Shortly after I wrote Today’s Lesson In Progressive Politics: John Holdren, my father became very ill, very quickly. There was a week where he was in the hospital, getting progressively worse. On September 25th, my father died. The exact cause of death is uncertain. He either had a heart attack or he aspirated in his sleep, a side effect of the cancer that had blocked 95% of his esophagus. The doctor felt that aspiration was the most likely scenario in which case the end was painless and quick and most likely in his sleep.
The choices my father was facing were not good. The doctors told him that his only choices were to go to a hospice where he would be kept comfortable and would be gone in a couple of weeks, or to undergo surgery, have a stent put in, have a feeding tube inserted into his stomach, and hopefully build up enough strength to undergo radiation. This would likely buy him anywhere from 2-6 months of life. His children discussed and debated, and chose to go with option number 2. Prior to this sudden and rapid decline, he was 88 years old, active, and in full possession of his faculties. The guy was sharp as a tack. He may have lost much of his physical presence to old age, but he was as sharp as he’d ever been and that was pretty damn sharp.
Faced with two dreadful options, my father chose Door Number 3 and went out his own way, sparing his children the sight of watching this vibrant personality diminish to a whisper and an empty shell. A week before he died, he’d driven down to his favorite watering hole in Washington Heights, and swapped cop stories with his friends. He was pushing himself right to the end.
In the course of his life, my father saw a lot. He was a teenager during the worst of the Great Depression, raised by a widowed mother; a gunnery instructor in the Navy during World War II, a police officer in Harlem who was at a riot on the night that I was born. He was a man who put his life on the line every day for people he did not know, and once saved the lives of 14 people from an apartment building that was in flames. Those 14 people included his pregnant wife and my two sisters. He received numerous awards and citations for this action, taken while he was off-duty, and appeared on Kate Smith’s radio show where the singer presented the hero with new furniture (some of which we still have, believe it or not).
My father didn’t have a lot of interests. Armed only with a high school education, and raised in very tough times, he had no patience for anything that wasn’t real. He never read books, but he read the newspapers cover to cover and was a devoted news junkie. He liked to watch cop shows and Westerns on TV, and would read anything that had to do with politics.
My father was the product of FDR’s New Deal era. Roosevelt was President from the time my father was 10 years old until just before his 22nd birthday. It was the era of “Happy Days Are Here Again,” fearing nothing except fear, and promises of government-sponsored prosperity.
Even at that tender young age, my father would have none of that crap.
As a child and teen, he heard the empty promises of a government-run salvation through the New Deal. As an adult, he witnessed first hand the devastating effects of liberalism on the city of New York and, especially, the blacks in Harlem, through the fifties and sixties. He read the newspapers which, even back then, were promoting a progressive agenda, and he applied his training as a detective to figure out the parts of the story that were missing. He had the most amazing ability to see the parts of the news story that were being held back.
My father was a conservative long before it became fashionable in 1980. Through the worst years of liberalism in the 1960s and 1970s, my father preached that the direction the country was going in was bad. Without ever having read The Federalist Papers, he managed to intuitively articulate the underlying philosophy of Hamilton, Madison, and Jay.
My father learned early that in order to succeed in life you needed to be free. That meant not being reliant on others, from government agencies to big businesses. He knew that what the government provides, the government can take away and that if you wanted to avoid the pain of having things taken from you, you first needed to refuse the handout. Only through this way could a man truly be free.
My father was a great success in life. Not in business, since he worked in blue collar jobs his entire life. While we never lacked the necessities, my family was far from wealthy. But he had a wife he adored and who adored him and, together, they had six children who brought him enormous pride and satisfaction. His children have absorbed many of the lessons he learned from the streets: education is good, debt is bad, if you let others, including the government, provide for you then you are being infantilized and set up for a giant fall when the bill comes due.
My conservatism runs very deep. What my father learned from living and intuition, I learned from listening and reading. It all comes down the same way in the end…neither of us voted for Barack Obama, a man whose arrogant, Ivy League philosophy and insular narcissism stands in direct contrast to the reality my father saw every day of his life. My father opposed Obama because he recognized that Obama was nothing more than a gifted talking head, bereft of real world experience. When the world (including myself) was paying rapt attention to the then-unknown Obama’s 2004 Democratic convention address, it was my father the detective who said “No…this isn’t the whole story. He saying what he wants us to believe.” It was a cop’s intuition but he sure was right.
I don’t know the politics of his parents. They were both long dead before I was born. But I do know that my conservatism was born and nurtured within my family unit and while my mother was a conservative, it was my father who talked politics (and cop stories!) all day, every day. His argument was so strong and so convincing that even my older brothers and sisters, who came of age when conservatism was as hip as a Lawrence Welk performance at Woodstock, managed to skip the worst of the addled idiocies of the hippie and disco eras. For me it was easy, hitting my stride in the Reagan Eighties, but for my siblings the temptation to swing to the Left must have been strong. This lineage of conservatism has been passed on again, to my father’s six grandchildren and, hopefully, to his five (and hopefully more) great-grandchildren.
My father passed on a love of liberty to his children, who are passing it on again. God bless him for it.