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Paying it forward


By Robert Morrison

Phil and Mary Sue are generous hosts. Thanksgiving is their special time with family, but they regularly invite “orphans”—people like my wife and me who have no other place to go. This year, we looked forward to joining Phil and Mary Sue’s family and friends at their home. They were expecting 17 guests. No Indians on the guest list this year, but Phil says he will let the occasional Australian stand in for them.

On Monday of Thanksgiving week, however, Phil got word that his 98-year old mother had had a stroke. Mary Sue was already in Florida, helping out with Phil’s mom, when he was summoned to her bedside.

It was soon clear they would not be returning for the holiday. Bravely, Phil’s daughter, Katie, husband Rob, her brother, Ben, and his girlfriend, Mel, pledged to carry on in the parents’ absence.

By Wednesday morning, it was clear that our Thanksgiving feast was in jeopardy. My wife, Kathie, and another local guest, Dorothy, stepped in to make Thanksgiving a moveable feast. We’ll have Thanksgiving dinner at our house, Kathie announced, and invite our hosts’ family and friends to join us. The biggest challenge was to find, in the little town of Annapolis and on the day before Thanksgiving, a 25-pound fresh turkey. No time for defrosting a frozen one.

We gathered together on the great day. We included Phil and Mary Sue by cell phone in the Grace we said before our meal. We had never met several of the guests before. Ben’s friend, Mel, is from England. This was her first American Thanksgiving.

We toasted Mel and thanked her. Had it not been for England’s King James Version, we wouldn’t have all those Thees, Thous, and Thys. And if that King James had not harried the Pilgrims out of his land, they wouldn’t have landed on Plymouth Rock, and we Americans wouldn’t have this celebration!

When Phil’s mother passed away peacefully, and he and Mary Sue returned, they thanked us for taking in their guests. Kathie then told them the story of the time in 1989 when her own mother passed away. Edith May had died on December 19th. Resolving to fly across the country to do a proper memorial service in Takoma, Washington, our family had to fly home on Christmas Eve.

Our United Airlines pilot teased our young children, telling them we were in a race with a little sleigh and eight tiny reindeer. We arrived back at Baltimore-Washington International Airport at 2 a.m. on Christmas morning.

As we drove home, Kathie said there was no time to prepare for Christmas dinner. No stores would be open on Christmas Day. We’d have to eat at Bethesda Naval Hospital, where she was in charge of the food service. That would have been fine, since the Navy goes all out to make Christmas special for those confined to the hospital and those on duty. But it wouldn’t have been the same as being at home.

When we arrived at our house, what to our wondering eyes should appear! We found our refrigerator stocked with turkey, stuffing, and all the trimmings of a prepared Christmas dinner. The dining room table was set and everything made ready for the holiday meal.

When she returned the next day to the hospital and thanked her staff—officers, enlisted, and civilians—for all that they had done, Kathie asked them what we could do to repay their extraordinary kindness. They had made this Christmas one we would never forget, Kathie told them.

“You don’t have to repay us for anything,” said Elaine, my wife’s deputy. “Do something like this for someone else.” Now, we call it paying it forward. And so, this Thanksgiving, we did.

Losing a beloved parent is always hard, and especially so during the holidays. But bearing one another’s burdens is what we do. And it is at times like this that we come closest to the true meaning of Christmas: We are commanded to love one another as He has loved us.

Robert Morrison is Senior Fellow for Policy Studies at the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C.

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Sleep with my Fathers


By Robert Morrison

 

On turning 60, George Washington wrote in letters to friends: “The time is not far distant when I must sleep with my Fathers.” I was a history student reading those words. My professors told me that Washington lacked Thomas Jefferson’s “peculiar felicity of expression.” Even though I was studying at Mr. Jefferson’s university, I found it hard not to feel the beauty of Washington’s words.

“Sleeping with my Fathers” was Washington’s poetic way of describing his own impending death. I read them rather more literally. They reminded me of my own father coming home day after day from his carpenter’s job. He would sit with me in our family’s TV room and tell me wonderful stories of his seagoing days. He had sailed to 47 countries before, during, and after World War II and he was a fount of knowledge about the wider world.

Sometimes, our story hour would turn into wrestling on the TV room floor. Pop would then tell me about the need to defend myself from neighborhood bullies and teach me some self-defense moves.

Not infrequently, we would fall asleep on that floor. We would only awaken when my mother would come in and yell, “Les, take a bath and come to supper.” My father always smelled of sweat and sawdust. It was an honest, sweet scent.

Pop was proud of his work. He could drive nails faster and more accurately than any man I’ve ever known. And he often worked high atop construction sites, as sure-footed as a Mohawk. His hammer would tap out a steady rhythm: “pop, POP, pop.” It was rare that a nail required more than three swings of his hammer.

Pop would only intervene in coming-of-age fights if the toughs ganged up on me, or if one of them threatened me with a knife. Then, he would march over to the gang leader’s house and tell his old man to come out. Pop would tell that father that if his son used a weapon or ganged up, he would “knock his block off.” He never had to back up his words with his fists. In those happy days, even the toughs had fathers in the home.

It’s painful for me to read every weekend the reports of murders in our inner cities. Emergency Rooms in our major cities see too much of the “rod and gun club” casualties. More than two-thirds of the teen murderers in our prisons are fatherless young men.

Liberal politicians and press lords focus on race, poverty, education, or other indicators, the so-called “root causes” of urban homicides. They want to target more federal programs to those mean streets. As if those streets don’t have targets enough.

Rarely do the pols and pundits acknowledge fatherlessness. My blue-collar neighborhood was no garden. I often had to fight. But there was a limit to the violence. Fathers like mine enforced that limit.

There’s another factor to consider when dealing with the sources of violence: religion. In their now classic study, “Who Escapes? The Relation of Church-Going and Other Background Factors to the Socio-Economic Performance of Black Male Youths from Inner-City Poverty Tracts,” Richard B. Freeman and Harry J. Holzer showed how some young men avoided entrapment in a host of destructive behaviors and attitudes. Church-going was then seen (1985) as a protection for vulnerable youth. The work of Family Research Council’s Marriage and Religion Research Institute (marri.org) powerfully reinforces the Freeman and Holzer’s conclusions.

When I first read those words of George Washington, that sweet reference to sleeping with his Fathers, my professors did not point out that those words were taken straight from Scripture. “So David slept with his Fathers and was buried in the City of David” (1 Kings 2:10, KJV). Washington’s readers would instantly have recognized the reference. For some years, it eluded me. Did that Bible reference also escape my learned teachers?

We are coming to the point – and may already have passed it – when Americans will no longer recognize what it means to sleep, or to wake, with our fathers.

The French understand what is at issue in the new laws abolishing mother and father in their legal code. “Everyone needs the love of a mother and a father,” said a 10-year-old marcher in one of their recent, massive Paris street demonstrations. As if he had uttered an obscenity, the YouTube video of the boy’s comments has since been removed.

Now that I have passed that meridian that George Washington called “the grand climacteric,” 60 years, I can affirm his words. I can appreciate what it means to sleep with our Fathers. I’m grateful for my own father, and for our country’s Founding Father. In speaking thus from Scripture, Washington was a model father and protector, a good and wise Grounding Father.

Robert Morrison is a senior fellow at the Family Research Council.

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