Family values are coming down to family voters. The upcoming holiday season may have an extra “awkward moment” or two after the election. My family values could be explained with the picture frames on my grandmother’s living room wall. Bedford, Virginia, Dawn Drive, three pictures. The black and white, faded, grainy, long ago wedding picture of my grandparents; a symbol of staying even though it would be easier to go- longevity, determination, loyalty, fertility. A honey haired Jesus, with that senior picture far off gaze; aloof in the painting, but I knew he was really paying attention to me. He knew what I was up to even when no one else seemed to notice. And then there was John Wayne. I loved that. Not the glamour shot, but the one with the red bandana and cowboy hat. Just looking for an ass to kick. Family, Faith and Gun-toting American Hero.
For the last two years I’ve been a broadcaster. I’ve always loved the magic of radio. I remember sneaking to listen to a late night weekend show called “Desperate and Dateless” hosted by the late Herb Shaindlin. He spent hours hooking up strangers for a Saturday date. His show resulted in over 20 marriages and as far as I know, no homicides. Most people my age were watching “Friday Night Videos.” I wanted radio. Since the nomination of Sarah Palin, I’ve spent hours on national and international radio and television. For all the ears that may have heard me, possibly realizing why McCain and Palin are not the choice for America’s future, there is one set of ears I have missed. The closest relationship I have, and I can’t convince him to vote for Barack Obama. Here is the letter I am sending him. Now is the time to write your own. Do it in love, do it in hope, do it with respect, do it with tears in your eyes.
I want to thank you for so many things; for teaching me to love and care with no breaks; to accept people where they are not where I wish they were; for the lesson of hope. Those are the gifts that make impassion my beliefs and why I write you now.
Years of sitting through church sermons-how many have I heard? Your sermon on the power of hope is the one I remember. It was powerful to hear you say the “greatest of these is love” was wrong. You disagreed with Paul’s letter to the Corinthians saying it didn’t matter how much you loved if you didn’t have hope. You related something so private as the suicide of grandpa, saying it happened because of a lack of hope, not love. I realized that day what a hope deficit could rob me of, what it already had taken from you. Your dad sat up writing a letter to John L. Lewis in support of bringing the unions to the coal mines of West Virginia. How many times had he buried brothers or friends the second time, after the mountain had buried them first? He fought for safety and wages that weren’t something men who sat in offices all day were going to just give away.
Your service in the military, your Nigerian room-mate at college, your days of hitch-hiking across the Blue Ridge Mountains to take mom on a date-those are some of my favorite of your early stories.
You and mom both taught me not to be prejudice. When you took the job to teach the Old Believers, you put us on the pagan side of religion. It takes my breath when I think about standing with you at a funeral for four of your students, participating in rituals hundreds of years old, hearing prayers sung in the voices of, at times, a hundred men. A grieving priest came to you so many times for comfort and wisdom; seeking your help to get through the service for his two sons and two nephews.
Pop, your capacity to love, to grieve, to laugh, to understand, to forgive, to reason, to explain, to teach, to hope make everyone who knows you better. You have a hard-headed way about you that hates change. It seems counter intuitive to a man who would get in a VW bus and drive to Alaska in the 60’s, but your ideals are steadfast. I don’t want you to change. I want you to understand why this election is so important to your two grandchildren.
Peace. The people in Iraq and Afghanistan don’t love their children less than you love me, or I love Javin. I support protecting America and any other nation under the attack of terrorists. (Darfur comes to mind.) Afghanistan was warranted, but Iraq was a lie. Pop, what do we win? How many people have to have those gut wrenching funerals? Pain doesn’t have a language, the cries of grief don’t belong to one nation. They don’t belong to one party; Republican or Democrat, Sunni or Shiite. The reasons America is hated by some countries in the Middle East do not include “because we’re free.” My neighbor Willie told me he saw people with Polio in Iraq; we sanctioned vaccinations for years. Can you imagine how you would feel watching one of us walking to the bus on crutches when the cure was not only available, but required in the United States to attend school? Osama Bin Laden is a free man. He should have been tried and sentenced by now. We have the resources to hunt him down. President Bush should have had you and Tommy track him. I don’t remember you two ever coming back from a hunt empty handed. The reason Bin Laden is still at large is because he fuels the fear necessary to continue down the warpath. This administration can pay for their war, pay their cronies, take away our Constitutional rights, and blame it all on the Boogie Man. Pop, I want my friends in the Guard to come home. I want to get the real bad guys. I don’t want your grandkids to have to pay the $10 Billion dollars a month for this boondoggle war that soldiers and civilians pay for in blood.
Environment. Pop, don’t take this as disrespect to your Faith. The rapture cannot be an environmental policy. You told me once that you could tell a lot about God by watching what he created; consistency, beauty, reliability, and majesty. Taking care of the planet is respecting God’s creation. “Drill, Baby, Drill” is a long way from our old Anchor Point neighbor with the windmill. I have watched bears with you for hours. Sharing a Snickers bar during a “bear jam” and relaxing while experiencing nature gone wild is one of my favorite memories with you. Protecting this is part of who you are.
Education. I can’t imagine being more proud of the occupation you and mom chose. Mom taught a voluntary mute to read and countless others. You taught kids all day, and then taught their parents citizenship classes. You made people Americans! The “No Child Left Behind” philosophy is crap. It doesn’t work for kids. I know part of the reason you retired was because school should be about kids, not tests, not money. Pop, the Republicans want to privatize schools. Public schools should include the public, like it was when you taught; kids, teachers, and parents.
Religion. I know you have read all the emails about Barack Obama being a Muslim. He is a Christian. He was inspired by a sermon about hope, much like I was by yours. If he was a Muslim, what would that mean? What if he was an Old Believer? Can you imagine telling one of your Old Believer students they couldn’t become president because of their “radical” religious beliefs? You and I both know faith isn’t public. Who you are in your prayers is only to be judged by God. Obama is not a savior, he is a man. He is able to inspire people to feel strength in themselves to stand a little straighter, and to be better, much like you have always done. He has already stated we will have to roll up our sleeves, get to work, and sacrifice to make a better future. We are up to it. And Javin and Bruce are worth it. When it comes to abortion or gay marriage, I know those are hang ups. It’s ok. None of the miracles Jesus performed were to make a gay man straight, or to “un-pregnate” a woman. Feeding the hungry, healing the sick, and the gift of forgiveness were the lessons he taught. Pop, Obama’s focus has been on healthcare-just what those in poverty and without hope need the most. Watching his mother die of cancer, being on the receiving end of prejudice, and working for the poor have shaped his vision for this country. He prays to the same God you do, and wants America to be it’s best.
I love you. I know you are the most thoughtful man I’ve ever met. Pop, I want you to vote for the future. I want you to vote for Obama and Biden.
It is hard for me to ask you for anything. Not because you won’t give it to me, but because I should be able to have bootstraps and do it all myself. I know your loyalty to mom, our family, our church, our friends, and your party are all hard wired for you. I’m grateful. But the Republican Party is wrong for the future.
I love you. I respect you. I ask you to please vote for the future.
All my heart,