Every time Independence Day rolls around, I think about the contradictions between the soaring ideals of the Declaration of Independence and the baser actions of the author. There’s a lesson in there for all of us, if we care to give it any thought.
Thomas Jefferson worked to undermine George Washington while serving as Secretary of State within his administration. He spoke of equality while owning slaves. Like many southern gentlemen, he held a rank in the militia, but never dirtied his hands in combat. He racked up enormous debts he couldn’t repay in his lifetime, leaving his heirs to deal with the fallout. He placed the autonomy of states, specifically his own state, above the security of the nation. As founding fathers go, he was the worst.
And yet…he penned what remains one of the most revolutionary and inspirational documents in human history: The Declaration of Independence. An open letter to the rest of the world, the declaration argued that governments are subservient to the rights of the governed and that all men are created equal. In a world of kings and commoners, the idea that royal subjects could simply say, “You’re not the boss of me anymore,” was about as radical as you can get.
Every year around this time, I re-read the Declaration of Independence and every time I get misty as it ends with, “We mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” Signing the document was pretty much the same as signing a death warrant for John Hancock and all the delegates who followed, and all of these were prominent men with both lives and fortunes in the balance.
When I read the Declaration, I’m always challenged by two major topics. The first is the airing of grievances against George III and his government. Run through the list and you’ll find a half dozen, or more, complaints that many people levy against our own government today. This isn’t a political blog, so we’re not going to dive into all the similarities and differences between then and now, but it’s a telling reminder of the tensions that always exist between individual citizens and their governments.
Second, and more challenging to me, is the stark difference between the ideals of the author and his lifelong practices. Jefferson was both a radical in theory and a conservative in practice, which made him a hypocrite.
We’re all like that, aren’t we? We pen open letters to the world, proclaiming our ideals and our morality, but we might be just a trifle looser about that vision when it comes to our institutions, our state, our leaders…and ourselves. We might insist on holding others to high standards while writing ourselves a Get Out of Jail Free card. We just might be more like Thomas Jefferson than we ever recognized, although not in a good way.
BTW, if you haven’t read the DOI lately, here’s a link to the text at the National Archives. Have a great holiday.
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One of my friends posted a note on Facebook about his dad’s birthday and said how much he misses his father. We didn’t talk about it, but I know how he feels, especially today.
My dad was a good listener and a good teacher, and I never met anyone who didn’t like him. That says a lot. When he died, he had been retired and ill for a long time, so there were no customers or vendors or anxious heirs to fill the funeral home. Still, the room was overflowing, simply because people liked him.
I’ve always thought about him as the kind of father I wanted to be and want to be, still. I could talk to him about anything and he would listen, without laughing or judging or making sure I knew immediately what he thought of the situation. He taught without lectures. He didn’t view his success as dependent on someone else’s failure, or vice versa. He worked ten hours a day, plus lots of weekends, but he always seemed to have time for me, because I knew he was paying attention when we shared time together.
There are lots of books about how to be a good parent; maybe you’ve read one or twenty. For most of us, whether we read the expert guides or not, our roadmap for parenting is complete by the time we’re in high school. Whatever our parents did up until then will lead us on our own journeys. Later, in our twenties or thirties, without even thinking about it, we mimic them.
There’s comfort and caution to be had here. The good examples of our own parents are etched into our synapses, but so are the bad ones. Abused children become abusive parents because that’s what they know. Oddly, I don’t know many pampered children who become doting parents, possibly because they’ve been trained to see themselves as recipients rather than givers.
As a dad, even with grown children who have children of their own, I’m checking my own dashboard regularly. What can I leave on cruise control and what do I need to change, right now and forever? How can I be the same kind of father to my kids that my father was to me?
I’m still working on it, but the girls haven’t sued me for parental malpractice yet. I’m taking that as a good sign.
Happy Father’s Day.
Next week, we take a deep dive into another father, the founding kind, as we reconsider the meaning of Independence Day. Subscribe by clicking here and you won’t miss a single word.
Looking back on it, all my time in isolation has had its upsides, including a bunch of life hacks and new games that can pay big dividends in any future pandemic, snowstorm or hangover. Just in case we end up with a second wave in the fall, or sooner, you’ll want to bookmark this list of new pastimes I discovered while in the hole…
Normally, we’d say, “don’t try these tricks at home,” but not this time. Of course, it’s a good idea to make sure your homeowner’s insurance is up to date, just to be safe.
Last year on Fathers Day, we chronicled the missed opportunities among unengaged dads. Next week, we look at a different kind of role model. What kind? Just click here to subscribe and you’ll be the first to know.
In the spring, an old man’s fancy turns to leaving the damned house and complaining about the heat and humidity. And bugs. Now that the nation is reopening, it’s time to review what’s out there and what’s ahead, from the only source you can trust 137% on 73% of the issues.
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Dadwrites oozes from the warped mind of Michael Rosenbaum, an award-winning author who spends most of his time these days as a start-up business mentor, book coach, photographer and, mostly, a grandfather. All views are his alone, largely due to the fact that he can’t find anyone who agrees with him.