Sunday, June 16, 2013

From Whence We Came

Today is Father's Day.  As a man fortunate enough to have two older brothers who are exceptional fathers, four brothers-in-law who are similarly well-skilled in the paternal arts and a father-in-law who has served as a surrogate father for me for more than two decades, today is a day on which I say, "Happy Father's Day" to each and every one of them.  And to all of us who wear the badge of "Father".  It is not always an easy gig.  Nor should it be.  Nothing worth having ever is. 

I pick out my own ties.  Thus, there was never a need when my two were still children for Margaret to purchase an especially awful-looking one and have them present it to me.  Besides, I am a notoriously poor receiver of gifts.  I earn my own money.  If I see something I want and I can afford it, then I buy it.  Cuts out the middleman completely.  Saves a truckload of money on wrapping paper and bows too.  The classic win-win. 

This year for Father's Day I decided to get myself something I knew I could put to good use.   Today. 

It has been more than six months since twenty-six people were slaughtered at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.  Among the twenty-six victims were twenty precious innocents:  little moppets whose school morning likely started discussing with their friends what they were hoping to get for Christmas - a mere eleven days away.  Rather than waking up Christmas morning in the warm, protective bosom of their families, they died that very morning.  Along with a half-dozen valiant adults willing to trade their own lives for the mere possibility of saving these children.  

In the half-year plus since man-made tragedy rained down upon Newtown, Connecticut, we have turned up the volume in this country on the "Gun Debate".  Countless trees have been felled so that proponents on both sides of the argument can paper us, literally and figuratively, with the propaganda that supports their position.  As if the most important part of the story of Newtown, Connecticut is one's politics.  If we the people of these United States are not the most obtuse fucking people who have ever inhaled oxygen and exhaled carbon dioxide, then we are most assuredly somewhere on the medal stand. 

Required reading for every person in this country - TODAY - is the piece that appeared earlier this week in the Washington Post, written by Eli Saslow and written about Mark and Jackie Barden.  The Bardens woke up on December 14 the parents of three children.  Their seven-year-old son, Daniel, was killed that morning.  He was the family's baby - six years younger than his big brother and four years younger than his sister.  Saslow's piece, which shall break your heart, is not an examination of what the Bardens' loss means in "the larger scheme of things" or "in the big picture" or any other artificial construct that spin masters create to amp up the presumptive appeal of a particular issue by depersonalizing it as much as possible.  Rather, Saslow's piece is an up close and personal examination of the impact of the murder of one's child on the persons most profoundly impacted by it:  his parents and his siblings. 

Loud, spirited political discourse is engrained into the fabric of this nation.  The Founding Fathers did not cobble this great experiment together via Twitter or while playing Words with Friends.  They talked to, at and over one another until they forged a working, workable model.  It seems to me as if every now and again those of us residing in the rarified air of the 21st Century forget what those who resided in the hot, non-air conditioned air of the 18th Century worked damn hard to remember:  it is not the STUFF that matters, it is the individuals for whom and upon whom the STUFF happens who matter. 

Daniel Barden is not a cause.  He was not so in life.  He remains not so in death.  He was a full one-fifth of the most important thing that his mom and dad ever built together:  their family.  He was the youngest and the smallest.  Neither mattered.  Neither his size nor his age served as an accurate barometer of his significance.

Americans enjoy noise.  There are those among us who do not but as a collective we thrive on the stuff.  It is why one cannot attend a sporting event at an arena in this country without music being forced upon you as soon as there is a stoppage of play.  It is why elevators in many buildings have music (and in some cases the news) piped into them.  It is why when I go into the men's bathroom at the Carrabba's Restaurant in Green Brook where Suzanne worked half a lifetime ago, I cannot take a piss without having Italian language lessons blaring in my ear.  Who spends enough time in a restaurant's men's room to learn a language?  Someone attempting to pass a Rosetta Stone perhaps. 

At some point - irrespective of how noisy someplace is - we are left to spend time alone in our own quiet space.  It is in that space where we live.  And it is that space that we are who we are.  We are parents, children, siblings, spouses, whatever.  We are NOT a composite of the points of view we espouse or the causes we champion.  We are so, so much more than that.

On a day set aside on the calendar to honor those among us who are fathers, it bears remembering that the "BIG ISSUES" of the day continue to exist as just that for those directly impacted by them long after the rest of us are afforded the luxury of filling our day-to-day with other things. 


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