It is an idyllic Sunday morning in my urban oasis. The rains of two days ago have washed everything clean and the sun, which hasn’t yet risen over the trees, is shining brilliantly. There are, quite literally, birds chirping and tweeting as taxicabs rush by to get believers to their worship services. Soon the bells of South Congregational and the pseudo carillon of Mt Carmel will peal.
I’ve always belonged here. Since the very first time I got off a city bus on Main Street I knew that this was my home. It’s ironic, at least to me, that I find myself endeavoring to encourage others to do what I never could; to leave whatever place they now call home to come to this place and call it home in order to help it become a better place.
That it is Father’s Day intertwines with this idea in one very particular way; social media creates a medium on which people can extol the virtues, the excellence, and in many cases, the superiority of their paternal inheritance. Everyone’s dad is “the best” this, or “the most” that. My father was simply not the best or the most of anything. He was a hard working man, sure, but there were harder workers. He had fought in WW II, trained himself to be a pilot, worked nights at the Post Office to earn extra money for us, and always used his vacation time to spend with or in order to visit family. But he had a quick temper disproportionate to the offense, was hypocritical in terms of his professed religiosity (a Mormon who smoked like a chimney), and above all else, was proud of his overt racism, which he claimed in spite of the fact that he always seemed to enjoy the company of black people. (He inverted the whole: “I’m not racist, some of my best friends are black” into “I am racist, despite enjoying the company of blacks”.)
I loved my father because he was my father, not because he was some superman. And I love my city because it is my city. I love its beauty, and its history, I feel sadness at its dysfunction and its decay. My hope is to see it overcome its weaknesses, its pathologies, its current despair, and to become the best community it can be while my life goes on inextricably linked to it. At my father’s funeral I said that he had been a better father to me than to my older siblings (I am substantially younger), a better grandfather to their children than he was a father to me, and a better grandfather to my daughters than he had been to the offspring of my siblings. He had mellowed, become more patient, more caring, and more willing to bend to accommodate others. His storytelling, his sense of humor, and his ability to engage complete strangers in warm conversation never waned however.
Everyone always told me how lucky I was to have the father I had. They never knew my father really, they knew the father my dad put on display, but by the end he gave my daughters as good a grandfather as two little girls ever had. My hometown is the opposite, it is so much better than people perceive it to be, but if my hometown can mature and improve as my father did as I enter my dotage, I will be a fortunate man.