Reflections For Father’s Day 2020

Remembering my dad after his death 50 years ago

Photo by Juliane Liebermann on Unsplash

My father died in 1968, sitting in his recliner, popping M & M candy, and watching TV. These days I am doing pretty much the same thing he was at the end, except my sugar of choice is Famous Amos cookies.

He and I also share a similar disability. Our legs gave out on us.

It was never clear to his doctors what was wrong. He gradually lost mobility in his forties and, although they diagnosed him at an advanced medical center, the only answer was “nerve deterioration in his lower spinal cord.”

In my case, it is clearer, probably because research, imagery, and surgery have improved dramatically over these past decades. Spinal stenosis, where arthritis has squeezed the nerves so much that there is pain, loss of sensation, and muscle atrophy in the legs.

Dad used a walker to get around, dragging his legs along. I’m able to walk without an assistive device, but my gait is wobbly and my back pain makes the trip miserable. Once again, I have the significant advantage of medical discoveries; back surgery has given me many more possibilities.

My father passed down a few witty, if not profound, sayings I think of often.

“All good things must come to an end” is one of my favorites. It wasn’t always clear to what he referred, but I guess his demise illustrated its wisdom.

He also liked to say, “Eat to live; don’t live to eat.” To back this up, when we worked early mornings, at a restaurant he ordered the same breakfast every time: One egg over easy with dry toast.

One piece of advice, which I am not sure I understood at first, was “Treat girls like you would like to have your sisters treated.” Maybe it was a very compact version of the ‘birds and bees’ thing, but it wasn’t full of information.

One of the deeper conversations I had with him was by old-fashioned letter writing. After my father’s first heart attack, three years before his death, I starting writing him regular letters. Most of these typed pages with erasures and backspace corrections were typical. “How’s the weather?” “The car had a flat.” “Lake Michigan is frozen.” “Did you watch Bonanza on Sunday evening?”

Once, in contrast, I started a thread, more revealing for both of us. Having finished seminary and struggling with what it meant to have a calling, I said I felt that he had pressured me to enter the ministry. His response shook me: “On the contrary, I wanted you to go into business with me.”

Realistically, it was far too late. His disability had long past shut down Turner Distributing; the little refrigerated truck gone, the hot dog steamers sold, and the customers now had other vendors.

Like so many points in life, one turned me toward another future. When I succumbed to the merciless lure of the southern Methodist Church and became a pre-ministerial student, selling hot dogs on Jacksonville Beach boardwalk fell by the wayside.

As they say in 12-Step groups,looking back on “shoulda, woulda, coulda” makes no sense. Yet it still intrigues me, this Father’s Day, to think of many more driving all over Jacksonville with my Dad

Are you like me or is your father still around? If so and you can, at least chat with him and find out where you might have had past misunderstandings. It will enrich both of you.

If We Are White, Will We Ever Get It?

A lifetime of white privilege, along with personal obliviousness, blinds us

Photo by Nicole Baster on Unsplash

As a white man, I have been racking my brain. What can I write during days of protests and nights of violence after the police murder of George Floyd?

Maybe, nothing. Or at least very little.

In the same way that I refuse to ‘mansplain’ women’s reproductive health, I can not know what it is to be non-white. I am not even sure I can imagine.

What I have experienced from my childhood to now, is a cycle of ignorance and white privilege. All too often, I accepted it without thought.

My parents did not work at instilling bigotry, but I nonetheless grew up with unconscious racism. It was and is deeply systematic in Jacksonville, Florida.

There was ‘nigger town’, or only slightly better, ‘colored town’. The homes and businesses there could only be called shacks.

We had a black maid who had to ride the bus an hour to our home. I don’t remember her being called ‘girl’ but I often heard black men referred to as ‘boy’.

My churches and schools were all white. There were white beaches, they allocated only certain areas of the ocean shore to blacks.

I wasn’t until I was in graduate school and had black classmates that I realized how much prejudice lurked in my subconscious. Thanks to the generosity of a few of them in small group conversations, I saw how oblivious I was.

I have come so far and felt so supported in this journey away from ignorance that it is easy to forget how different that is for the black experience.

I am 80, white and male. What if I was black?

In this time of outrage and violence, it would fill me with hopelessness and despair not only for me but as much so for my country. Too many times before when the hurt boiled over, we didn’t learn and change.

Yet, now I see the postcard on my office wall: “I always entertain great hopes”. Can I? Can you join me? If so, we have to change ourselves first. That is the work we must do.

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