January 28, 2021. This is a day with many mixed emotions for me largely stemming from the fact that today would have been my dad’s 101st birthday. I miss him and his unconditional love of me and my two older brothers. Often I long to hear his voice, see his face, expressions and gaze, and take in his words that guided, uplifted, and sometimes greatly challenged. I realize that he was not perfect, nor am I. But I also embrace the truth that he was an exceptional human being, not only as a father, but as a husband, friend, business leader, public servant, volunteer, and veteran.
Yes, I have been pondering his life this morning. Yesterday was Holocaust Rememberance Day. Seventy-six years ago Auschwitz was liberated. During WWII, my dad was in the First Army. As such, he landed on Omaha Beach, fought in the Battle of the Bulge, and was among the first Allied troops to come upon Buchenwald Concentration Camp. These experiences and others he had earlier in life, shaped who he was, his actions, his thoughts, and his beliefs.
Over the years, while working as a business executive, my dad was engaged in politics, was a Republican, and served on multiple non-profit boards. He was deeply involved in both the NAACP, which worked for civil rights, and the NCCJ (National Council of Christians and Jews), which at the time was all about addressing interfaith relationships. But what continues to stand out for me about my dad was that he valued every human being he encountered. He used to say to me, “Robert, remember we all put our pants on the same way.”
Sadly, I believe he would be distressed over America today. An America filled with vitriol, lack of civility and decorum, poor manners, name calling, the degradation of people, the struggle with basic truth telling, the unwillingness to listen, to truly listen to alternative perspectives, the divisiveness, and the hatred, let alone the violence. He would not understand why some Christian communities and political leaders have fostered such a national zeitgeist. And like John McCain’s daughter recently said that the politically motivated attack on the Capitol would have killed her dad, I have to say the same about mine.
My dad would not have engaged with people in the way we see so many doing today. He would not comprehend why so many Americans treat each other so badly. My dad would not put up with racism. He would not accept anti-semitism. And he would fail to understand why anyone would deny equal rights to the LGBTQ community. He did not see a person through the lens of color, religion, orientation, or political affiliation.
Over the years I have come to understand why he felt this way and why his actions and words reflected his acceptance and embrace of all people. He spent his life following a Jew, our Messiah, Jesus. His Lord, our Lord, he knew, calls us to another way in this torn up country and world.
He grasped that Jesus calls us to a different standard than that which we are witnessing. He understood that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us who have shown us alternative paths of integrity and justice. He also embraced the truth that sometimes we need to remember what to take from the past and sometimes the past calls us to a better future.
As I miss my dad so much this day and every day, I will continue to rely on the rock upon which he stood, the unbounded, overwhelming, healing, guiding, forgiving love of Jesus. It is my prayer for all of us, that while we are imperfect and make mistakes every day, we together will continue to seek the way of love.