I never realized how very lucky I was to have my father until I became an adult. During the first eight years of my life he traveled as an attorney for the State of Iowa’s job division. We saw him only on weekends when he was exhausted, but he still managed to find some time to spend with me. In 1969, he decided to quit his job and start a law practice from home so he could spend time with his family.
That transition was difficult since it meant there would be no money coming in for some time. My father was also a very giving soul who would agree to draw up contracts and divorces for barter. We had live chickens in the backyard once and all five of us kids participated in cleaning the carcasses so we could eat for the next month or so. As I grew up our house became something like the Winchester mansion in California. Carpenters and plumbers passing through to work off their legal fees.
I knew from a young age my father was eccentric and an oddity in our small town. My brothers would set up lotteries at school to determine what friend would be allowed to have dinner with us that night. We were each given one night a week to bring a friend in and, for that reason alone, our house was popular.
Dinner would occasionally consist of such things as fish with heads still intact. Dad would entertain us all by throwing the eyes up in the air and catching them in his mouth. I don’t remember him ever missing. But, even more popular, were our dinner conversations. We did not talk about what we did that day, we spoke of war and civil rights, literature and world politics. It was a debate on each subject and you were expected to take a side. Dad didn’t care which side you took as long as you could defend your position. I was the only seven year old I knew who was fully cognizant of the Vietnam War. Even at that young age I was expected to have some insight. But, there were few free for alls. Even I, the youngest, was treated respectfully when I expressed my views. It was often a different matter in other contexts, but the dinner table was sacrosanct.
As a teenager my father began to embarass me. He showed up at school to register the senior class as voters. He ran for County Attorney, he was a force within the Democrat Party and everyone knew him. It was some time before I understood what he was fighting for and took up the mantle.
My father was not like most fathers and, for that, I am, today, very grateful. I learned to fight for the rights of others and, when I became a victim myself, I channeled my father’s attitude to fight my way out of it.
This year, while I feel the strong presence of my father behind me I cannot let go of the anger that envelopes me as I think of all the fathers who have been stolen from their children. Fathers faced with deportation while their beloved children are behind bars of their own with ICE watching over them.
What we do for those families must be done now. If not, I’m afraid there will be a generation of children brought up in concentration camps, indoctrinated into thinking the parents they thought loved them dumped them for another life. We have to keep telling everyone these children are not forgotten, and never will be.
Dad also dealt with the harassment and hatred of people who didn’t like what he stood for; however, he continued to do what he thought was right, even when it meant a loss of money; and even when it meant someone stealing his ideas for their profit. I will continue to do the same.
If you’re a father, enjoy your special day. If you have a father in your life, thank him. He doesn’t have to be related by blood to be a father, only by the heart.