I learned a quiet patriotism from my father. My dad didn't set a flag out on the 4th of July, and he didn't make any kind of fanfare about Veteran's Day. Had I not found some of his service medals and insignia when I was young, I might not have even known he even served in the Army, much less a war (Korean War). Two of his older brothers served in World War II, and one died in service. When I fully understood that as an adult, it explained much of my dad's quiet patriotism. He was proud of his country, so proud that amidst his family's fresh pain of losing a son and brother a few short years previous, he didn't fight being drafted - even at his conservative father's urging to find a way to avoid service. His quiet patriotism lapsed a few times. He was very direct with the college students he taught during the Vietnam War - "Go ahead and protest the government if you like, but leave the soldiers alone. Don't ever forget what they're doing on our behalf." And when Team USA beat Russia at the 1980 Olympics, you could have heard my dad whoop and holler a block away.
My dad was an "old liberal" - he liked H.L. Mencken's definition of believing in liberty, but not so much to force it upon anyone. At the same time, he wasn't a pacifist - he always said you couldn't allow innocent people to get beaten up. That tension not only worked for him, he lived it. Dad always looked after the underdog and the poor. He had been there.
Seeing that commercial yesterday conjured up many memories. I remember going to England with my Dad several years ago and the two of us going to a pub, and he asking me, "What would an Englishman drink? I can't drink that roofing tar you like (Guinness)." So I suggested a Newcastle. He nursed it in his Don McCracken way. And uncommonly, after a few minutes, he said, "You and I should have done this a long time ago." And so we talked about things that mattered.
|Dad's 80th birthday|
He said that while he had secretly wished I'd become a major league baseball umpire, that I looked happy in what I do - and I was (am). He said he loved his life and had no regrets. And I realized that while my father was extremely eccentric, had a strange relationship with God, and lived an even stranger (but strong) marriage with my mom - he provided an incomplete yet unique and good education for me. I'm different from my dad - but what he taught me serves me well. I value education and at the same time know I need to be a life-long learner. And while I was never the player, coach, or historian he was, I love baseball. He taught me how to drag a left-handed bunt down the first base line while also learning how to mow, drag, and line a field, how to be a smart fielder always thinking about what to do if the ball is hit to me while also learning to keep a scorebook and proving a box score, how to be an aggressive hitter and how to be a pitcher's umpire (because no one comes to a game to watch a batter get a walk). He taught me enough math to get through high school and college, as I had a mental block for it. I learned from him how to be a gentle evangelist and to tolerate those who approach God with a thinking and doubt-embracing faith that leads to a strong and sure faith. And I learned to have a respect and appreciation for those who serve our country in the military, and while I mourn over an uncle I never met who died in war, I am also thankful for my dad who came back from war safely - and thus, thankful for my life.
So when I saw the commercial with an empty table, chair, and pint of beer waiting for a soldier to come home, I teared up. I think about my classmates Kathy (Houff) Isaacson (Army, retired), and Col. Jack Usrey (Army, still active), who serve(d) with distinction. I think about the horrible telegram my family got to tell them my uncle was MIA, and later declared dead, in World War II. And I think about how my family waited anxiously until my father returned home from Korea - anxious about their baby brother from the moment he left home until he came back. And I fast-forward and think about seeing my daughter try on her bridal dress yesterday - and while I wish her grandfather could be at her wedding, I am so thankful for my life and legacy, and so very thankful to be American. I take none of these things lightly - because of a quiet patriot. These are things that matter.