Published June 16, 2019 in the Cleveland Plain Dealer
A prayer for Father’s Day
I miss my father mostly now on the days I used to phone – Father’s Day, during the NBA finals, towards the end of Academy Awards night, and every four years throughout the long windup to the election of the president of the United States..
On the occasion of our talks before he died, my dad always surprised me with his remarkable ability to weave the things he loved together into simple lessons about life, faith, democracy and the glory of a good competition.
“The beauty of it all!” he would marvel.
Martin Welsh worked in Hollywood as a color technician in the movie business his entire adult life. He lost his first wife (my mother) at age 45 to cancer with all six of his children below the age of 12. He carried on after her death and, despite the tragedy, somehow managed to raise us well. He found time after a long day’s work to read aloud to us at the dinner table – Shakespeare, Twain, Churchill and Tennyson. We were taught to love our country, honor literature and learning, treat everyone as equals, and stand up for the little guy.
My dad loved being a Democrat. He was fiercely loyal to the party responsible for enacting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act … and that’s just during his lifetime. Still, he enjoyed engaging in good-humored debates with his many Republican friends and always took an open-minded view when it came to politics.
But this Father’s Day, 15 years after his death, I’m not sure he’d find any of it beautiful or engaging. I think he’d be deeply troubled by what has come to pass in America circa 2019.
A lifelong Catholic, my dad would view President Donald Trump as man of low moral character. The lies, arrogance and juvenile tweeting would drive him crazy. The attempts to undermine the rule of law and carve up the country into right and left would make him downright angry. My dad would have been gravely disappointed to see the exhaustive list of Republicans, especially those in the U.S. Senate, who continue to allow Trump’s King-In-His-Own-Mind dynasty to continue unfettered.
I’ve thought of my father often as things continue to deconstruct in Trump’s America. I remember him quoting British philosopher G. K. Chesterton, who coined the term “democracy of the dead” to explain his belief in the need to embrace tradition as a way to honor the wishes of “citizens no longer living.”
We are a nation of ancestors, the thinking goes, with each family part of a lineage – a constantly merging stream — of the people who came before us. Our ancestors lived, labored and loved. They dreamed of betterment for themselves and their families. Each were citizens in our democracy (the worst form of government, my dad used to quote Churchill, except for all the others.)
It struck me recently that this idea of a historical continuum is what’s AWOL in today’s America First approach. Instead of embracing the notion that We The Living hold responsibility for the hopes and dreams of citizens past and future, the current trend is to prioritize whatever short-term gain can be eked out in the present. Surely, this is the only way to explain our country’s continued refusal to deal head-on with the ever-more-alarming threat of global warming.
As Chesterton wrote, the living must do better than “submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about.”
I loved my dad and wish I could phone him this Father’s Day and assure him that patriotism still exists, that there are good people are out there – in the courts, in the U.S. House, in the media, in the streets — fighting hard at this perilous time in our nation’s history to ensure that democracy prevails despite an autocratic ruler that seems bent on exorcizing the dreams of citizens past and those yet to come.
Then I’d remind him of the Eleanor Roosevelt line he used to recite to us at the dinner table: “Action creates its own courage and courage is as contagious as fear.”
Melinda Welsh, founding editor of the Sacramento News & Review alternative weekly in Sacramento, California, is a frequent contributor to The Plain Dealer and cleveland.com.