My father died on September 11, 2007, the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. I believe this was no coincidence. It took a handful of misguided doctors to bring this larger-than-life persona down. No one ever expected this man, on whom so many depended, to be reduced to ground zero. His superior abilities, his moral fortitude, his intellect, his productivity, his sheer physical stamina towered over us like the World Trade Center. I felt my father’s love through his actions. There is nothing I could say or write that would amply underscore the sacrifices and efforts he made on behalf of his family, his community and his nation. His memorial will reflect what it would take any of us 10 lifetimes to accomplish.
For Dad, the political was deeply personal. He was passionate about the deteriorating state of affairs in our country. None of my history classes ever focused on this. But the assassinations of Martin Luther King and John F Kennedy would forever alter the mood and discourse of this country. The Vietnam War brought suspicion of government propaganda. Peace protesters in the form of hippies and beatniks turned my father against what he called the me-me-I-I generation. There were longhaired disheveled protesters wearing earrings who stood with big signs outside the gates of the Iron Works, calling him a warmonger and spitting on the ground in front of him. My father was deeply vexed from that day forward. After Watergate and Nixon’s resignation in 1974, during my first year of college, my father began to lecture me with such a vengeance that I felt personally responsible for the country’s downfall.
So much happened during my father’s lifetime it boggles the mind. He was born in 1933 during the Great Depression. He was exposed to World War II as a boy. Perhaps that’s when he became fascinated with war ships. Miraculously, the country got itself back on its feet. Oddly, by the time I arrived, only 23 years later, the nation began to change in “far-out” ways. Elvis Presley and the Beatles were part of my childhood. My father labeled what followed (rock) as bad noise. He didn’t think it could get worse but it did. Heavy metal, the violent language of hip-hop, drug peddlers and capitalists were nipping at the heels of his grandchildren. To my father, we were losing everything that was fundamentally decent in our society.
I wonder why so many of us have come to feel helpless about our country. Where is our sense of mastery, our strength of character and our foresight? Lately I’ve been thinking about how inept we’ve been in handling so many situations: the Iraq War, hurricane Katrina, global warming, healthcare, education, failed marriages, the drug war, obesity, and our youth who appear increasingly lost. I hope I’m wrong. I want to ask my father what he thinks. I believe I will carry his voice with me. “See what needs doing and just do it.” I love you, Dad.
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