Another Father's Day.
I'm ambivalent, as usual. I loved my father -- still do -- but never really understood him. He was a private man, the last of the east coast WASPs, who lived according to the public Protestant ethic in spite of his lack of private faith. As a child, he told me what was expected of me. I was told to "be upstanding" and "give back to society what society has invested" in me. These were my social rules. These were my expectations. And for years, I rebelled against them.
I was told I was lucky, that I lived in a country of prosperity, an accident of history. As an accident, I was to be grateful -- to recognize my good fortune and give back. Always give back.
I was told I was lucky to be upper class, and with this social benefit, I had unwillingly inherited, by chance, a demanding set of social expectations. I was to be humble; to treat others with gentleness; and with a benign snobbishness, to remember that others who had not my "advantages" were to be seen as accidents of history, just as myself, no better or worse.
I was told that an Ivy education was expected.
I was told that success was expected.
I was told that being honorable and giving back was expected.
Strangely, I was never expected to make money. Wealth, in itself, was grubby -- beneath me. Great poets and writers, of a similar class, were often poor, father said. Thus, poverty, in itself, could be honorable, the mark of social giving. If I amassed wealth, which I haven't, I was never to show it. For wealth was to be hidden.
The importance of raw money was only its ability to lead the public by example. So my money, I was told, was to be given away to causes, peoples or museums. It was to be given anonymously. I was not to be like those who had buildings named after them, for example. Their philanthropic motives were incorrect for they had sought immortality or recognition, not social betterment. True social giving was to be subtle, directed and done without fanfare. Thus, anonymity.
With these sorts of expectations, I've let my parents down. I never lived up to my father's standards. I haven't given back enough. I haven't lived the WASP ethical standard ... at least, not enough. But as I age, I understand my father's demand far more than I did as a child. Now I want to give back. Its no longer an embarrassment, or a burden, but a burning desire. I want to live in a self-sacrificing way, quietly, without self-consciousness. I want to live up to his standards.
At a time when the edifice of social values is crumbling, I may have something to give that is more than opinion, but rather my inherited worldview which can be easily interwoven with the values of the Mayflower Compact, Constitution, Declaration of Independence, Federalist Papers, etc. These are, after all, the ancestors of my thought. They're not just my genetic forbears, but also more importantly, my social lineage. When I give back, then, I am merely recalling the generosity and honor of those who lived before me.
The glory of this social lineage is it is assumed, not inherited. All Americans can be grafted onto the values of the Founders. All are equal by thought and belief, by behavior and a sense of social obligation. Its no longer a class thing, but a way to be American. Mostly, I find this sense of givingness within the Republican Party. Republicans assume that before taking, one must give. Social responsibility, then, precedes social rights. We give because we are Americans. We give because that's what it means to live in a free society -- and our freedom is predicated on social giving or responsibility. I could never be a Democrat as long as the Democratic Party stands for redistribution -- taking, not giving -- and rights before responsibilities. I find their values abhorrent.
I thank you, dearest Father, for the values you have given me. I hope to live up to them more honorably and humbly than last year. I hope to keep my successes and failures quietly in my heart. And I hope that I leave society a wee bit better than it was before me, that I make my small, anonymous mark with honor and generosity.
And I really, really hope you never read this.