Tough Love

Tough LoveAs my new biking friends and I make our way from Carson City, Nevada, to Yerington, Nevada, I find out that Carol and Mac are Catholic, Faith and Peter just lost their dog to the same cancer that took out my Irish setter, and Bart and Martha might have to leave our group because their daughter may need help with her seventeen year-old daughter who was being a typical teenager. Okay, so maybe she was being a little more than a typical teenager, but my thoughts are, “Her parents needs to learn about tough love.”

You see, the daughter was experimenting with drugs, nothing major, so Martha tells me, but the worst part of Bryce is her defiant attitude. She seems angry all the time, hates living at home, and desperately wants to grow-up fast and move out.

I tell Martha her granddaughter sounds like a typical teenager to me. “Maybe,” I said, “all she needs are some boundaries that are enforced.” Easy for me to say, I’m not the parents dealing with an angry teenager.

Martha isn’t so sure boundaries were the solution, but she thanks me for my opinion before falling to the back of our pack. Carol rides up to me and says, “Martha’s granddaughter is a monster, but you’re right when you suggested she needs boundaries. Unfortunately, those boundaries should have been in place when she was a child. I’m afraid boundaries now would be like throwing gasoline on a bed of embers.”

I knew Carol was probably right, but I hold firm that the girl needs tough love. Bryce would be turning 18 in a month. She’d be a legal adult at that time which would allow her parents and grandparents to give her what she wants, her freedom. Then they could see if she makes it in life or fails. My guess is she’ll fail because she’s done nothing to learn about the real world. And then, if she has any smarts at all, she’ll swallow her pride and listen to her parents.

Bryce needs to learn that adults aren’t trying to mold her into what they want, but to mold her into what she’s capable of being. But then maybe Bryce’s parents are trying to mold her into what they want her to be. “If that be the case,” I think, “then Bart and Martha need to do tough love and let their children and grandchildren work it out.”

As we pedal down the highway, we notice Bart pulling off the road and getting out of his truck. Martha rides up alongside the rest of us. “Now what’s he doing?”

We keep pedaling until we meet up with him. In the ditch is a bedraggled collie. Bart is trying to coax the dog up to him, but the collie is having nothing to do with him. Faith, being the extreme dog lover she is, gets off her bike and walks right into the ditch.

Peter yells, “Faith, what are you doing? That dog may be mean.”

Faith ignores Peter and continues walking toward the collie. I can tell the dog isn’t mean by the sure look in its eyes. Faith kneels down and pets the dog’s head while the collie wags its tail. Faith carefully assesses whether the dog has any injuries but finds none. She tells Peter to get some water from the rig. Dutifully, Peter does as he’s asked while I dig in my saddle bag, pulling out a granola bar. I knew it wasn’t the best thing to feed a dog, but the poor thing looked hungry, too.

I walk down to where Faith is and let the collie sniff my hand before offering it the food I had. We discover the collie is a female. She scarfs down the food before lapping up the bowl of water Peter has brought to her.

The collie’s tag says her name is Dolly. I think, “Dolly the collie, how cute.” The tags are well worn, so it’s hard to see where this dog lives. Bart, in his infinite wisdom, has already Googled vets in Yerington.

Faith doesn’t want to take Dolly to the vets for fear they’ll know who she belongs to. Peter tells her, “Hon, you know this is exactly what we need to do.”

Faith knows he’s right and agrees to take Dolly to the vets once we get to Yerington. Bart allows Dolly to ride in the truck with him. She lies down on the back seat and instantly falls asleep. The rest of the ride to Yerington goes by quickly, although all of us were quiet for those final miles.

We check into the Greenfield Mobile Home and RV park. It’s a nice park right off the highway. Bart phones the vets to make an appointment. We’ll have to wait until Monday, which pleases Faith. She and I head to the grocery store to get some dog food and a leash. Faith also picks up a dog bed.

I say, “Why are you doing this to yourself, Faith? You know there’s a strong possibility the vets will know who Dolly belongs to and will contact the owners.”

Faith stands in faith. Back at the campground, Faith asks Carol if she could go to church with us tomorrow. That evening, Faith and I go to work brushing the mats out of Dolly. My grooming experience from my dog showing days comes in handy. Before long, Dolly is looking like she’s ready for the show ring. Dolly opts to sleep in her bed beside me, although it’s clear Dolly has bonded with Faith.

