Every parent wants their children to dream bigger, reach higher and go further than they did. We protect them from danger, we teach them how to navigate the world, we prepare them as well as we can for an uncertain future and pray that God will continue to watch over them when we no longer can.
This has been a rough year. A new nightmare and the reopening of an old wound keep us up at night. Our fears force us to confront the question of how we will shape the nation our children will inherit. What will we give them, and what will we teach them to do with it?
My son gives me hope. That is his gift to me. He loves justice, but he loves his friends without judgment. As he believes in both righteousness and love; I have faith in his ability to live the principles I have taught him. He carries a deep and complex American legacy, with ancestry that includes African slaves, their Spanish masters, and the Caribbean people colonization nearly wiped out, as well as German homesteaders and English religious converts who fled American persecution after arriving here. What do we teach him about America? The truth, complex and hopeful and sometimes shameful as it is.
America is not lines on a map. America is an idea. We here today are the living vessels of that dream, carrying it from generation to generation, along with our gratitude for what it has given us, our hope for its progress toward full realization, and, yes, our pain, disappointment and even bitterness because it has fallen short. Some will see America’s flaws as a reason to walk away from our republic’s great experiment. Others see promise and a path to reach it.
Every generation must look both backward and forward, as the living embodiment of both wisdom and hope. It is our job as fathers and mothers to put our shoulders to the wheel, building a better world for our children, while teaching our sons and daughters with clear-eyed honesty what is working and what is not, to prepare them for their turn in this work. The tension between conservative and liberal ideas is the life’s blood of American politics, but only when we focus on the shared vision of a great and just nation, and the conversation is about how to get there, not whether the other side are patriots.
Patriots come in many forms. Some are soldiers, sailors, airmen or Marines. Some are health care workers, journalists, engineers, teachers, drivers, laborers, activists or lawyers. Whoever they are, their common currency is love of not only America, but our nation’s potential. We do not always recognize patriots in close quarters. A little distance, a little patience and forbearance, help us to see the love of country that burns in so many of us.
Who would not recognize Thurgood Marshall as a courageous patriot? Forcing America to confront its contradictions in case after case, brick by brick, he built the foundation for desegregation and voting rights. He said, “Where you see wrong or inequality or injustice, speak out, because this is your country. This is your democracy. Make it. Protect it. Pass it on.”
Consider the life of John McCain, who despite the pain that came from his service, lived with decency, good humor and a brightness of hope for America’s future. He was eulogized by two presidents, one Republican, the other a Democrat, beloved by both. His moral courage is embodied in his statement, “Americans never quit. We never surrender. We never hide from history. We make history.”
In the midst of the whirlwind, I ask myself, what can I offer my son that he can carry into the future as he takes up stewardship of our American dream? Hope for this beautiful, imperfect nation, faith in its ideals, and love for his brothers and sisters who will toil and sweat alongside him, exhorting and exulting by turns, together, to continue the building of a more perfect union. What makes America great? Our children do. To all of us who have brought our kids this far, I say Happy Father’s Day.