Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Boobquake Aftermath

So far as I can tell, no major earthquakes occurred yesterday.

However, it has been reported that many men today are suffering from sprained necks due to too much visual stimulation. And a poor night's sleep due to having to be on the couch.

Ladies, as explained by one of your own below, men can't be blamed. In fact, they can't help themselves.

Enjoy the "Man Trance" you can put on us.

By Louann Brizendine, Special to CNN

Editor's note: Dr. Louann Brizendine is a member of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology and the National Board of Medical Examiners, and a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco. She is founder and director of the Women's Mood and Hormone Clinic. She wrote "The Female Brain" and, just released, "The Male Brain." .

(CNN) -- Although women the world over have been doing it for centuries, we can't really blame a guy for being a guy. And this is especially true now that we know that the male and female brains have some profound differences.

Our brains are mostly alike. We are the same species, after all. But the differences can sometimes make it seem like we are worlds apart.

The "defend your turf" area -- dorsal premammillary nucleus -- is larger in the male brain and contains special circuits to detect territorial challenges by other males. And his amygdala, the alarm system for threats, fear and danger is also larger in men. These brain differences make men more alert than women to potential turf threats.

Meanwhile, the "I feel what you feel" part of the brain -- mirror-neuron system -- is larger and more active in the female brain. So women can naturally get in sync with others' emotions by reading facial expressions, interpreting tone of voice and other nonverbal emotional cues.

Perhaps the biggest difference between the male and female brain is that men have a sexual pursuit area that is 2.5 times larger than the one in the female brain. Not only that, but beginning in their teens, they produce 20 to 25-fold more testosterone than they did during pre-adolescence.

If testosterone were beer, a 9-year-old boy would be getting the equivalent of a cup a day. But a 15-year-old would be getting the equivalent of nearly two gallons a day. This fuels their sexual engines and makes it impossible for them to stop thinking about female body parts and sex.

And so begins the 'Man Trance'

All that testosterone drives the "Man Trance"-- that glazed-eye look a man gets when he sees breasts.As a woman who was among the ranks of the early feminists, I wish I could say that men can stop themselves from entering this trance. But the truth is, they can't. Their visual brain circuits are always on the lookout for fertile mates. Whether or not they intend to pursue a visual enticement, they have to check out the goods.

To a man, this is the most natural response in the world, so he's dismayed by how betrayed his wife or girlfriend feels when she sees him eyeing another woman. Men look at attractive women the way we look at pretty butterflies. They catch the male brain's attention for a second, but then they flit out of his mind. Five minutes later, while we're still fuming, he's deciding whether he wants ribs or chicken for dinner. He asks us, "What's wrong?" We say, "Nothing." He shrugs and turns on the TV. We smolder and fear that he'll leave us for another woman.

Not surprisingly, the different objectives that men and women have in mating games put us on opposing teams -- at least at first. The female brain is driven to seek security and reliability in a potential mate before she has sex. But a male brain is fueled to mate and mate again. Until, that is, he mates for life.

Despite stereotypes to the contrary, the male brain can fall in love just as hard and fast as the female brain, and maybe more so. When he meets and sets his sights on capturing "the one," mating with her becomes his prime directive. And when he succeeds, his brain makes an indelible imprint of her. Lust and love collide and he's hooked.

The 'Doting Daddy Brain'

A man in hot pursuit of a mate doesn't even remotely resemble a devoted, doting daddy. But that's what his future holds. When his mate becomes pregnant, she'll emit pheromones that will waft into his nostrils, stimulating his brain to make more of a hormone called prolactin. Her pheromones will also cause his testosterone production to drop by 30 percent.

These hormonal changes make him more likely to help with the baby. They also change his perceptual circuitry, increasing his ability to hear a baby cry, something many men can't do very well before their wives are pregnant.

And a word to the wise for all the young mothers who are reluctant to let your husbands hold and care for your newborn. The more hands-on care a father gives his infant, the more his brain aligns with the role of fatherhood. So, hand over the baby.

His emotions run deep

Although men have earned the reputation for being more stoic than women, they actually have stronger emotional reactions than we do. They just don't show it very often.

Studies of men's faces show that the male brain's initial emotional reaction can be stronger than the female brain's. But within 2.5 seconds, he changes his face to hide the emotion, or even reverse it. The repeated practice of hiding his emotions gives men the classic poker face.