The next day, Carol, Mac, Faith, and I head off to church. Holy Family Catholic Church is an older church that serves several of the small communities in the area. It reminds me of some of those churches I attended as a child while growing up in Nebraska. The parishioners are friendly, something I didn’t expect. So often in these small towns, visitors are stared at like we have cooties, but not here. We are welcomed in such a way that almost makes a person want to stay for a while.

During the mass, I can tell Faith is praying she can keep Dolly. I simply pray that the best thing for Dolly happens. Then I pray that Bryce gets the help she needs. And finally, I pray in thanksgiving for the wonderful blessings God has bestowed on me. I can feel His blessings in my life.

When mass ends, the parishioners gather in front of the church to talk with their neighbors, just like they did in the small town my mother was from. As a kid, I hated all the kibitzing, but as an adult, I see the benefits of sharing our lives with our neighbors. And what better place to do the sharing than outside a church that recently inspired all of us.

Mac is telling a local about Dolly. The local nods and says, “That’s Tom Hadley’s collie. Tom passed away two weeks ago.”

The local explains how Dolly meant everything to Tom, and how Dolly sat outside the church howling during the funeral services.

“There wasn’t a dry eye in that church. It was heart wrenching, because Tom also meant everything to Dolly.”

Dolly was placed in a foster home awaiting adoption, but she ran away the first night. They found her lying on Tom’s grave. The family took her home again, but Dolly, once again, escaped, but this time they were unable to find her.

“I don’t know where Dolly was headed,” the local says, “but I can assure you no one in town is going to want her. She’s a difficult dog who was spoiled rotten by Tom. He fed her table scraps, never brushed the poor thing, and I’m not totally certain she ever saw the inside of a vets.”

Faith proudly says, “Well, she’s brushed now, and she’ll be seeing a vet tomorrow. She’s found her home.”

I stood there comparing Bryce with Dolly. From things Bart had said last night regarding Bryce, her parents had spoiled her, too. Now both Bryce and Dolly were trying to find their place in life. Faith knew Dolly needed some work, but she was worth it. Just like Bryce was worth it. A little tough love for both could bring them back from the brink of Hell.

The next day, Faith and I take Dolly to the vets, who give Dolly a clean bill of health. They comment on how well Dolly looks compared to when Tom had her. Contrary to what the local thought, Tom had been good about vaccinating Dolly, he just wasn’t good with her diet and grooming needs. Faith asks about keeping Dolly.

The vet says, “She’s yours if you want, although she’s always been a roamer. But she does seem to have bonded with you. Good luck to you, and thanks for being a good pet parent. We need more parents like you.”

Again, I think about Bryce’s parents. What were they doing for Bryce? Was she getting the treatment she deserved? It will be several years later before I find out that Bryce quit school, left home, got pregnant only to find out the baby’s father wanted nothing to do with his child or Bryce. Her parents had remained silent during these years, allowing Bryce to experience the life she thought she wanted. They were doing the tough love thing.

Bryce struggled to raise her daughter on her own. Because she had quit school, the higher paying jobs wouldn’t even consider her because she didn’t have a high school diploma. She and her daughter were evicted from their low-rent apartment. She had nowhere to go. It was Bryce’s tough love wake-up call. She phoned her parents who promptly told her they had never stopped being her parents, never stopped loving her, and never wanted her to have to go through all of this.

Bryce and her daughter returned home. She attended GED classes where she met the man of her dreams who accepted Bryce’s daughter as his own. Bryce continued on with her education becoming a child advocate. Funny how tough love can quickly open your eyes.

And Dolly, well, Dolly the collie spent the rest of her life with Faith and Peter. She never once tried to run away, and she lived well beyond a collie’s average age limit. I guess the love and care she received from Faith and Peter extended her life. For me, I’ll always remember that day on the highway into Yerington, Nevada, as the day I truly learned about tough love and how it can be a good thing.

And in my real world, I’m grateful my parents parented with tough love. Dad always gave us three strikes before we received our just punishment. His words weren’t idle threats. He meant every word he said, yet my parents were two of the most loving people I have ever known. Their punishments were given as loving directions to make us better people.

So as we go through life, know that tough love doesn’t represent being mean and hateful. It means what God did for all of us, “I care for you enough to give My only begotten Son.” God bless you all, and let’s keep going the distance.


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