Teach Your Children Well

Monday Morning Musings

“I believe that what we become depends on what our fathers teach us at odd moments, when they aren’t trying to teach us. We are formed by little scraps of wisdom.”

–Umberto Eco

“Peace is always beautiful,

The myth of heaven indicates peace and night.”

–Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

Yesterday was Father’s Day. It was hot and steamy. The sun struggled to peek out from behind the clouds for much of the day that, despite the gloom, was also the summer solstice. I baked my husband’s favorite cookies, Welsh Cookies. One daughter called, and the other was here for our dinner of total pig-out killer nachos. My husband is retiring from teaching in a few days; our daughter is a new teacher. Father’s Day is different when you no longer have a father and your children are grown. Being a parent is different, too—not better or worse—just different.

Father's Day of the past.

Father’s Day of the past.

When my father was alive, he often treated us to dinner at a restaurant on holidays such as this. We frequently went to his favorite Chinese restaurant, but whenever he found a new favorite restaurant, we would go there. When he found a new restaurant he liked, he visited it all the time. He knew the names of the owner and the servers. He enjoyed the role of patriarch, treating us–and sometimes our friends, too. We would eat vast quantities of food, talk, and laugh.

Wedding dance with my dad.

Wedding dance with my dad.

Last night I did my best to follow the tradition of lots of food and conversation. It was not a big holiday meal, but really, those nachos were pretty amazing. As regular readers know, food and family are important themes in my life.

It’s well over a decade since my father died. My sisters and I sat vigil at his hospital bed, knowing it would be his last night. Death hovered in the background, understanding that we waited for the dawn, not wanting our father to die in the blackness of night. When Death finally came to carry my father away, my father fought him. Oh, how he fought! His death rattle was his final, terrible and terrifying battle cry, but he was vanquished by Death, as we all are.

I miss my father. Not in an every moment of every day type of sorrow, but at certain moments. Often it’s sudden and unexpected. I’ll think, “Dad would have liked this show or this restaurant.” I wonder if he would have finally bought a computer, and if he would have been on Facebook. I think he would have loved to stream Netflix–if he could figure it out. I wish he could have seen our daughters grow up. He would have been so proud to see them graduate from college. He would have attended all of their shows. He would have loved to have been at our older daughter’s wedding last year, my sister’s wedding last fall, and our younger daughter’s wedding soon-to-be. But it was time for him to go.

It is sad when someone dies of disease. We might say, “Why him? Why her? Why now?” But somehow we understand that the body can turn traitor, and we don’t have the answers.

When someone dies as an act of random, senseless violence—well, how do you cope? Who imagines that when their mother/father/daughter/son/friend goes to a prayer meeting they will not come home? Accidents happen, yes, but who would expect a loved one to be killed because someone decided he would murder people with their skin color that night?

I don’t know how I would have reacted.

The families of the 9 victims of the Charleston shooting have exhibited the values that many other professed Christians never display—chiefly forgiveness and love instead of hate. Even as they mourn, they, or at least some of them, have expressed the wish to forgive the shooter. Forgiving is not condoning. Forgiving is not forgetting, but according to research, it may help both individuals and communities heal. I hope it does.

Yesterday, the congregation of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, “Mother Emanuel,” welcomed strangers, black and white, into their church to begin the healing process. Racism exists in the US, a legacy of slavery, euphemistically called “the peculiar institution” in the 19th century. The very founding of this church has its roots in racism and slavery when black men and women, slave or free, were not welcomed by white congregations. It is the church attended by Denmark Vesey, an enslaved man who bought his own freedom after winning a lottery. Imagine having to buy your own freedom. In what world is this OK? Vesey planned a slave revolt in Charleston that was foiled by informants. As a result, Charleston passed and enforced stricter slave codes, and built a large fortified armory to guard the city. The Confederate flag still flies in Charleston, and throughout much of the South. Images of the Confederate flag appear on hats and bumper stickers—and not only in the South. Some people insist that the flag is a symbol of southern pride, but I suspect that few of them are black. This is a flag of racism.

America. Sweet land of liberty. Our nation was founded with the sound of those demanding freedom from tyranny and the cries of those who remained in shackles. We are a land of contradictions, but we are also a land of hope and change.

“Teach your children well.” What are the scraps of wisdom they will learn from you? “Feed them on your dreams.” Make them good ones.

My dad was not a perfect man. I’m sure the victims of this hate crime were not perfect either. His life ended too soon, but he died of natural causes. There is nothing natural about being gunned down in a church.

I don’t believe in Heaven, but if there is a heaven, I hope my dad is playing with our dog Zipper there. I hope he gets to eat huge sardine and onion sandwiches and big bowls of ice cream. I hope he has stacks of books at his feet with lots of little note cards sticking out of them, as he decides to learn about a new subject. I hope he gets to play pinochle with his friends, who argue loudly with him, tell jokes, and enjoy meals together.

If there is a heaven and the victims of the Charleston shooting are watching their families and our nation from it, I hope they will see healing. I hope that one day they will see an end to racism.

Hold your loved ones close. Cherish your memories. Dream of a better world.

“Teach your children well, their father’s hell did slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams, the one they fix, the one you’ll know by.
Don’t you ever ask them why, if they told you, you would cry,
So just look at them and sigh and know they love you.”

–Graham Nash, “Teach Your Children”