To all those who gave their lives for their country, and to the families left behind.
In remembrance of who gave their lives for our liberty:
O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife.
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life!
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness
And every gain divine!
America the Beautiful
Words by Katharine Lee Bates,
Melody by Samuel Ward
Today is the day the Japanese launched their surprise attack on Pearl Harbor and the US entered World War II. Today we remember both the men and women who died in that infamous attack, as well as all of those who gave their lives, their health, and their posessions so that we may have what we have today. We remember, and we salute you.
The above photograph is from the Navy history site.
William Henry Oliver
I have not been blogging for awhile because I decided that the first thing I would write would be a memorial for my dad. It’s been hard to get started, but after about twenty false starts, here it is.
My father was the reason that boys should have fathers. I have been reading drivel for twenty years about how boys do just fine without dads. Other than providing sperm, the feminists would have us believe that fathers are pretty much extra baggage.
It’s bullshit, and I weep for every boy abandoned by his father.
In the back of every boy’s mind, and staying with him throughout his life, are the men who taught him what is was to be a man. That boy needs those men, no matter what the femnists say, and will get them somewhere. If the boy’s father isn’t there, he will get them somewhere else — from the other men in the family if he’s lucky enough, or from the church, or the community, or the TV, or the gutter. But it’s not going to come from Mom, no matter how much she tries. Moms are important, and they provide all sorts of important stuff. But they don’t teach you how to be a man.
It’s almost a “What would Jesus do” kinda thing, only it’s “What would Dad do?” And, of course, it’s not just Dad. I’ve had a host of male mentors in my life, each of whom has been a blessing. Even in middle age, I’ve added a few more. Jack Edland, Page Hudson, John Butts, Phil Felts, Steve Pizer, TimO’Leary, Larry Heard, Bob Collins, Bill Hartmann, Robert Horn, Bob Wilkins, Fred Askin, Joe Grisham, Don Parr, and others, in their own ways and in their own arenas. I thank God for each and every one, and thinking of my father reminds me of how they all have helped and taught me.
But it was mostly Dad. Dad was always there when I needed him. He was there when he had to do the hard things. And he didn’t just tell me what a man would do, he showed me. He showed me even before I was born.
He showed me what responsibilty and committment meant — to God, to family, to country, to ideals. He showed me what honor meant.
He showed me that there were things worth fighting for and worth dying for. And that almost all of those things are greater than the self.
He was a devoted husband and father. He loved my mother deeply, and together they showed me about love and committment in relationships. He loved me deeply, and made sacrifices I never knew about until I was an adult to make sure I had food, clothing, housing, and a good education. He was there at the school plays, the football games, the band recitals. He found me when I was lost, he picked me up when I was down, and he brought me down when I was too high. And each and every day, he taught me something.
He was a man of his times, the son of a machinist who lost his job in the depression, he grew up in the barrio in Phoenix, Arizona, absorbing the mixed anglo-hispanic flavor of the place and time. He grew up poor, and had the habits of the depression — the guilt at conspicuous consumption, the hatred of waste, thevalue of a days work for a days pay, and the knowledge that *nothing* was guaranteed and nothing was an entitlement. Even our basic rights have to be protected with blood.
He was hero. Sure, he was a hero in World War II, as were so many of the men of his generation. He won the Silver Star for gallantry in action in the Pacific Theater, and took a Japanese bullet to the head that left him almost deaf and blind. And while every day was a struggle for him, he never regretted the price he paid, and he taught me every day of his life that only a person willing to die for the things that were important is truly free. But being a hero is not just, or even mostly ,about violence and war. It’s about the commitment, sacrifice, risk, and daily battle to make a life for your family. Every shoe salesman and paper pusher who fights that battle to keep his family intact, fed, housed, educated, and taught the important things in life is a hero. My father taught me that.
He was a man of action. He knew there were things worth fighting for, and that it was the responsibilityof every man to carry his part of the fight. He knew that choosing to be the victim was choosing to lose one’s very humanity. He hated violence and carried a gun. He was happy to work with his hands and taught me that everybody’s work had value.
He was a man of perception and art. No, he was not a poet or painter. But he was a woodworker, and made things of both beauty and sentimental value. And he taught me to value beauty — in art, in music, in literature, and in nature. My tastes are certainly not his, but he taught me to develop those tastes.
He was a man of intellect. After the war, even with his wounds, he went to school with the GI bill and became an engineer. He was one of the designers of the Interstate Highway System, that arguably had as great an effect on the economic development of the US in the 1950s and 60s as the internet has had on information movement today. He always taught me to ask how things worked, and why things were the way they were. He taught me to think for myself, even if that meant questioning him. He loved history, and transmitted that to me.
He was a man of faith. He saw no contradiction between faith and science, and taught me to question and come to my own understanding of both. And as a man of God, he taught me to understand that there were not only *institutions* greater than the self, but there were *ideas* and *values* that were greater than the self. He taught me that it was OK to have values and goals that were unachievable. Having values that one didnot live up to did not make one a hypocrite — being dishonest about one’s failures did. He was open andserious in his search for the voice of God, and he taught me the importance of that search.
He was a man of love. He loved his wife. He loved his sisters. He loved his cousins, nieces, and nephews. And he loved me. He was open about that love, and taught me to be open to the ones I love. He taught me that love meant responsibility.
He taught me that love was not all hugs and kisses and smiles; sometimes it was a slap on the butt. He taught me about the importance of discipline and the importance of trust. He showed me that his love was unconditional. I do not ever remember a punishment that was not strictly associated with a behavior; it was firm and unyielding, but it never was associated with any question of my value as a person.
He was a man of compassion. He hated to see suffering in others — animals, people, physical or emotional. And he took action to help them. Sometimes, when he had nightmares about the war, he was as distraught about the pain he caused as the injuries he received.
He was a man of charity. He sacrificed not only for me, particularly after my mother died when I was a young man, but to help others — in his family, his community, and his nation.
He was a man of values. With the exception of the inevitable small deceits of social convention, he never lied. He never betrayed a confidence. He never cheated — in his marriage, in his taxes, in his dealings with others. He never failed an obligation through lack of effort. Given the choice between sacrificing his integrity and sacrificing his job, he walked away from the latter.
Was he perfect? Of course not. He did not claim to be. But his failings seem trivial when viewed in terms of what he made of his life, of the people he helped, and of the love of those he left behind.
As I look back on my successes and failures, I know that in almost everything I am good at I owe it in large part to him, and in almost everything I have failed at, it’s because I did not learn the lessons he tried to teach me.
He was a father. He was the father that every boy should have. He was that father that every man should be.
I am a man of faith. I know that my father has a home at the hand of God. His last days were not pleasant, and I believe he is in a better place.
And, knowing all of that, I still weep at his death. I weep for my loss, not his. And I weep because I know I will never be the man he was.