Fives and Zeros: Significant Markers, Remembering My Dad and Why I Can Never Forget D-Day

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Dad, right front, with his younger brother and parents, about 1942.

We memorialize significant events with numbers ending in five or zero. The 30th anniversary. The 15th birthday. The 40th year of service. Not a 23rd birthday or a 7th anniversary or an 8th year.

This year, we mark 50 years since The Beatles released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and a half-century since Thurgood Marshall was confirmed to the Supreme Court, but we probably won’t pay much attention to the 33rd anniversary of the death of Marvin Gaye or the 186th birthday of “Lemonade Lucy” Hayes, U.S. first lady and wife of President Rutherford B.

On June 6, if it is a slow news day, some commentator will note in a 15-second piece that it’s the 73rd anniversary of the invasion of Normandy by the Allied troops in World War II, an event commonly referred to as D-Day, even though there are, militarily speaking, lots of D-Days. This D-Day is the one we remember.

I remember D-Day because twenty years ago on June 6, 1997, I got a frantic long-distance phone call from my sister telling me that our father had died.

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Age 21. Dad loved the navy.

This was not something I was expecting. He was 67 years old. The doctor had just given him a physical and pronounced him in perfect health. I had a long conversation with him on my birthday just 10 days prior where he described in detail the painting he had just completed for me. He was planning a trip to a reunion of sailors from the ship he served on in the Korean War. He told me a story about taking my four-year-old nephew Colin to the soda fountain at the drug store. I told him about the show that we had just extended at the theatre where I was working. He thought it sounded like fun. He wished me happy birthday and told me he loved me. I said thanks and that I loved him, too.

I never spoke to him again.

Twenty years.

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Dad and me.

I’ve thought about him on every single one of the 7,300 days that have made up those two decades. I wasn’t ready to have my father die when I was barely in my 30s. I still had too many questions to ask. I still had too many hours to while away listening to stories of his childhood. I still had so many experiences that I would want to tell him about.

I wanted him to share in my successes. I wanted him to tell me that whatever may have failed or whatever terrible experience I might have had wasn’t the end of the world. I wanted to talk politics with him. I wanted to watch him get frustrated at building something once more because that was the best. He was a funny man, but he was at his funniest when he was cursing at an inanimate object that wouldn’t bend to his will.

I wanted him to paint me more paintings and make me more goofy birthday cards and take photographs of random things and mail them to me with a little note because he thought I would like to see them. Most of all, I wanted to introduce him to the man I fell in love with and married.

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Self portrait.

I suppose I came into my own as a human being after he died. I didn’t have a choice, really. I had to figure a lot out on my own. I wasn’t too thrilled by that, I have to say. Still, a few years later, I met Lee and after falling in love with him, I had the opportunity to fall in love with his parents, too, so I promptly did that, because I could. And because I got lucky. And because you rarely get a second chance at great parents. And you should never discount the value of luck.

My dad, like all of us, had lots of flaws. Often we tend to look at the dead through rose-colored spectacles, but I try not to do that. He was far from perfect. He made choices that I never would have made. He sometimes did things that left me scratching my head in bafflement. I’ve often wondered how I could be so different from him in so many ways. And I wondered how we could also share so many interests.

The only thing I do know, 20 years on, is that he loved me and I still love him. And that’s about the best gift a parent can give a child.

Here’s to D-Day, Daddy. Wish you were here.

Kit Williamson on Slut-Shaming

The creator of EastSiders speaks out about the backlash to his show’s depiction of a gay open relationship.

Source: Gay Men Should Be Ashamed of Slut-Shaming | Advocate.com

Many of the commenters expressed concern about gay men being viewed as promiscuous. If these commenters desire to combat stereotypes, then I’d suggest they start by not contributing to the stereotype that gay men are catty, bitter, backbiting queens. We all share a common struggle, and I believe we have a responsibility to be kinder to each other than society has been to us. Yes, some people are promiscuous — that doesn’t mean their stories are any less worthy of being told.

