I don’t believe my dad ever said a disparaging word about any individual or group.
If he reads this, he may write back to say, “Oh, I’ve had a lot of cross words with people in my time.”
But I don’t believe he ever carried that disagreement out in front of his kids. If he had a Horrible Boss, we never knew about it.
This attitude extended to strangers, too, whatever the race, nationality or religion. Now this could be an easy attitude to have in the whitebread world I grew up in, mostly in small towns where there might be one Native American family. Or the one Asian kid in school, the result of either marriage or adoption: most of us never bothered to ask. But we also had lived in Council Bluffs, an Iowa suburb of Omaha, at the time that riots broke out there following the assassination of Dr. King. But I somehow managed not to have heard about that until I read it in a book a few years later.
No matter the condition, my father, and my mother, too, never warned us about “those people,” whoever “those people” might happen to be. That’s not to say we were not exposed to people's’ prejudices. I had a 5th grade teacher who very seriously advised us that we should never a black person. Why? Because our children would look white, but their children would look black, and be unhappy. And although this was a public school, that teacher had us start the day reading from a set of cards with Bible verses.
Years later, when I was trying for a grad school internship with an entertainment museum in Hollywood, it was an uncle who sent a letter warning to my parents that I would be stepping into a cesspool of gangbanging and drugs. They just sent the letter along with no comment. This was an uncle who never left Riverside County except to drive or fly back to the Midwest. And who knew at the time I would be settling in the peaceful Eden of the Chicago area.
Our parents were not the type to lecture us on morality, or our opinions. They made sure we got to Catechism every Thursday, but they gave us our best lessons by living they way they wanted us to live.
As an Army Reservist, my dad always had a rifle in the house. But it wasn’t something he paraded around to show how it would “protect” us. As befits military protocol, it was a weapon that he kept disassembled, in a case well out of reach, which he only took out to clean and polish before doing his duty one weekend a month and two weeks of camp in the summer. Though I will admit that after retiring from the Reserves, he took up Civil War re-enactment and attached with an artillery unit. He didn’t keep the cannon at the house, but he got to make the long road trip to buy gunpowder. What my ramble is leading to, I guess, is that my father taught me, by his example, not to hate anybody.
A lot has changed, I’ll admit, in the rural towns where I lived; summer jobs I used to do for seed corn plants are now done by migrant workers, or more machines. Some of my high school classmates I’ve connected to on Facebook post invectives against outsiders, against people who are different, against the President, and for their guns—although there are others who, I must point out, have built business and personal relationships across several former barriers. I find myself in a modern world where people from all over the world and with different personal orientations, need to work together, or who can make friends with people anywhere else in the world, even if it the superficial friendship of a Facebook like.
Listing the different kinds of people I know would get too close to the hypocritical “some of my best friends are…” territory. Let’s just say there are people who know me well enough that I can ask my stupid questions borne from curiosity about other cultures and lifestyles.
When I called my father today, I told him (and my mother) about how wonderful our two children are. I said, “if we have raised our children right, it’s because we only knew one way to raise them: the way our parents raised us.”