It's his poker face and his analytical response to personal problems that can put him in the doghouse. She's crying as she talks about what's wrong with the relationship, and instead of hugging her, his mind is racing to find a way to resolve the problem as soon as possible. With practice and because of the way their brains are wired, men use their analytical brain structures, not their emotional ones, to find a solution.

They enjoy this advantage, but women often take affront to it. When you're telling your husband your problem and he tries to solve it instead of hearing you out, you may think he's being insensitive. But that's not what's going on in his brain. He's working to solve the problem so he can relieve your pain as quickly as possible. Not because he doesn't care or doesn't want to listen, but because he loves you.

'Lovable Grandpas' and 'Grumpy Old Men'

As men age, the male brain hormones change and the male brain and body goes into the stage of life called andropause. The king of male hormones -- testosterone -- goes down and the queen of female hormones -- estrogen -- goes up. Whether Grandpa is your kids' hero or the grouch they hate to visit depends a lot on how he handles these hormonal changes. For example, if his testosterone levels drop to an abnormally low level, he can feel tired, irritable and even depressed. Some men in this condition seek hormone replacement therapy and others find relief in exercise, more frequent sex, and spending more time with other people.

The grandpa that kids can't wait to see is the one who's feeling the effects of the hormone oxytocin, often called the "cuddle hormone." He's fun and playful and likes to hear what his grandchildren have to say. He's much more patient with your children than he was with you, when you were growing up. The love circuits of the mature male brain can be hijacked by his grandkids, even more than they were by his own children.

The 'Lonely Hearts Club'

Not only is the mature male brain more receptive to closer bonds, but it's also more sensitive to loneliness. Nobody thrives when they're lonely, but it seems to take a major toll on older men. Sixty percent of divorces in couples over the age of 50 are initiated by women, leaving their husbands shell-shocked and devastated.

Once his wife leaves, unless he makes a point of socializing more with other people, his brain stops getting the social workout it needs to make him feel good about himself. If he becomes a loner, his social-approval circuits don't get activated. In brain scan studies of older males researchers have found that the brain's pleasure and reward areas, the VTA and the NAc, remain more active in men who are social. So don't begrudge the divorcee or the new widower some socializing and seeking female companionship.

The bottom line

The human brain is the best learning machine on the planet and human beings are capable of making major changes in our lives. But there are some things that the male brain and female brain are not likely to change anytime soon. And it makes more sense to deal with these brain realities, than to argue with them or ignoring them.

The best advice I have for women is make peace with the male brain. Let men be men.

Sunday, April 25, 2010


I'm so glad God likes sports.

Like baseball. The Bible starts in the big inning.

And recreational golf.

He allows as many mulligans as we want, so long as we admit our mistakes with the errant shots, and promise to slow down our swings.

New life in the form of a newborn baby is a miracle.

But the older I get, I believe new life, new chances, new opportunities, multiple redos for those of us already muddling thru is perhaps the biggest miracle.

Last evening I was with my 24 year old son. He got a call from his best friend from middle school.

A young man from a great family that had made some bad choices. He had succumbed to substance abuse a few years ago. Of the worst kind.

With the help of his God and his family, he has just graduated from rehab and is loving living sober again. He was living Hell on earth a few months ago. Now, he has a clean new start. We thought we might have lost him not long ago. Last night, we hugged him like a newborn.

We see it in our own kids. They make decisions that put them in a bad place and they can't see the way out. Mistakes are part of life. One of the great joys of parenting is seeing kids learning from bad choices getting to start life anew.

I've seen it so many times in business. An employee is a round peg in a square hole. Try as everyone might, it just isn't working.

Telling someone they have lost their job is an awful thing to have to do. But sometimes it is the right thing to do.

So often, I have seen that person express relief because they have felt like they were in prison. And so many times, it has freed them to move on to what they really want to do. And they become thankful for being set free. And they prosper in an entirely new venture.

We see it in relationships. Situations change, people change, feelings change and sometimes friendships and marriages collapse.

It is as close to death as it comes in terms of stress. The loss of a love is a loss of hope. A loss of trust. A loss of confidence. A loss of willingness to be vulnerable.

And it does get darkest just before dawn.

But dawn does come again.

