This I Believe

Steven - New Paltz, New York
Entered on September 13, 2007

I believe that no one can take away your foundational beliefs in God, country and family. Yet it can look like you’ve given them away.

In glancing back over my shoulder, I sometimes trace the surrender of my flag waving patriotism to Oct. 18, 1967, when helmeted riot troops wielded batons to shatter the lobby windows at the University of Wisconsin Commerce Building and, moments later, to break the skulls of trapped students protesting the presence of Dow Chemical recruiters on campus.

But I actually relinquished Old Glory the following morning when the Governor, the Mayor and the local radio stations branded the protesters as traitors.

Me, a traitor? I was an all-American college boy, a patriot who welled up every time Kate Smith sang God Bless America. Stunned and disillusioned, I let them snatch the flag right out of my hands without a struggle. Let them wave it, I thought. I don’t need a flag to be a patriot.

Thirteen autumns later, I was married a dozen years, raising five children, a homeowner, a teacher, a veritable poster boy for family values. Yet crusaders Phyllis Schlafly and Pat Robertson ilk were suddenly pointing fingers and accusing me and my family of lacking virtue. It was slanderous, unchristian, but who had time for all that chest beating? I had important things to do, like working, changing diapers, playing catch, paying the electric. Let them wear the pious mantle of family values, I thought. I don’t have anything to prove.

I shouldn’t have done that. It became all too easy over the next several years to let those same self-righteous thieves nab my public belief in a merciful God right out of my clasped hands. I turned my back on them. Let them reveal themselves for the unholy hypocrites that they are.

So here I stand, four decades after the previous unconscionable war, now a grandfather of eleven, looking around at the mess we’ve got ourselves into in this country and realizing that I have ceded my space on the public platform on matters related to God, country and family. From the echoing halls of Congress to studios at Fox News I withstand a daily assault on my character from those who have no moral or ethical standing.

I’m not sure why I let it all go so easily, but I acknowledge that I have no one to blame but myself. (I suspect I have been as sanctimonious as my attackers.)

Well, no more. As my dear departed mother used to say, her flattened hand like a salute pressed against her forehead, I have had it up to here with false pieties and vengeful people claiming what is rightfully mine. I am taking it all back—the flag, the family values, the God who humbles me and comforts me.

I am reclaiming what was never mine to give away. I am a patriot. I am a good father. I am one of God’s children. You better damn well believe it.