Teach Your Children Well

Monday Morning Musings

“I believe that what we become depends on what our fathers teach us at odd moments, when they aren’t trying to teach us. We are formed by little scraps of wisdom.”

–Umberto Eco

“Peace is always beautiful,

The myth of heaven indicates peace and night.”

–Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

Yesterday was Father’s Day. It was hot and steamy. The sun struggled to peek out from behind the clouds for much of the day that, despite the gloom, was also the summer solstice. I baked my husband’s favorite cookies, Welsh Cookies. One daughter called, and the other was here for our dinner of total pig-out killer nachos. My husband is retiring from teaching in a few days; our daughter is a new teacher. Father’s Day is different when you no longer have a father and your children are grown. Being a parent is different, too—not better or worse—just different.

Father's Day of the past.

Father’s Day of the past.

When my father was alive, he often treated us to dinner at a restaurant on holidays such as this. We frequently went to his favorite Chinese restaurant, but whenever he found a new favorite restaurant, we would go there. When he found a new restaurant he liked, he visited it all the time. He knew the names of the owner and the servers. He enjoyed the role of patriarch, treating us–and sometimes our friends, too. We would eat vast quantities of food, talk, and laugh.

Wedding dance with my dad.

Wedding dance with my dad.

Last night I did my best to follow the tradition of lots of food and conversation. It was not a big holiday meal, but really, those nachos were pretty amazing. As regular readers know, food and family are important themes in my life.

It’s well over a decade since my father died. My sisters and I sat vigil at his hospital bed, knowing it would be his last night. Death hovered in the background, understanding that we waited for the dawn, not wanting our father to die in the blackness of night. When Death finally came to carry my father away, my father fought him. Oh, how he fought! His death rattle was his final, terrible and terrifying battle cry, but he was vanquished by Death, as we all are.

I miss my father. Not in an every moment of every day type of sorrow, but at certain moments. Often it’s sudden and unexpected. I’ll think, “Dad would have liked this show or this restaurant.” I wonder if he would have finally bought a computer, and if he would have been on Facebook. I think he would have loved to stream Netflix–if he could figure it out. I wish he could have seen our daughters grow up. He would have been so proud to see them graduate from college. He would have attended all of their shows. He would have loved to have been at our older daughter’s wedding last year, my sister’s wedding last fall, and our younger daughter’s wedding soon-to-be. But it was time for him to go.

It is sad when someone dies of disease. We might say, “Why him? Why her? Why now?” But somehow we understand that the body can turn traitor, and we don’t have the answers.

When someone dies as an act of random, senseless violence—well, how do you cope? Who imagines that when their mother/father/daughter/son/friend goes to a prayer meeting they will not come home? Accidents happen, yes, but who would expect a loved one to be killed because someone decided he would murder people with their skin color that night?

I don’t know how I would have reacted.

The families of the 9 victims of the Charleston shooting have exhibited the values that many other professed Christians never display—chiefly forgiveness and love instead of hate. Even as they mourn, they, or at least some of them, have expressed the wish to forgive the shooter. Forgiving is not condoning. Forgiving is not forgetting, but according to research, it may help both individuals and communities heal. I hope it does.

Yesterday, the congregation of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, “Mother Emanuel,” welcomed strangers, black and white, into their church to begin the healing process. Racism exists in the US, a legacy of slavery, euphemistically called “the peculiar institution” in the 19th century. The very founding of this church has its roots in racism and slavery when black men and women, slave or free, were not welcomed by white congregations. It is the church attended by Denmark Vesey, an enslaved man who bought his own freedom after winning a lottery. Imagine having to buy your own freedom. In what world is this OK? Vesey planned a slave revolt in Charleston that was foiled by informants. As a result, Charleston passed and enforced stricter slave codes, and built a large fortified armory to guard the city. The Confederate flag still flies in Charleston, and throughout much of the South. Images of the Confederate flag appear on hats and bumper stickers—and not only in the South. Some people insist that the flag is a symbol of southern pride, but I suspect that few of them are black. This is a flag of racism.

America. Sweet land of liberty. Our nation was founded with the sound of those demanding freedom from tyranny and the cries of those who remained in shackles. We are a land of contradictions, but we are also a land of hope and change.

“Teach your children well.” What are the scraps of wisdom they will learn from you? “Feed them on your dreams.” Make them good ones.

My dad was not a perfect man. I’m sure the victims of this hate crime were not perfect either. His life ended too soon, but he died of natural causes. There is nothing natural about being gunned down in a church.

I don’t believe in Heaven, but if there is a heaven, I hope my dad is playing with our dog Zipper there. I hope he gets to eat huge sardine and onion sandwiches and big bowls of ice cream. I hope he has stacks of books at his feet with lots of little note cards sticking out of them, as he decides to learn about a new subject. I hope he gets to play pinochle with his friends, who argue loudly with him, tell jokes, and enjoy meals together.

If there is a heaven and the victims of the Charleston shooting are watching their families and our nation from it, I hope they will see healing. I hope that one day they will see an end to racism.

Hold your loved ones close. Cherish your memories. Dream of a better world.

“Teach your children well, their father’s hell did slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams, the one they fix, the one you’ll know by.
Don’t you ever ask them why, if they told you, you would cry,
So just look at them and sigh and know they love you.”