I've experienced it personally. I've seen friends in dark places when out of nowhere light shines thru.

I've lost a son. But thru his death, lives have been changed. Young men he knew have gained a new perspective on life. They have become more focused, more serious, more aware of mortality. More appreciative of the loved ones around them.

Losing Pete has given me new life. One I never hoped for. One I never imagined. But using his life's legacy as inspiration, we have seen miracles happen again and again to impact the lives of men and women in the military who need a soft touch on the shoulder.

New life is possible.

I've learned the hard way that I am not in control. I've learned the hard way to stop holding on with a tight grip.

I have to open my hands, my arms, my mind and my heart and trust that God will bring what I need.

He has done it time and again.

I can't wait to see what He has in store for me next.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Super Absorbent Tampons

It's a bad Friday night that starts with your grandson having a seizure.

Liam, my youngest grandson, had a high fever.


It caused him to have "seizure" like symptoms.

My baby girl, his mom, calls me in a panic asking what to do.

"Go directly to Children's Hospital. I'll meet you there as soon as I can get there."

So, she did. And I did.

Thankfully, whatever bug he has is a normal thing.

A dose of Motrin and he was back to normal.

Then his grandma started calling.

My daughter, all of 25, is trying to figure out if her son is dying from some unknown disease.

She's holding Liam and the phone rings in the emergency room stall that she's in.

Grandma can't find the hospital and instead of asking the hospital for directions, she is calling my daughter.

Can you spell stress?

"Hand me the phone."

"Look for the friggin' Children's Hospital sign and turn left."

Thankfully, Liam had a normal ear infection and amoxycillin will fix it.

And Motrin and Tylenol every other four hours will keep his fever down.

Grandma arrived and took charge.

She was quite sure the nurses had no clue.

The last time they took Liam's temperature was with one of those new-fangled deelybobs where they swipe that little suction cup across the kid's forehead and around to his jaw.

He was at 98.6.

Grandma was not so sure about this new-fangled instrument.

A rectal thermometer was more up her alley.

Because that's how you know the truth, she says.

She was over-ruled and Liam was set free to go home.

Being daddy-man and grandpa-king, I volunteered to go to the pharmacy.

Amoxycillin and bubble-gum flavored Motrin and Tylenol was fairly easy. Once my Hindi came back to me and I could speak to the pharmacist in their language.

But then there was the issue of Super Absorbent Tampons.

There is no Hell on earth like a man sent to buy feminine hygiene products.

So, as I stand there pondering, here comes a former neighbor.

She starts to explain to me the difference in sport tampons versus regular tampons versus absorbent tampons versus super tampons versus super absorbent plus tampons.

I'd had enough.

I have no idea what I bought, but it was enough.

All I could think of was my son-in-law.

He's at home waiting for a sick kid and a wife OTR.

If I could have bought him a bottle of scotch and a spliff I would have.

It's good to be a single grandpa.

All I wanted was to come home and slide gently to sleep.

But my 24 year old son had somewhere between 6 and a hundred friends bouncing to the Black Eyed Peas on the back porch.

I love all those kids.

But not tonight.

As the music bangs on the other side of the house, all I want is sleep.

I know how life changes with one phone call.

I've told them all to sleep here.

I do so love being a daddy.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Sweet boy

April in Atlanta is glorious.

April 10, 1981 was a particularly glorious day.

Sky so blue and pure.

Azaleas and dogwoods exploding with color and joy.

And I was a new papa.

A big, healthy 9 pound 10 ounce baby boy.

I remember driving thru Atlanta that afternoon and having the thought, "Why isn't everyone applauding? Don't they know what just happened? The most perfect baby ever was just born. And he is MY son."

I think every new daddy has those feelings.

The miracle of new life and the excitement of fatherhood is overwhelming.

It finally occurred to me that other folks had experienced the same thing.

But on that day, I knew something special had happened.

Named for his grandpas, Peter Haskell Burks was born 29 years ago today.

He made life better for all that knew him. And for thousands more who didn't, he touched them in a special way.

Happy birthday, sweet boy.

Thanks for letting me be your dad.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Is is safe?

It's not that I don't like dentists. Have had several that were good friends.

It's sadists I don't care for.

Broke a tooth Sunday, and went in today to get it fixed.

