I watched the Chick-Fil-Asco with interest, weighing in from time to time, mostly when a friend posted reasoned, informative pieces to his facebook page and gracefully endured the sometimes nasty commentary that followed. No matter how mean-spirited the conversation became, Scott remained stalwart, calm and fought the good fight, refusing to be sucked into the ugliness. Being himself happily married to an amazing woman, he has no particular dog in this fight. Equality is just something in which he strongly believes.
In the world of public education, we’re busily readying ourselves for a new school year and none as busy as those on my campus, where we are moving in to a new facility. After a day spent lifting, toting and unpacking boxes I came home completely exhausted Monday night, back aching and fairly certain that once ensconced upon the couch I’d never be able to get back up. As I scrolled through my facebook page to see what my friends had been up to all day, I saw this truly heartbreaking letter from a father to his gay son, disowning him after he came out. You can read it here. It called to mind two High school classmates who were similarly disowned when they came out (one kicked out of the house the same day), and I marveled again that a parent could do such a thing. Especially now, having raised a child, I just don’t understand it and I guess I never will. It made me think of my own parents and the lessons they taught me both implicitly and explicitly, for some of which I owe them a debt of gratitude.
I attended Kindergarten and First grade in a solidly blue-collar, predominantly white neighborhood. One day we got a new student in my class, Jeffrey. Jeffrey and his older sister were African-American or, as my mother termed it in the late ‘60’s, Colored. I liked Jeffrey and we played together at recess. The other kids did not play with us, even those with whom I had attended school all year and the year before in Kindergarten. But they referred to Jeffrey by a word that I asked my mother about when she picked me up that Friday afternoon.
I hopped in her car and asked, Momma, what does ‘nigger’ mean? The other kids called Jeffrey that. I had never heard the word but the way the other kids said it had set off alarm bells in my head. I sensed it wasn't a nice word. My mom exhaled her cigarette smoke thoughtfully; when she answered her distaste was apparent, “That is a bad word. Some people use it to make Colored people feel bad. We NEVER use that word.”
It’s important to keep in mind my mom grew up in rural Kansas and spent a goodly amount of time in the Jim Crow South. It was from my mother in later years I learned about separate drinking fountains, and how once upon a time the “colored” people had to step off the sidewalk to let white people pass. The same distaste was present in her voice and mannerisms when she told me these things as had been that day in the car.
My dad was the first generation of his family born here, to Russian-Jewish immigrants. He grew up in Brooklyn, New York, and had a wide variety of friends from many different ethnic backgrounds. When my parents married he was managing a fine restaurant. It was a few years later when in conversation it came up that my dad had been deeply saddened one day when he was called to identify the body of one of his employees, a young waiter, who had killed himself. He had been, as my dad put it, a “feygela,” but the notion that no family came forward to identify him, shook my dad. He was a compassionate man, my dad, and in his mind no one deserved to die like that, to go un-mourned. No one.
As I recalled these events there was music in the back of my mind, the old Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young song, Teach Your Children Well. My parents are long gone, and they did make pretty significant parenting mistakes, mom in particular. But in these two instances they hit it out of the ballpark, just by being themselves. Never treat a fellow human being as less-than was the lesson they implicitly sent. Certainly, that was the lesson I received.
We all come into the world with our God-given gifts: an artistic eye, an ear for music, or the ability to do complex mathematics. We are born right- or left-handed. Currently in London, those blessed with both athletic ability and the determination to hone and perfect it are on display for all of us to see and admire. During our lives our gifts are nurtured or suppressed by various influences, parents being the first and one of the most profound. To punish someone or deny them rights for having green eyes is about as logical as what we do to our homosexual fellow citizens.
One of the tricky things about faith is that one must accept things one does not understand; why some folks are gay and most of us are straight is one of those incomprehensible, bigger-than-we-are, God-given concepts we must have faith will be explained in God’s own time. I don’t find science and God to be mutually exclusive, so when reputable studies come out strongly suggesting that sexuality is hard-wired from birth, I feel the influence of God, dropping us clues. Lately He seems to be saying, “Knock it off already. Baby, they were born that way.”
Our children are always watching and learning from us. As parents, we all make mistakes, some more harmful than others. In twenty years today’s children will be adults; what implicit lessons will be their take-away from the Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day? We might be well-advised to think on the words of that lovely old Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young song:
You who are on the road
Must have a code that you can live by
And so become yourself
Because the past is just a good bye.
Teach your children well,
Their father's hell did slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams
The one they picked, the one you'll know by.