This Father’s Day I thought about my father more than usual. Maybe, it was the day, or maybe, it was all that is going on in the world, but he was on my mind throughout the day. My father would have been uneasy with the protests even though he would have agreed in the principles of equality and justice for which the protestors marched. However, he would not have understood or agreed with those who rely on vandalism and violence as their voice – to him property represented the sweat and sacrifice of men who like him came from nothing to make something of themselves, but he would have kept to himself and said little. He preferred to keep to himself, but if pushed, he would let it be known where he stood and follow it up with a “I don’t give a rat’s ass” if someone disagreed with him. He figured if he had to agree with a person just to get them to like him, to be cool, to be a part of the group, or to be sociable, he was barking up the wrong tree – a tree full of rattlesnakes he called them. His children, a boy and three girls, were taught with no apologies to do the same. His rules for living were simple: treat people like you want to be treated; stand for what you believe is right; do right; tell the truth; and be honest.
My father was a simple man who often worked double shifts to make ends meet. We were not poor, but there were times we held desperately to the bottom rung of middle class with mama in tears wondering where she might scrape together the monthly sixty-dollar house payment. Mama and daddy worked hard with little extra to spare, but never a year passed without birthday presents and gifts under the Christmas tree – the only two times during the year my sisters and I received a toy unless daddy made a slingshot from a tree branch or a wood doll cradle. Unlike many children today, we did not dare turn up our noses at any birthday or Christmas present even if we might be disappointed. We dared not be appreciative for fear there would not be a gift the next time around. We were lucky tough, Santa Claus always brought us that one special doll or Red Rider BB gun we had prayed for all year. Santa never failed us kids. At the same time, we never understood why daddy was gone so often during Christmas season. We had no idea he was working double shifts to make Christmas happen.
By the time I was in high school, things were a little better. Even though Daddy worked fewer double shifts, we began to have a little extra money in the house. The first thing he bought was a window air conditioner for the den area. Mama and daddy sat staring at that air conditioner and taking in the cold air for at least two hours. The next summer, he bought our first color television after unsuccessfully trying for weeks to use red and green cellophane to colorize the picture, and then my senior year, 1971, he bought the first new vehicle he had ever owned – a red Ford pickup. We were in high cotton, but Mama cautioned my sisters and I not to talk of the new things Daddy had bought for fear the neighbors might think we were foolish with our money and uppity. Daddy frowned and curled his top lip when one of my sisters told him what Mama said. If he could have had his way, I am confident he would have told everybody in town. I think he felt he had earned the right to be a bit uppity. I would have to agree – he had every right.
All he wanted in life was for his family to be happy and to be left alone and to occasionally get to go hunting or on a family vacation to the Ozarks or the Smoky Mountains – the extent of his travels in his lifetime. A high school diploma for his children was also important to him, and not going to school was not a choice in his house. To him, a high school education, and a reasonable paying job – he believed good paying jobs were reserved for those who knew the right people – were the most important contributions his children could give to the family; however, he did not stand in the way of his children if a college education was their goal, which for me it was.
He was always careful not to get wrapped up in politics or controversies. Basically, he refused to argue at all unless maybe he was haggling over money. He said bluntly, “It is a waste of time to argue or reason with an evangelist, a politician, or someone who thinks his shit doesn’t stink,” and if you wanted to argue that, he would simply smile and walk away. We did not always agree, but through the years, I have learned he had more wisdom than I gave him credit. Like any man, he had his faults, but he was a good father, and he taught his children to stand for what they believe regardless the direction the wind was blowing.
I guess in many ways I am my father. He would not agree with some stands I have taken, but I can hear him ask, “Do you think it is right?” If I answered, “I do not know, or I am not sure,” he would say, “Then don’t do it until you are.” If I answered, “Yes,” he would have nodded and changed the subject feeling there was nothing left to say. I tell this story because I should have told it long ago. My father was a conservative; I am somewhere slightly to the left of him. He was not a Democrat or a Republican; in that, he and I are on the same page. Although he did his best to be as good a man as possible, like his father he was raised in a racist society; I was raised his son with some of those same influences, but he taught me to be better. He did his best to ensure his children grew up better and more understanding; I pray my children are better than I am, and because of their mother, I am confident of it.
My father apologized to no man for who he was or how he was raised. He spent his life trying to raise his children to be his better and reached out to any man who needed a helping hand. Likewise, I do not apologize to any man for who I am or how I was raised, and I have tried to raise my children to be better than I am as well as stand for the humanity and rights of all people. That is all my father could have done. That is all I can do. That is all any of us can do.
We can pass laws that promote the humanity and equality of all people, and we should, but laws by themselves will not erase racism. We will not erase racism in a lifetime of protesting, vandalism, and destruction. Every offensive monument and statue can be toppled, and it will not erase where we have been nor will it build a bridge to where we should be going. To change racism will take one father and one mother at a time doing their best to raise their children with more understanding and love in their hearts than they were raised. Racism is not a color thing; it is a people thing. None of us were born racist. Racism is a learned trait bred and nurtured in the home, and that is where we can make the most significant advances against it.
I am who I am with the desire to be better than who I am. That is all we can ask of each other.
That is what my father asked of me.
©Jack Linton, June 21, 2020