to all of this. Your youngest always has more people singing her song because her big sisters are so excited to celebrate her life. Nothing like when your oldest sat there alone with his parents watching him eat his first birthday cake. Hardly compares to being born into a party. That said, we will save the topic of sibling dynamics for another day.

In our family our youngest child just turned 1 and I was again reminded of the word that comes to mind as a baby finishes their first trip around the sun: wonder. Every time I see a new born learn out how to pick up those little packing-peanut like treats (cleverly named “puffs”) or watch them grow teeth right before my eyes I find myself filled with wonder. I wonder how it all works? How does a mini human being learn to chew? How did they universally agree to play fetch with their parents one day? “You set the spoon on my tray, I pick it up with interest just before I drop it on the floor. You retrieve it for me and round and round we go.” There is so much about this stage of a child’s life that makes me wonder.

I also wonder about heavier things, about the future and who they are as people and who they will become. I wonder about who they will fall in love with and what instrument they will want to play and what clothes they will wear that will make their parents crazy? I wonder about their hopes for education and what type of career they might pursue.

Here is the truth: wonder holds the key to this whole parenting game we are playing. I believe, to try to cultivate and protect a sense of wonder toward our children is one of the greatest tasks we have. Often I refer to this concept in terms of certainty and curiosity.

Certainty is the opposite of wonder. When we are certain about who our children will become we lose the ability to wonder about their future. We simply fill the gaps, color in the lines and tell ourselves a fairy tale that won’t come true. The parent who lives vicariously through their children risks losing that life when their child takes a different path. We all know this to be true. Living through someone else, is no life at all. When I look at my 6 year old and marvel at how she is excelling in her piano lessons I have two options: become certain that she will keep with it, love playing her music for the rest of her life and go on to have a successful musical career. This of course is fraught with issues for everyone involved. Being certain about how your little one will turn out is like closing a million doors leading all different directions out of a belief that you know best. And, we see this all the time as parents of young children evolve into parents of adult children. Years of certainty and dogmatic belief in a future never realized causes frayed relationships and shattered expectations.

Now, consider what happens when we cultivate a curiosity about our children. If we can hold on to a sense of wonder and curiosity, we not only guard ourselves against unmet expectations but we leave open those doors to what is possible. They are free to explore and travel and meet new friends and form their own passions and ideas. This of course is the risk involved in every intimate relationship. The more I can remain curious of my wife’s changing interests, needs and desires the stronger our relationship becomes. Wonder and curiosity lay a healthy foundation in a family because they grant permission to grow and explore. And a bed of soil to sprout from, a nest fly from is what we all need.

Imagine if we carried this curiosity into other areas of our life as well? How might our relationships with co-workers improve if we left our certainty at the door and approached their perspective and ideas with genuine curiosity? This is the path we walk to truly understand another perspective. We need this in our political conversation as well. A bona-fide curiosity about the other side’s political convictions can help us remember the original intent of our democracy. We all need curiosity and wonder in our lives, perhaps most of all in relation to the little ones we have been given the task of caring for and believing in.

When we look at our children with the permission-giving curiosity that only a parent can, we create a space for our children to grow into who they will become. And in that moment we will find that familiar feeling of wonder that we created this person and we get to watch them grow and mature and walk through whichever door they choose. What a gift.

Surviving Election Year Holidays

by Sam Melden

[Kitchen Table Politics - December 2016] 

So there you are, it’s been a year since you’ve seen most of your family and your Grandma just asked you to pass the butter. You would love to but you are currently using the butter knife to pretend to cut through that awkward tension in the room from your opinionated Uncle who just said that about his favorite candidate. Your cousin’s eye roll was exaggerated, even for her, and your brother is going on and on because “this is what you get when you only have 2 parties.” Now, where is that butter? Right, it’s next to Grandpa who is sitting at the end of the table staring, silently, at his mashed potatoes. 

The question is: What do you do? 

For more than a year we have all been surrounded by the news of this year’s election. And even with the result being known, chances are pretty good that many of our relatives will take an opportunity to bring up their thoughts when we gather for the holidays. Whether its a random dig at the candidate they didn’t like, or parroting back the headline they read on the way to dinner or actually attempting to bring up an issue that matters in a thoughtful way, we all have to deal with these moments with our family. 