If it weren't for the nitrous oxide gas high, I might never go.

I really hate the process.

I mean, look at that tool tray.

Hooks, needles, chisels, hammers. It's like being in "Saw V".

If you've ever seen "Marathon Man", you know what I'm talking about.

Oh, they lull you into submission with the aquarium in the lobby and the pleasant receptionist and the perky hygienists. (They are totally in on this evil game. Do not be fooled. They all love to torture.)

This morning they took advantage of me and gave me the gas. Then it began.

At one time, there was a turkey baster, a jackhammer, a 2 x 4 and four hands in my mouth.

It's big, but it ain't that big.

So you're at their mercy while they practice their evil craft.

The worst is that Novocaine needle. Why is it the size of LeBron James leg? And why is designed to put the fear of God into you? Couldn't they design it to look more like a Popsicle or a fried chicken leg? Something you wouldn't be so afraid to have stuck in your mouth?

And those sounds. You're numb, but you hear the grinding of your exoskeleton. And the worst one has that awful high-pitched whine, which is the sound of pain.

Three and half hours into the process, and there is a bale of cotton and several metal objects you don't want to know about in your mouth. And while their pounding on your teeth and jaw, they want you to move your friggin' tongue.

Oh, and "please don't swallow" while several gallons of Lord knows what is in the back of your throat.

Then, just as you want to call your Mommy to make 'em stop, they say "you're good to go". And just like that, they take your smack away and remove the gas mask.

So as you are trying to escape and still groggy from the whole macabre scene, the nice lady comes in and asks how you would like to take care of the $1 million that your insurance didn't cover today.

You gladly throw them a credit card and don't ask any stupid questions, like, can we discuss that?

All you want is out. To be alone and whimper in the safety of your car. Away from the chamber of horrors.

Dentists have told me that most of the people on earth have such rotten teeth and jaw disease that they walk around with mouth pain that we couldn't comprehend.

I'm thinking Haiti sounds pretty good right now.

Monday, April 5, 2010

It's time for baseball, y'all

"There are a lot of people who know me who can't understand for the life of them why I would go to work on something as unserious as baseball. If they only knew."

-A. Bartlett Giamatti

Oh, the sweet smell of the grass.

The life lessons learned in that most simple, yet complicated set of angles.

My hero in life came from that field.

Henry Aaron. Against all odds and the stupidity of racism, he became the best the game has ever known. Until someone beats him clean, he will be the King.

I was lucky enough to have seen him play in Atlanta. When I could ride the bus to the stadium with a tomato sandwich in by brown paper bag, and sit in the outfield with old black gentlemen who taught me how to watch a game.

I was fortunate enough to play Little League in sweet East Point, Georgia. Underneath the shadow of the water tower.

I was never very good at it, but I did so love it.

Does anything feel as good as hitting a ball square into the centerfield gap for a double? Off of a wood bat?

Is there any replacement for snagging one backhanded and throwing him out at first?

Like anything in life, if you really want to be good at it, learn to teach it.

Coaching began as a parental desire to be involved.

It got the best of me. It taught me more about the game and the players and their families than any book could ever try to do.

My favorite and most painful lesson came in a game of 6 and 7 year olds.

A good kid was playing third base.

With two outs, the batter fouled the ball up in the air down the third base line. And "my" third baseman just watched it drop.

I couldn't believe my eyes.

I barked something at him.

After the game, his dad came to me.

He said, "Coach, Justin said he thought a foul ball was out of play. Nobody ever told him that if he caught it, it would be an out.

If you had, he would have gladly caught it for you."

That's when I began to learn how to coach. Which is another word for teaching.

Teaching a kid how to not fear a fly ball. How to let her glove do the work. The physics of throwing a ball properly. Getting balance on the mound so you can throw downhill.

Of all my baseball chapters, teaching the game to a group of Slovenian, Croatian and Serbian kids has to rank at the top.

They had heard of the game, but had never seen it.

So the first lesson was to pull a ball out of the bag and say, "This is a baseball."

It might as well have been a moon rock.

One of my best friends in life went with me on this adventure.

Nobes and I watched these kids go from never having seen a baseball to playing a full six inning game in a week.

The game seems so simple, until you try to explain why you have to tag the base you are on when a flyball is hit and caught in the outfield before you can take the next base. Or why a foul ball on the third strike isn't an out. Or why throwing a ball at the runner and nailing her in the back doesn't make her out.

