Speaking of fathers and presidents

As I sit in front of my television watching President Reagan’s flag-draped coffin being lifted into an airplane, I am swept back thirty-five years ago to when my dad’s flag-draped coffin was carried. At the time of my dad’s passing, he had spent almost half of his short life in military service.

Some may wonder why we’re having all the pomp and circumstance surrounding the death of our 40th president. But I think it’s a good thing. It’s reminding me of the high calling of the presidency – the selfless responsibilities of that office. As I reflect on the service of President Reagan to this country, I am in awe that a successful businessman and actor such as he would want to devote the latter years of his life in government leadership. Especially in a job that is frequently ridiculed and often unappreciated.

I love how Jeanne Kirkpatrick, his national security adviser, once summed him up. “Ronald Wilson Reagan, 40th president of the United States, believed the American dream because he has lived it.”

President Reagan was also a father. He expressed his beliefs in family values during his presidency. However, the reality of his father-children relationship was not a perfect one.

This also describes my relationship with my dad. I had a short time with my dad as he passed away when I was only 10 years old; about a year after my mom divorced him. I’ve spent most of the past thirty-five years remembering the not-so-perfect things about my dad. As I sit here reflecting on the contributions of President Reagan to this country and the world, I am being pushed to give pause to my dad. Maybe it’s time I give my dad his due.

Desmond Tutu said about family, “You don’t choose your family. They are God’s gift to you, as you are to them.” Honestly, I’ve not thought about my dad as a gift from God to me. Sad and unhappy memories have too long blurred my mind from recognizing how my dad contributed to who I am today. Even difficult experiences teach us, shape us and often transform us and help direct us to a better road for our life journey. Or even what we might think of as a bad example points us unintentionally in the direction to look for a good model.

I recently read one of those cute little gift books called “For Father with Love” that my daughter gave to my husband years ago. I noted some of the many honors being attributed to dads such as how dads teach us about the world and our place in it. How dads help us with the choices we make. Impart their values. Encourage us to be our own person. To be bold. Trust our intuition. Be confident of our abilities. How dads teach us right from wrong. This little book also noted that often their guidance is indirect, too.

My dad has had an indirect impact on my life choices, decisions, and values, even though he has not been a present role model for most of my life. And I do have fond memories. I just hadn’t given them thought in a long time. I love how he always wore a hat. He loved to cook. He taught me a song we often sang together when driving in the car. He bought me my first baritone uke. He let me help him mix concrete when he was building a brick wall around our patio. And I loved to be in his arms watching TV. I always felt safe and loved.

The course of our lives are influenced by values we embrace, ideas we learn, people we interact with, and the many experiences that teach us lessons impelling us to make progress and grow. And our lives are shaped by those we elect to lead our nation.

Today, I honor my dad and what I’ve learned directly and indirectly from him being part of my life journey.

But today I also honor each and every president of the United States of America; past, present and yet to come. And I share the sentiments expressed by Mary Baker Eddy in a tribute she wrote about President McKinley at his passing. “She (our nation) stops to think, to mourn, yea, to pray, that the God of harvests send her more laborers, who, while they work for their own country, shall sacredly regard the liberty of other peoples and the rights of man.” Thank you, President Reagan, for being one of these laborers.