It would be easy to think about this in terms of what it it does for our children. We’ve all heard “our children are watching” over and over, so to attempt to model good behavior would be safe route to take. What we also know as parents is how much we learn from our kids. I think if there are 3 lessons we can learn from our children to make it through these moments with our family.

First, ask questions. Children are the most inquisitive, curious people we know and after the political season we just witnessed, we could use more of an inquisitive nature. We would do ourselves well to lean into our curiosity rather than resting on our certainty. Ask good questions. Questions are inherently respectful. Badgering, poking and baiting family members will only end poorly. Genuine wonder in the form of a question is an invitation to deeper understanding. When was the last time you asked someone in your family a question about what they thought about politics or current events in general? What if you asked the eldest family member “In what election did you first vote?” That question could take the conversation to new places. You might learn something about a family member that has been at every Christmas dinner you could possibly remember. That’s quite a gift. 

And, of course, it could all backfire. Your Grandpa could answer you and immediately mourn the “good ole days.” Well, you tried. So then we take another lesson from our children: Don’t take yourself too seriously. Just move on. The chances are pretty good that you’ll get another chance, or that someone will notice your intent and follow your lead. And what if you end up on the defensive? You forgot to take that bumper sticker off your car and your Aunt decides to confront “whoever owns that car in the driveway.” Simple, clear explanations are great. Sharing your values about what you think about the world is a wonderful opportunity with family, but not taking yourself too seriously will help. Trading in the soap box for a quick joke about your bumper sticker could be a useful approach. The point of the gathering is to enjoy family, have fun and eat a lot of food, not to change hearts and minds. Kids have that down. 

The last lesson we can learn from our kids to help us with our families is not even that political, but we need it now more than ever. Be where you are. Put down your phone, leave it in the car, in your coat, whatever it takes. I might even suggest employing a “phone basket” at the front door. Collect all the phones and watch how the gathering changes. Children do this so well. Kids aren’t thinking about where they want to be next or scrolling through photos of what the kiddie table looks like their buddy’s house. Wherever they are, there they are. So wherever you are, be there. The holidays will come and go, just like elections and scandals and aggregated polls, but our family, even with their strange, unexpected comments, will only be with us while they are here, and we should be too. 

Disagreeing With Dignity

by Sam Melden

[Kitchen Table Politics November 2016]

My daughter dropped her head as she walked back to the house. She just realized that one of the neighbor kids wasn’t rooting for the same Presidential candidate that she was. She told me the story. One of the kids repeated a line they heard from their parents and then my kid repeated a few things she has heard in our house. And of course in our neighborhood, where the signs in our yard stand in protest of the large parade of the other candidate’s signs, we knew she might run into this situation. Kids say the darndest things, don’t they? Or when it comes to politics perhaps we could say, “kids repeat the darnedest things.”

When my oldest told me about what had happened with her friend, I had to reassure her. “First, honey, it’s okay - your friend can’t vote.” Now, that may have been more for the benefit of my wife who was listening in. It was funny. But then I started to reinforce what we believe about this time of year, and what we believe about politics and even more fundamentally, what we believe about disagreement. “It’s ok when we disagree with our friends. It just means we have a chance to learn or to grow. Or we have a chance to try to get better at listening than we are at talking,” I said.

By now, she wasn’t that interested, but I was reminded of something central to parenting: kids are going to repeat what they hear. This situation was partly about how to handle the infrequent bi-partisan playground discord and it was also about our kids repeating what they hear. Our children soak up all of these words and sighs and eye rolls and commercials and tense moments talking with Grandma about how she can’t believe its gotten this far. They see it, they hear it, they breathe it in. And then they repeat it to their friends while swinging. But, you know what else they hear? They hear the questions we ask in the tone we ask them. They know what it means when we respect each other and they are capable of repeating that tone and showing that respect back to their friends. So, how can we best prepare our children for these interactions? And how can we best prepare our children for all of the interactions they will have after the immediacy and heat of the election passes?

