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Democrat Mother, Republican Father


Democrat Mother, Republican Father

My mother was the truest Christian I have ever known. She lived a life in the personal presence of Jesus on a daily basis. She literally talked to him every day. When I despaired and came to her, she taught me to do the same. She never held anyone in contempt, never expressed anger against another individual, always expressed compassion for all beings. She never gave up on anyone, yet suffered greatly witnessing anyone who had lost their way. She rarely spoke about her Christianity specifically, and never proselytized about it. She believed a Christian life was to be lived, not pronounced. Her faith informed her morality, her morality informed her behavior, and her behavior was impeccably in integrity with both. She always championed the underdog. She was one of the most powerful women I have ever known, soft and open of heart, intelligent and willful of mind. She lifted my father from the ashes of his shattered family and raised their four sons to be as independent and passionate as he. She was a successful business woman after my father died, managing her retirement independently while volunteering in the local school system. I miss her every day, and as she taught me with Jesus, she sits behind my shoulder to advise and comfort whenever I need her.

She was very much like Hillary Clinton, though World War II stole from her the full scholarship she had earned to Cornell University. That legacy lives in me. I was able to acquire the higher education she hadn't, though it was almost derailed at Kent State University on May 4,1970.

My father lived a range of personality unmatched in my experience. When I was young he was a Jekyll and Hyde character, at times the gregarious life of the party, at others a small minded, bigoted brute. His rage at the hand fate dealt him was regularly projected out onto the world around him. My early childhood was a roller coaster of sensitive masculine mentoring and crushing authoritarianism, a bewildering combination of Norman Rockwell Americana and violent beatings. Though I absorbed everything I could of his physical resourcefulness and exuberance, I also hated him with a murderous fervor. Our relationship pivoted the day I faced him with a snow shovel in my hand and stated from then on every swing of his would be met with a return swing from me. He was growing older, and I was coming into my power. I was surprised that evening when his demeanor shifted from enraged taskmaster to proud father. I was a young man then beginning my own understanding of the contentious nature of Tough love.

The granddaughters I brought him transformed his life as well as mine. He had four boys trying for a daughter, too many mouths for a comfortable life as a construction tradesman. His elder years and retirement brought the peace that had always eluded him. We sat together in Mendocino with Robert Bly and James Hillman, worked on our knees side-by-side in homes I renovated. He reveled in cross country travel, shortening the distance I had placed between us to heal and develop a life of my own. The day before he died we finally met each other, the quintessential father and son. For the first time he took my hand and leaned on me, his cancer ravaged body in its last hours. His spirit, however, was radiant and pure. He  showed me something that day I will never forget. Tearfully I told him it was a tragedy that only in this last day where we truly with each other. He looked up at me shakily and with the clearest eyes I've ever seen. "… Then let's not waste a minute of it, at least we made it here at last. Don't waste your time son, there's less of it than you think". As Annie Dillard famously said, "... all my life I had been a bell, not knowing it until I had been lifted and struck". He died early the next morning, a Buddha before me. it is my fervent wish to die with the dignity he demonstrated, leaving a similar legacy to my daughters, a man who has faced and vanquished his demons.

I didn't know half the people at his funeral. They were young women and men, acquaintances and strangers that had crossed his path in their lives and came away stronger in who they were for knowing him. My father's legacy was not any particular achievement. It is for me knowing my potential to transform any aspect of who I am to something better.

He was a bit like Donald Trump, course and unfinished on the outside, yet ultimately a good father, a resourceful provider who continually evolved throughout his life.

She was a Democrat, a liberal thinker interested in psychology, politics, science. Through her our youthful local priest was a family friend, often sharing dinner with us. She hosted encounter groups for my teenage friends, and was a voracious reader. He was a Republican, a conservative thinker and member of the NRA with his friends, my uncles. Hunting for him was a spiritual encounter with nature, the place where he was unfettered and connected directly to the carnal nature of life. Their political disagreements were sometimes vociferous, sometimes humorous jabbing, sometimes thoughtful discussions.  I grew up seeing that opposing polarities were symbiotic, each having its merits and flaws. Opposites bring deeper understanding by combining multiple perspectives.

"How did you do it", I eventually asked her, "... how were you able to live with a partner so violently volatile, so blatantly abusive at his worst."  "Because I loved him and knew who he was under all that bluster. One thing I can tell you about your father… I always knew where he stood. What he believed he sad, and what he said he believed. There was no artifice there, and I could always work with the truth. Integrity is not being one way or another, good or bad, ugly or beautiful. It is being authentically who you are. Your father was the real deal. What you saw is what you got. You may find that is rarer than you think in this world".

My father so physically abused one of my younger brothers she finally threatened to leave him if he didn't stop. Today he would be jailed for what he did.  Each of us still lives with the specter of that violence in our lives. It doesn't go away, one learns to work with it, to not let it drive behavior. The greatest tragedy in abuse is passing it onto the next generation. It is my job to take that which I can't transform within myself to my grave, leaving my children in a world unsaddled with my shortcomings. To me, that is being a man about suffering, that is the way a healthy adult processes destructive emotions. It doesn't take a long glance at history to see how difficult this is to achieve.

So here we are, four brothers divided down a line, two to the left, two to the right. Same mother, same father, same upbringing and background. Each with his personal pleasures and pains, angels and demons. The idea that either polarity ever "Wins" over the other is preposterous. We only win when all of our needs are served. Ultimately we are in the same boat. Steering it hard left or hard right is simply counterproductive to moving forward, though no matter how skillfully we work together we will always be on a somewhat crooked course. The object is to enjoy each other along the way, taking pleasure in the banter of differences and never losing sight of our collective well-being. As well, when any of us gets out of bounds, a bit too passionate or belligerent, the others are there to reestablish balance lest we paddle in circles, ending up dizzy and exhausted.

The amount of stability and comfort in our lives is dependent on our ability to maintain that interconnected balance. On the national level, our form of government is historically one of the best experiments of its kind in this regard. It's important to remember it is still an experiment, unique in that it is driving itself. When any position takes the wheel it's important to remember it's only a matter of time before the driver gets tired and places everyone in danger.  Having at least two passengers paying attention is not only safer but far more enjoyable. The more, the merrier.

God bless America.