I remember my dad mostly on the days when I used to phone him—at Thanksgiving, Christmas, during the NBA finals, on Academy Awards night and, especially, every four years during the rousing days of the Democratic National Convention. On the occasion of our talks, he would amaze me with his ability to weave the things he loved together—sports, politics, family, movies—into simple lessons about life, faith and the glory of a good competition.
Thoughts about the upcoming Democratic National Convention
“The beauty of it all!” he would marvel.
My dad used to quote historian Booth Tarkington’s notion that every family has its “great man.” He liked the idea, because his great-uncle Martin H. Glynn was the fellow he considered to be ours. Born in New York to Irish immigrants, my ancestor rose from poverty to graduate from Fordham University and became an editor, congressman and, finally, governor of New York in 1913. My father, Martin Glynn Welsh, was named after him.
Yellowed newspaper clippings refer to my forefather as a liberal anti-war Democrat, a spetacular orator, a pioneer in women’s suffrage and workers’ rights. From our home in Los Angeles, my dad reminded his six children every four years at convention time, that our ancestor (we called him “The Governor”) gave the nominating speech for incumbent President Woodrow Wilson at the Democratic National Convention in 1916.
“He kept us out of war!” bellowed The Governor in praise of Wilson at that New York summer gathering long ago. The newspapers said the crowd roared back its approval. (My father failed to mention, at the time, that after Wilson was re-elected, his fate was to lead the country into World War I.)
Now, it’s the end of summer 2012, and the country is as divided and confounding as it’s ever been in my lifetime. We struggle with a roiling economy, troubling war, warming planet—and here we are headed into another Democratic National Convention. The spectacle in Charlotte, N.C., is sure to feature bracing speeches—including one that should not be missed from a president who, though he delivered less than he promised in his first four years, enacted many worthy reforms, plus brought intelligence and authenticity back to the White House.
My dad died nearly 10 years ago, before ever hearing of a man named Barack Obama, but he would have believed in his presidency and the promise of another four years. Indeed, he was named after a man—my great-great-uncle—who I have no doubt would have embraced that promise, too. The both of them are reminders to me that the Democratic Party, for all its flaws and contradictions, did manage to bring America the 40-hour workweek, the Social Security system, the minimum wage, humane conditions for working people, and the promise of racial and gender equality.
I’ve read that in some cultures, like in parts of Africa, the living call forth departed ancestors to assist them in tackling the monumental tasks of the present. If ever in the history of America there was a time to evoke our ancestors, it is now.
So next week, as President Obama and the DNC mount their campaign in Charlotte, I’ll be thinking about my dad and the pride he had in his namesake and in his political party of choice. I’ll wish both men were present—but especially my dad. As Booth Tarkington surely knew, one need not achieve fame, fortune or elected office to be the one who is great.