While it is important for adults to prepare for November 8th and to consider who they will vote for, I believe it is important for us to prepare our children for November 9th. The day after the election. When the results are in, a winner is declared and yard signs and bumper stickers transform from signs of hope to souvenirs. That is the day that we really want our kids to be prepared for, right? After all, they always need to be ready to treat all people with the dignity and respect they deserve.

The way we do that, is by behaving in such a way that the reality of November 9th is front and center in our family life. That is the day we are all reminded that we are all in this together. Despite the past year of separation and line-drawing, once the votes are tallied, we remember that we are all on the same team again. Isn’t that what we want for our children? Isn’t that what we want for ourselves?  This grand experiment called democracy is predicated upon this hope and dream. We the people, we are all in this together.

So, as I look back at that conversation with my daughter I think I’ve learned a lot. And the next time around I trust that she will be more prepared and less disappointed to learn of her buddy’s parent’s differing viewpoint. And I trust that the next time around I will be more prepared. When can teach our kids we are all in this together, we all win, no matter who wins.

Including You Kids In The Conversation: Nourishing Bodies And Mind

by Sam Melden

*NEW COLUMN FOR TOLEDO AREA PARENT. FIND IT HERE, OR ALL OVER THE CITY IN ADAMS ST. PUBLISHING NEWSSTANDS.

I love my kitchen table. A few friends of mine made it out of wood used to repair the front porch of our old house. It’s one of those “trendy” farm-style table, but it was also quite cheap because it was repurposed from an intense building project. It seats around 8-10 people and will be in our house for a long, long time. Recently, my wife and I have been thinking about the role this table plays in our kid's lives.

We have three daughters and they eat and draw and read and write at that table. They also laugh and scream and argue and spill and smear food at that table. It holds a significant place in their life and whether they know it or not, it fills an important role in their development. How to clean up and how to have fun with your family.

And while they are learning manners and listening skills they are also learning how Mommy and Daddy interact with each other. Learning about conflict and resolution and sustenance and contentment and lack and want. It is the place our children are filled. We have some really great moments around this table. But what else could happen at this table? What else could our little ones be learning?

A few nights a week, after the kids go to bed, this table transforms into the space where my wife Lindsey and I discuss all different kinds of issues. Sometimes we’re talking about what homeschooling might look like in upcoming weeks. Sometimes we are talking about family and friends or what’s happening in the neighborhood or what bills we need to pay. Sometimes we are talking about current events and headlines and political candidates and campaigns. And while the subjects may change, around this table everything is in someway connected. Yet, we have found that sometimes there can be healthy, and not so healthy distance between the kitchen table experience our kids have and the kitchen table experience we have.

We want to merge the two. How can we talk about the issues that really matter to us with our kids? And especially in this election season, how can we talk to our girls about the political issues that matter to our family? How can we begin to merge those two conversations when appropriate and formative to our young children?

I think the best way to form some of the most central habits and perspectives in our children is to begin with those topics and issues that are most central to them. Want to talk about poverty? Talk about hunger at the dinner table and see what conversation emerges. Sure, it may be easy to talk to my three daughters about the possibility of the first woman president in US History, but what about crumbling infrastructure and pothole-ridden roads and tap water with microcystin? Go to the lake and ask them what color the water should be. Then start to explore how the water became that shade of neon green. The next time you are on a bike ride together ask them who should take care of the roads? All of these conversations, bit by bit, add up to something.

As we have started to try to explore these discussions, we found we need our children in this dialogue. They are the most creative, intuitive and imaginative people on the planet. Why not give them a shot at thinking about these things?

When we teach our kids, we force ourselves to become more informed. We gain perspective. By talking to our children we discover the issues that really matter. It is an active practice that forces us to be involved. It forces us to research and dig for answers to those questions your kids ask that leave you stumped.

“Kitchen table politics” is a common term in political circles referring to issues that immediately affect our lives. What is more immediate than our kids? What has a deeper effect than their well-being? What if kitchen table politics referred to the issues that mattered to you so much, that you had to talk to your children about it? What would that list look like for you? I encourage you to explore it