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Phil's column

Phil Power is founder and chairman
of the Center for Michigan.

Life isn’t like it used to be, and that’s a bad thing

Like many other dogs, my black lab, HomeTown, has a bed in the back hallway. It used to be his preferred snoozing place. No longer. Several weeks ago, he chewed a big hole in the bed cover, and we sewed a piece of heavy cloth over the hole. HomeTown has yet to sleep on his newly recovered bed.

Change for humans is just as tough as it is for dogs.

I used to think schools were absolutely safe places for little children. I remember how I felt when I dropped my son, Nathan, off for his first kindergarten day at Logan School. I was plenty emotional, like most parents who bring their child to the first day of school. But I never imagined that Nathan’s school – or any school, for that matter – could be a death trap.

Several parents told me recently they breathed a sigh of relief when they picked up their kid at the end of the school day.

It’s a big change, one that I do not like at all. It makes me feel too many things these days are out of control

After last week’s massacre in Newtown, Conn., guess what’s on the minds of countless parents who are dropping their children off at school this week? It isn’t happy anticipation of singing about “Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

This is especially so after legislative passage last week of the a bill sponsored by Sen. Mike Green, R-Mayville, that likely will increase the chances of somebody walking into your child’s school openly carrying a handgun. Of course, Sen. Green didn’t know what was coming in Newtown when he introduced his bill.

But it is what it is, and there are a whole bunch of parents today in Michigan whose feelings about the safety of their children in school are very different than they were a week ago. “Uncomfortable” is only the mildest way to put it.

Change for humans is tough.

One of the eternal verities of Michigan politics has been the power of unions in this incubator of the labor movement. That got changed last week when the Legislature passed the Right to Work bill. And as a result of this enormous change, emotions – both pro and con – are running high. Nobody quite knows how to adjust to a world suddenly turned upside down.

Change makes lots of people very uneasy.

Over the weekend, it rained and temperatures soared into the 50s. When I was a kid, we would have had snow on the ground by now – I remember we had nine inches on Dec. 9 when I was 10 years old. Now we are in the grip of global climate change that makes Michigan feel a lot like Tennessee. I don’t like the change.

And we used to wish each other “Merry Christmas” at this time of the years. Seeking not to offend, we now offer “Happy Holidays.” I don’t like that, either.

And the malls were putting up Christmas decorations in October, for heaven’s sake, while all the news coverage of “Black Friday” gives the impression that Christmas is a macroeconomic event instead of a secularized religious holiday.

So, in this age of rapid change, I’m a lot like my dog, HomeTown. I don’t want to snooze on my new bed. I want the old one back.

Which is why we cling so tightly to the old ways.

When I was growing up, my parents and their friends would get together three or four times a year at this season to sing Christmas carols together, followed by supper. When my parents died, the practice petered out.

When I married Kathy, we decided to bring it back. So, two Sundays ago, around 60 of our friends gathered at our house to sing together. We ended the musical part of the evening by singing “Silent Night” in German. And everybody had a seasonal snort and wished each other “Merry Christmas.”

It’s a tradition that I hope will last unchanged a long, long time in our family. And it makes me feel solid, secure and comfortable.

Maybe in this era of rapid change, hanging on to those few things that are lasting and, therefore, powerful and emotional is the best Christmas present of all.

Editor’s note: Former newspaper publisher and University of Michigan Regent Phil Power is a longtime observer of Michigan politics and economics. He is also the founder and chairman of the Center for Michigan, a nonprofit, bipartisan centrist think–and–do tank, designed to cure Michigan’s dysfunctional political culture; the Center also publishes Bridge Magazine. The opinions expressed here are Power’s own and do not represent the official views of the Center. He welcomes your comments via

5 comments from Bridge readers.Add mine!

  1. Mike R

    Thank you, Phil, for eloquently describing what most of us are feeling. I applaud you and your family for reviving a tradition that is both positive and, in the way simple things often are, profoundly symbolic.

    The cynic in me thinks Governor Snyder is delaying a decision on the gun bill until the storm blows over and he can cater to his radical right brethren outside the spotlight. The optimist in me hopes that he is sincerely pondering the implications of this back-to-the-future march toward the Wild West days of universal gun-toting, gunfights in the streets, and frontier justice.

    The events of last week, in which a survivalist mother legally filled her house with firearms and taught her troubled son how to use them, have clarified in my mind that much of the blame for the tragedy lies at the feet of the NRA and the pro-gun lobby: over the years they have abandoned reason in favor of zero tolerance for any constraints on who can own what kind of firearm when. The only logical conclusion is that they believe such events are merely the price society must pay to preserve the Second Amendment from any interpretation or modification that would deprive such people of an unfettered right to arm themselves and, by carelessness, inattention, or design, all those around them. To them it is simply “the cost of doing business.”