From the pen of the one-and-only Kit Williamson. As a friend used to say, “There he goes, tellin’ it for the truth.” Read please.

Anti-intellectualism Is Killing America – A Must-Read Essay

Anti-intellectualism Is Killing America | Psychology Today.

America is killing itself through its embrace and exaltation of ignorance, and the evidence is all around us. Dylann Roof, the Charleston shooter who used race as a basis for hate and mass murder, is just the latest horrific example. Many will correctly blame Roof’s actions on America’s culture of racism and gun violence, but it’s time to realize that such phenomena are directly tied to the nation’s culture of ignorance. 

This essay in Psychology Today by David Niose is a must-read. There’s no refuting anything he said. There is just each of us, individually, not being quite so passive. Say no, correct others, walk the walk. Oh, and read something and have a discussion about it.

Indiana Loons

sticker,375x360Lots of flap about Indiana’s new “religious freedom” law that was signed into law this week by Gov. Mike Pence. And for many years, television has set the quirkiest and oddest sitcoms in the Hoosier state. Leslie Knope and her band from Parks and Recreation, the Hecks from The Middle, “Indiana Mole Woman” Kimmy Schmidt … it seemed as though every looney tune came from Indiana.

When I lived there, I took great umbrage at that.

Now? Turns out TV was right!

Back to 1910: This Congress is Eerily Similar to Those from the Past

Fifty years ago, the Chad Mitchell Trio sang these lyrics:

We’re the bright young men
Who wanna go back to 1910
We’re Barry’s boys
We’re the kids with a cause
Yes a government like grandmama’s
We’re Barry’s boys
We’re the new kind of youth at your Alma Mater
Back to silver standard and solid Goldwater
Back to when the poor were poor and rich were rich
And you felt so damn secure just knowing which were which

I was reminded of this 1964 folk era ditty when I was reading a great editorial by Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post the other day. I was acquainted with Gene a million years ago when he was editing the Style section of the Post and I was a theatre flack in town. I’m not sure that editing the arts was his bailiwick, but he’s one of my very favorite columnists. Not just me: he won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary a few years back.

But, I digress. This particular editorial he takes the Republicans in Congress to task for moronically assuming that they can tell the American people they are there to protect the middle class and then, the first chance they get to actually do something meaningful, the House passes utterly and completely unsustainable legislation regarding rape and abortion. Yet another example of extremists in the party controlling the agenda. These bills won’t pass the Senate — and even if they did because everyone in the Senate was drugged and in a stupor and had their minds controlled by a cartoon super villain — the President would never sign such a thing.

So what is the point?

As Robinson points out:

People, we are in an economic recovery whose fruits are not reaching the middle class. We have a crucial need to address U.S. infrastructure and competitiveness. We face myriad challenges abroad, including Islamic terrorism and global warming.

If a renewal of the culture wars is your answer, Republicans, you totally misheard the question.

Yes. Yes they have. But, then again, haven’t they been mishearing the question for at least a half-century?

Back to silver standard and solid Goldwater…. *sigh*

Sing Out … For Charlie

At work yesterday I was supposed to write a pithy essay. You know, one of those one-pagers — 400 or 500 words — that appear at the end of a magazine. It’s something that I excel at — the pithy essay that starts out funny, goes all warm and fuzzy, then goes back to funny so you are smiling when you close the magazine. It’s my stock in trade.

Only it wouldn’t congeal.

And I think it’s because I was trying to write it while the terrible events unfolded at the satirical publication Charlie Hebdo in Paris.

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Image: Damien Meyer/AFP/Getty Images

Satire, as it is presented by Charlie Hebdo, is a very French idea; an essential part of the society that does not always translate seamlessly to the United States. We have all, I am sure, at one time or another, looked at a European satirical cartoon and said, “I just don’t get it.”

And yet, as Joe Randazzo, former editor of The Onion, pointed out, “Satire must always accompany any free society. It is an absolute necessity. Even in the most repressive medieval kingdoms, they understood the need for the court jester, the one soul allowed to tell the truth through laughter.”

