Musings from George

Memorial Day, Father’s Day, Fourth of July
June 30, 2008, 11:13 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

So long it has been, so easy not to write. I’m developing a theory about how ideas are formed and when they are formed, and I am going to correlate it with the time that blogs are posted.

Just after Memorial Day, a friend asked if I had visited a graveyard. I found it an odd question, since I hate graveyards and have never consciously visited one on Memorial Day. I have really enjoyed visiting Gettysburg, one of the great American graveyards, and hope some day to visit the American forces interred at Normandy. But for me, Memorial Day just revives a certain sense of guilt that I feel for _not_ having served in the military, for never having chosen to give back in that way.

For the three people who have read all of my posts :^) you will remember that I am in favor of mandatory service to your country — military or social, domestic or international. Many of the country’s best people would be better, and many of the country’s most ignorant would be less so, if they served dinner to the homeless or met anyone on the continent of Africa. Yet I didn’t sign up for the Peace Corps, nor did I sign up for the Marine Corps. A summer working for the Youth Conservation Corps convinced me that I could make a lot more money painting houses than I could digging trails, and a short-term focus on profits led to a long-term career in business (and getting an MBA).

But I feel guilty whenever I am face to face with someone who actually sacrificed for our country, and shamed by the grace that Tom Brokaw captures so well in his book “The Greatest Generation”. Men who faced unspeakable risks simply because it was the right thing to do in WWII came back to the US and simply melted into society, asking nothing of the country that they had served. Men who faced equally terrible circumstances in Korea were largely ignored; those who went to Vietnam were actually disrespected. It seems to me that Memorial Day is perhaps the one day we should find a veteran and say “thank you” — for their service, their sacrifice, and for their dignity in giving something that is hard to measure.

Conversely, on Father’s Day I felt somewhat guilty. I have two kids, two wonderful and beautiful kids. Almost any male can be a father, and what I really strive for is to be a parent. People tell me I am a great father, but I still feel guilty when I want to read the paper rather than Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See? I still want to watch football, even if I don’t actually do so. I’d like to pretend that I have never taken my son to a bar, but it’s true that some of the bars are kid-friendly (and yes, we have invited friends to bring their kids too). So is Father’s Day anything more than a Hallmark excuse? It caused me this year to think about a good friend who employed me when I was a teenager, who had kids of his own but always treated me like a son. He was a role model, a wonderful man who worked to give his employees health care before it was fashionable and because it was the right thing to do. He ran a chain of laundries, and the customer was always first — right behind the employees, who were his real first priority. I learned a lot from him, many things that they don’t teach at MIT or other universities. Leadership, humility, and a willingness to do the right thing.

So, on the Fourth of July we will join a neighborhood parade. We’ll get the Radio Flyer into the parade somehow, with one of the kids pulling it (somehow we will decorate it). This is a time to celebrate the many things that make up the US for us, and we will try to teach our kids that patriotism is not a dirty word and that remembering and honoring those who gave us our many opportunities is worthwhile and necessary. Many have suffered greatly to provide us the opportunities that we enjoy today, and the Fourth of July is perhaps the most comprehensive celebration — of our founding society (many of which fought in the Revolutionary War, but many who didn’t like Ben Franklin or Thomas Jefferson), of those who kept the country together through one of history’s bloodiest civil wars, and of the generation that led us through the twentieth century and handed us the sole superpower, largest economy in history, and advantages across the board.

Many other countries have done as well (Canada comes to mind), but the Fourth of July is for me a time to remember all the great things that make the US a wonderful place. Celebrate, and thank the many people who made it possible for us to be here today.