    I reject that utterly, and I will forever rail against and condemn those who elevate an unchallenged right to keep and bear arms above all other rights under our constitution.

    1. Marcel P.

      Amen! Thanks for publishing Bridge, Phil.
      Merry Christmas, and peace to all of good will! We’ll be singing carols too.

  2. Geoff Perkins


    You and I are approximately the same age, and I remember plenty of years as a child here in Michigan, when we gazed out the window longing for a white Christmas. I remember many years when we indeed had one, but I also remember years when the hockey skates under the tree stayed in the box until a few weeks later when the lake finally froze.

    I remember a year in the late seventies when it was 60º Christmas day. I nearly put the top down on the way to a family celebration.

    I remember two years ago when December was colder than a well diggers elbow, and we had plenty of snow – all winter long.

    So please, rethink “global climate change.” I think what you meant to say is “We have weather.”

    Otherwise, I thought you column described the human condition precisely. We don’t do well with change.

    Merry Christmas to you and Kathy.

  3. Al

    Thanks Phil, You say things so much better than I can. I can think for myself tho. I ask myself this question?WHY IS EVERYONE SO ADAMANT FOR GUN CONTROL? Please stay with me on this. How many people are killed because of drunk drivers every year in this country? How many people blame the automobiles for this? Lets look at the mass killings that have happened accross this country. How many of those involved in them have had a mental condition of some degree? What has this state and country both done about this situation. If you don’t have someone in your family that needs help. You simply don’t know what it is like. When the people of this state and nation learn what the real problems are them we may find the answer. What did our educational systems do? They put those with problems back into regular classes. What did that do? It put those very same one under more pressure to be like others. Thats the very problem they had in the beginning. Yes, for a lot of them it has been better but for some it has nothing but make it worse for them and left them on their own. Until we realize this, we will not find the answers. The human mind operates on a persons feelings and until we learn hoe to deal with this we will not have the right answer. Merry Christmas to everyone at the center and those who read and write on the blogs.

  4. Duane

    “Life isn’t like it use to be, and that is a bad thing”
    It is disappointing that Mr. Power can only see change as negative, that it is stressful. I am surprised that Mr. Power doesn’t remember polio and the tragedies that created, the fear that would go through a community that there was no place safe, or that change has eliminated those tragedies and parental fears. Or maybe that is part of the past he wishes was still with us. I wonder if Mr. Power remembers how most homes in his youth were so poorly sealed, lacked insulation and reliable heating systems where it was not uncommon to hear of children, whole families dying in their homes from cold, from asphyxiation, from fires. That is all so rare now that it becomes a Headline when it happens today. That is change, but that is not worth the other changes that have come with change. I would offer that the changes we have happened in Mr. Power’s lifetime have allowed him to have many more years with friends and family, to have had the time to establish new traditions with new friends and with the next generation of family. I would offer that the quality of life, the foods, the clothing, the housing, the time to enjoy with family and friends are better and more than Mr. Power’s family had in his youth. Maybe that is what he would like to hold back. I would offer that life is longer and we can choose a quality of life that is better because of change. Change is not something we need to fear or something we must accept. Change can bring betterment to all and it can be managed by each of use.
    For me the changes over my life had allowed me to have an extended family, allowed my family to be able to better shape their lives, allowed me to still be here to be part of the change in my small part of the world. Mr. Power maybe stressed by change and can only see the things he wants to remember being changed, so he wants to discourage change to hold it back by painting a picture for others to see that only shows how change is not good and it cause us to lose what we want. It is sad for that suggests that Mr. Power has missed out on the fun of being part of change, of looking for ways to better things through change, of taking control of change, it is as if Mr. Power wants others to do for him rather than do for himself. That seems to be a significant factor in the disappointment of how our society has created problems that all of us want to disappear.

    Mr. Power seems to want to delude others about the past. I see the tragedy in Connecticut as 26 tragedies rather than a single tragedy. The families and friends of each person who was murdered has had their hopes, their dreams taken, the everyday joys that their child, their sister, their wife would have given them destroyed. It isn’t the number, for each atrocity is a separate tragedy. Mr. Power suggests that this is something that was caused by change. I remember the horrendous deaths (in my town) of two little girls walking through an overgrown lot just across the street from the ‘little league’ fields I coach at. The murderer was caught and he was not much younger that the murderer in Connecticut. That was decades ago when Mr. Power wasn’t much older than the Connecticut murderer. Those were a tragedy no less horrific then the ones this past week. They were walking home from school in a neighborhood that had never had such a thing happen. They and their parents thought it was safe. The Newtown tragedies are more visible, they seem to be more frequent, but they are not new, they are not a change.

    I wish all a Merry Christmas.

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