Yep, it is a much more complicated game than we think.

But at it's heart, it is so simple.

As Bart Giamatti wrote, the wonder of the game is to get on base. Then once you are out there, you are away from your teammates and family.

Then the overwhelming goal is to get home.

Home is where we all want to get. But not before we first get out of the batter's box.

We all have to learn that good things happen when you swing the bat.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

The most exclusive club you never want to join

Matthew Snyder joined the Marines in 2003.

He didn't have to. He wanted to. We do have an all volunteer military.

His family was so proud of him. As all of us should be.

On March 3, 2006, Matthew's dad got the knock on the door that no military family wants.

Matthew had been killed in Iraq.

I remember the day we heard about Pete. I remember the pain. The shock.

I remember the screams from Missy, Ali, Sadie and Zac when I had to call them.

I remember my dad losing his breath when I called him.

The world was spinning out of control. It was like the worst dream you've ever had, except you never wake up.

No one wants to bury their child.

And Al Snyder is no different from any other parent that has lost a child.

"He was a hero and the love of my life", said Al.

At Matthew's funeral, the sewer rats from Westboro Baptist Church showed up to spew their insane evil.

Al couldn't stand it.

So he sued Fred Phelps and the church. And he won.

Fred and his group have appealed the case. It has been upheld once, and overturned once, and now the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case.

Earlier this week the appeals court that overturned the verdict ordered Al Snyder to pay over $16,000 of court costs for Westboro Baptist Church. As though Al and his family haven't been thru enough, this was the ultimate slap in the face.

You may well have read the story. You may well have seen Al on any number of network news programs this week.

I sent Al an email earlier in the week. Told him our family had stood in his family's shoes, and we loved them and supported them.

This morning, my cell phone rang and I didn't recognize the number. Came close to not answering, but I did.

"I'm looking for Alan Burks."

"You found him. How can I help you?"

"Alan, this is Al Snyder. Matthew Snyder's dad. I have received over 10,000 emails this week. I intend to respond to everyone in time. Somehow, God led me to yours. And I just felt the need to call."

A new friend, a new brother, a new bond made in that instant.

I wept. I got chills.

We talked for about 15 minutes. We shared what only folks who are in the Gold Star Family club can share.

In the midst of all he's going thru, he took the time to call and encourage me.

He gave me his number and said to call anytime I need to talk. And he really meant it.

And I said the same to him.

I don't know where or how or when, but I will hug that sweet man's neck one day.

I rode my motorcycle out to spend time with Pete this afternoon.

I think he winked at me when I asked him how he and Matthew were doing.

Pete and Matthew are now together and now their dads are together.

What a club.

Godspeed Al Snyder.

God, bless Fred Phelps and bring him to salvation and sanity. And in the meantime, please give him a serious legal ass whuppin'.

Friday, April 2, 2010

O Green

And at last, it is green.

The color of life.

The color of safety.

The color of go.

The color of peace.

The color of joy.

Ah, it is green.

Pretty little bare feet.

Sweet smells.



Everything is new again.

It's ok to go back outside and explore.

O green.

I want to lay in you.

I want to play in you.

I want to be with you wherever you are.

O green.

You are fresh.

You are encouraging.

You are a gift of God.

O green.

You are the color of love.

Thanks for showing your pretty face.

A miracle in medicine that's hard to believe

A precious baby boy was born yesterday at Parkland Hospital here in Dallas.

Perfectly healthy 8 pounds and 4 ounces.

Except for one thing.

He was born without any eyelids.

Children's Hospital is next door, and has performed alot of miracles for children.

Their team of eye specialists were called in.

After conferring for a bit, they contacted the leading children's plastic surgeon in the country, who is on staff at the hospital.

He had an idea.

Circumcise the baby boy, and use the foreskin to form eyelids.

The doctors met with the anxious parents, and they agreed to this unheard of procedure.

After 9 hours of painstaking, sensitive work in the operating room, it was done.

Late yesterday the doctors met with the family and told them of their success.

When the doctors met with the media last night, it was a lovefest.

A reporter from The Dallas Observer asked if the child would have any side effects.

"Oh, he'll always be a little cockeyed", said Dr. Dubious.