–Graham Nash, “Teach Your Children”

23 thoughts on “Teach Your Children Well

  1. This is a lovely tribute to your father while paying homage also to the victims of the Charleston shootings. I’m not sure that they are victims so much as martyrs for their faith and casualties of their heritage. Yet their willingness to forgive is remarkable but very much consistent with their strong Christian faith. Incidentally, I saw in a news byte that Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney are calling for the removal of the Confederate flag in Charleston, SC.

    The details of your father’s death remind me of Dylan Thomas’ “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night.” Many parallels there to your dad’s leave-taking. I love the photos: You were a beautiful bride, maybe blushing too!

    As always, a memorable Mondays Musings, Merril.

    • Thanks so much, Marian, for your kind and perceptive remarks.
      Yes, many from both parties are calling for the removal of the Confederate flag. I know that under SC law it requires a legislative act, but it could be done if people really wanted it to be done. Many don’t.
      I think I once echoed Dylan Thomas’s poem in another post about my dad, so I didn’t want to use it again. Still, I guess I said enough to make you think of it.
      I don’t think I was blushing as a bride, but thank you for the compliment. My older daughter wore my gown last summer when she got married. I just watched the video of their wedding!

    • Marian, thank you very much for that Dylan Thomas quote. For the last 9 years I have been fighting a pretty nasty auto-immune disease, which was triggered by the birth of my daughter. Wanting to see my kids grow up and at times, even reach double digits, I have fought hard and after many gruelling ups and downs…some real and others false alarms…I am now back well in front and very much fighting that “Good Night”. I’m jotting that quote down. It very much describes my heart-felt journey xx Rowena

  2. I love the tribute to your Dad. That’s love. I was happy to read that Emanuel were finding white people attending services, I’d hoped it would happen. and I hope it helps show racism is alive but not well.. It’d time for real healing.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx

  3. Merril, I’ve been avoiding a lot of the Fathers Day hubbub this year, but I enjoyed this and how it personalized the individual meanings of the victims’ lives and deaths. And as to Pinochle, that was my father’s family’s game of choice when I was growing up!

    • Thanks so much, Luanne. I’m glad you enjoyed it despite everything.
      I have no idea how to play pinochle. I only know my dad played it with his friends, and I think it’s a funny word to say and write. 😉

  4. I love how you are able to do such brilliant segues into multiple subjects. 🙂 (And I think you should add history to your list of food and family. By the way, I was waiting for the nachos recipe at the end! LOL!)
    Having been born in, and lived most of my life in the South, I have seen more than my share of Confederate flags from the back of trucks, on clothing, and flying in people’s yards. And I’m always so embarrassed when I do, not to mention offended and appalled. And the people I’ve confronted about this always deny being racist, as well. (Though I don’t believe them, I do think they may actually believe it themselves.)
    Of course, being up on your history as you are, you are well aware that the Civil War was about more than just slavery, and that a lot of what it involved had to do with economy. But I don’t really think these jokers that sport that flag even have a clue about that. Sadly, these people are a disgrace to my region.

    • Thanks so much, Rachel!
      Sorry the nachos are not really a recipe type of dish–I make refried black bean, put on tortilla chips, cover with grated Monterey jack w/peppers, heat till melted, and top with salsa, jalapeno slices, guacamole, and sour cream. Sweet potato nachos are great, too! 🙂

      Of course, there were economic and political factors involved in the Civil War, but the southern economic system was based on slave labor.

  5. Merril … A beautiful tribute to your Dad and to those who were gunned down in a church in Charleston.

    I lost my Dad in 2011, and my Mom in 2001. Like you, I have many happy memories and miss them very much. Losing any one to disease or natural causes is hard enough. I can’t imagine any one knowing their loved ones are meeting in a sanctuary – a church – and they won’t be coming home because evil has stepped inside and decided to kill them because of their skin color. I wish, along with you and many others, that we will see a day when racism ends and we do love one another.

  6. Merril, shame you don’t have a “loved it” button on this post because I certainly would have ticked it for this post. You really brought me into that last final vigil with your Dad, which reminded me of my when my grandmother died and a handful of our large family spent the day beside her bed and with each other. My cousin who is currently doing her masters in the cello, played “The Swan” at her bedside and I remember my aunty combing her hair with a very simple tortoiseshell, plastic comb she pulled out of her purse. We prayed. Held her hand. She had pneumonia and to be perfectly honest looked a bit scary and I had my daughter with me who was only 2 or 3 at the time and quite scared of her I guess. I went home before she passed. I didn’t know if I wanted to be there at the last and there was also that sense of disbelief that the person who had been there my whole life could somehow cease to be. My Mum rang me with the news on my mobile when I was down at the shops. It was funny because a full moon was rising over the supermarket carpet and I pictured her sitting on there, being taken up to heaven in a rather grand way, reminiscent of Esmerelda from “Bewitched”, who really did have a presence. I still think of her when I see the moon sometimes and feel her with me.
    I have heard bits and pieces about the Charlestown Massacre but wasn’t aware of issues about the Confederate flag until now. Although being on the other side of the world, I think such striking advertisements for racism and slavery should be handl;ed with care at the very least xx Rowena

  7. Pingback: Yesterday and today: Merril's historical musings

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