As I watched the Inauguration of Barack Obama today, I deliberately chose not to blog. I wanted today to be a time of observance and reflection. As I watched the happenings and while I felt moved and occasionally welled up, there was something missing for me that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. I have been emotional at other times during the Obama “movement” including Election Night itself. And as President Obama began his speech today, I listened intently. It was a strong, powerful, moving speech, filled with honesty and clarity of purpose.
I don’t think there has ever been a time in history when so many people gathered in Washington D.C. to see an inauguration. Not in my lifetime anyway and perhaps not ever, not even for John F. Kennedy, my father’s political hero. Of course, this is a television/internet era. So not only were there record crowds on the National Mall, there are record TV audiences and record internet traffic on Live Coverage sites. But for the first time ever, there were crowds around the world, around the Planet, to watch this truly unique, and world-changing event. From Kenya to Israel to Japan, they all celebrated today. Yet even knowing that, there was still something missing.
After President Obama’s speech, and after most of the early fanfare, and the departure of the ex-President by helicopter (what a wonderful sight – that made me cry), my phone rang. I didn’t answer it because I decided I did not want to be interrupted today, no matter who it was. If it was urgent, I would call back whoever it was. I quickly looked and saw that it was my mother and let it go to voice mail. I figured she was going to ask me some question or tell me some story, or whatever, I knew it wasn’t so important that I needed to stop what I was doing; what I wanted to do at that moment was watch these historical events unfold on television. I was glad I had a high definition TV; it is truly a grand TV-watching experience, But still there was someting missing.
After a brief while, I checked my voice mail. It was my mother, of course, but the tone in her voice was different. I could tell she was a bit choked up, a bit emotional. For a brief moment I though “Uh, oh” what happened.
Throughout the Obama campaign, and throughout the election, my mother and I didn’t really agree. She didn’t have the same passion for politics and change that had come to be part of my life. I didn’t feel she understood how important all of this was to me Barack Obama winning the Presidency will always be one of the highlights, if not THE highlight, of my life. Similar to what JFK was to my father and her.
As I listened to her message, she told me in a quivering sort of voice, that she had just finished watching the Inauguration. And as the words came out of her mouth, I was a bit astonished. She said “I was thinking about your father, and how proud he would be; how happy he would be at what was happening today”. My father died in 1984. In the reality of our family, my father, his beliefs, his politics, his point of view, are rarely, if ever talked about.
So I thought for a moment and the tears came to my eyes. The man who was so distant as a father, but taught me so much from afar, was with me today. By not teaching his children about racism and bigotry, we didn’t know it existed. As he helped ex-cons by giving them jobs when no one else would, and as he helped the first black family in our neighborhood get a mortgage when no local bank would give them one, we never knew. He helped that same family renovate the electrical service in their own. They paid him weekly, maybe $5.00 a week until they paid off what they owed. My father told them to just pay what they could, when they could. My father quietly did his part to try and end racism and bigotry in the midst of the Civil Rights movement, John and Bobby Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, Jr. He did not boast or brag about what he did, he simply did it. And this is what Barack Obama talked about today in his speech. Obama said that America was ready to once again take the lead; in terms of diplomacy, inclusion, fairness, world peace, equality, and all of the tenets upon which this country was founded. Indeed all Americans are created equal.
So it came full circle for me. I finally understood why I was emotional throughout Obama’s campaign, his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, his victory speech at Grant Park in Chicago on the night of November 4, 2008, and today when he put his hand on the Lincoln Bible where he swore to protect and defend America and uphold the Constitution. It was the voice of my fahter. Not his actual voice, in fact just the opposite. It was his silence in not pointing out what racism was, or what bigotry was. We werent’ told about it because he didn’t want us to even fathom the thought of it. I grew up not knowing that some people thought there was a difference between white and black, jew and christian, rich and poor, gay or straight. He didn’t want to teach us about racism for fear that we would participate in it. Instead, he led through quiet example. Never judging people based on the differences by which some found it so easy to judge.
Dad, you did the right thing. I didn’t learn about racism and bigotry until I was in my very late teens; I learned it from the world. And it was a terrible thing to realize. I must admit that I did judge people. I judged the ones who wanted to deny others their basic human rights. Even today some still try to do it. But not Barack , Dad, He’s a different kind of guy. When I look at him I don’t thnk “he’s black”. I think, “he’s cool, he’s smart, he’s of my generation and he thinks like me, only smarter”. You would really have liked him. Thanks Dad. I found my JFK.
And so I blogged after all.