More importantly, this tragedy tells us that we must redouble our efforts to protect not just satire but all self-expression, which is, of course, the very bedrock that a free society is built on. We must protect it throughout the world. And whenever it is threatened we need to speak out, speak up and put pen to paper and tell the rest of the world that we will not allow those who seek to reduce our freedoms to win.

Many times, a former colleague of mine and I found ourselves on opposite ends of the political spectrum. We would have vigorous debates, railing against the other’s position, before heading out to lunch together. Someone once asked how such a thing was possible. I shrugged by shoulders and said, “I like a good debate. Besides, we’re American. That’s what we do.”

It’s what we should all do, most assuredly. We do it after every election in the United States. We may not like the outcome, but we accept it. We do not always win, but we will keep speaking out, keep challenging, making sure that a vigorous debate remains central to our form of government, to our way of life.

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This image, originally thought to be by Banksy, is now believed to be the work of Lucille Clerc. |Image: dailymail.co.uk

A hashtag trending today is #JeSuisCharlie, meaning “I am Charlie” or “I stand for free expression.” I hope it’s not a social media fluke that goes away. I hope it opens up a dialogue about hate. And sharing ideas. And education. I’ve always had the notion that the more we know of difference, the less we hate.

Redouble your efforts, gentle readers, to educate yourselves and embrace differences. If this type of terrible, inane terrorist attack can happen in Paris — the same place that gave the world Abelard and Heloise and the university and the great Renaissance expansion of human knowledge — it can happen anywhere.

I am also thinking today about someone else whom we lost recently: the incomparable Pete Seeger. Pete and Lee Hay wrote the song “If I Had A Hammer” in 1949, the final chorus of which ends,

“It’s a hammer of justice, it’s a bell of freedom
It’s a song about love between my brothers and my sisters
All over this land.”

When Pete sang this song, he often accompanied himself on a banjo that had, written across its head, “This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender.”

We should join our voices together and sing out — in music, in words, in pictures, in all things. The more we do that, the closer we are to forcing the surrender of hate. It is the first step.

#JeSuisCharlie

Today the NYPD Hates Bill de Blasio; Tomorrow It May Be You

The Real Reason Police Hate Bill de Blasio.

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New York Mayor Bill de Blasio

This is an excellent short piece from Daily Kos. New York City’s police (some of them) are up in arms about remarks made by newly-installed mayor Bill de Blasio. They have taken offense at some things the mayor has said in the wake of police shootings in Gotham lately. At one of these public gatherings, de Blasio said this about his biracial son:

Chirlane and I have had to talk to Dante for years about the dangers that he may face. A good young man, law-abiding young man who would never think to do anything wrong. And yet, because of a history that still hangs over us, the dangers he may face, we’ve had to literally train him—as families have all over this city for decades—in how to take special care in any encounter he has with the police officers who are there to protect him.

Some members of the NYPD and some members of the public find these remarks insensitive. They say it shows the mayor doesn’t stand behind law enforcement. Really?

The mayor should never criticize law enforcement? Even when everyone knows there are serious racial problems, serious ethical problems, serious effectiveness problems in the force?

To me, not criticizing, not accepting ingrained bureaucracy and prejudice is both obscene and a dereliction of duty.

We need cops. I’m all for law enforcement. I’m all for peace officers. To protect and to serve. No matter who you are. What I’m not for are cowboys and race-baiters and gay-haters and misogynists. Saying that there are bad cops, telling your kid to look out for bad cops who will profile you — and maybe even rough you up — because of the color of your skin, that’s not anti-police. That’s intelligent governing and parenting.

Being critical of police is the only way we will make change happen. Otherwise, New York, greed, graft and corruption are self-perpetuating and hellish to get rid of. The corrupt love to hang onto power. If you’d like a primer on what corruption can do to a city — your city —please visit the Wikipedia entry for Tammany Hall.