What are we fighting for?

Editor’s Note:  I wrote this back about 3 months or so, ago.  I was going to add a paragraph or two about my Dad, which I might do as an extended piece, but I thought I would get it posted now, as it has spent far too much time on my “To Do” list.

 

 

As the debate about health care continues, with President Trump and many of his supporters leading the way to repeal the ACA despite the lack of a real plan of action to replace or repair what is left, I find myself considering what it is we hope to accomplish with our country, our government.  What do we consider important at the national level, as a nation?  To what use do we put that blunt instrument that is our federal government?  That our government has grown large and unwieldy, straining under its own massive weight is no surprise to us.  We know it is fat, and growing larger.  We know that is too large, too heavy to support.  The Fed has grown in size and weight, but accomplishes less and less despite its increase in size and resources.  Both corporations and private citizens have attached themselves to that bloated mass, feeding off its excess like a tick to a mangy dog.  And those very fat, very happy ticks, they don’t want anything to change with their host.  No, even if the overall health and state of the union should falter, do not change anything lest their meal ticket become endangered.

This piece isn’t an analysis of the government, however.  It isn’t here to discuss the wasted resources and corporate whore mongering that goes on in our nation’s capital.  This essay is here to ask a basic question of ourselves.  What is it do we want our government to do for us?  What freedom and pursuit of happiness are we defending with our military?  What justice do we purport to provide to those of our nation that are too broke to pursue our self-evident truths?  In a nation as rich as ours, in a land as large as ours, truly our government should be responsible for very few things at the Federal level.  It is rarely the best tool for the job.  Help keep the common law consistent.  Help keep our perspective on infrastructure.  Facilitate communication among the States and their people as a whole, these things a Federal Government can do.  I would suggest to you that central to all of these things is the People.  Whatsoever our government does, it should be in the most benefit to her people, to the support of the pursuit of Life, Liberty and Happiness.  But what good is life, if we cannot enjoy it?  What good is liberty, if we cannot live it.  How can we have happiness if we are not healthy enough to pursue it?  People are the life’s blood of this country, the means be which everything is accomplished.  If our People are not healthy, how can our nation succeed?  We can educate ourselves, feed ourselves, defend ourselves- but only if we are healthy enough to do so.  In the past, collectively we have agreed that things like education, warfare, defense and trade are things we should spend our wealth on.  They are things that we considered integral to our nation, enough so to put into the Federal Government’s hands.  Why then, do we not consider our health such an asset, one worthy of our collective effort?  What else is worth fighting for if we don’t have our health?

 

Coming Full Circle

My Dad was a railroad man, over 30+ years. Seventeen with Milwaukee, another eighteen or so with Burlington Northern. For most of it he was a signalman, and he commanded a lot of different skills- electronics, communications, welding, repair, etc. And a ton of labor. When I was younger, he often tried to steer me towards a career with the railroad. He took personal pride in what he did, and he had a lot of knowledge and respect for the profession. Back then, my interests, as far as I had any, ran towards computers and I didn’t really associate the railroads with that kind of work. Knowing the kind of hours he might put in, and the back breaking labor that could be associated with it, I was doubly not interested. Looking back, had I been wiser, I think pursuing IT work in the railroad would have been a smart move.

Fast forward 20+ years and here I am studying intermodal transportation, with a specific focus on the rail lines. I’m looking to expand my options for moving freight and so I’m studying about…the railroads. My father would approve.

A Cup of Coffee With Dad

Yesterday was my birthday.  It was a time for reflection for me, but nothing earth shattering or particularly apocalyptic in nature.  I think about my life and place in this world a lot more than once a year.  Yesterday was just the first day I did it, aged 36.  No, yesterday wasn’t so much about my birthday as it was about having a cup of coffee with my father.

He’s been gone from this world for almost ten years now, but death is hardly something to stop a coffee date.  You see, I inherited this coffee cup from my father when he passed.  It’s a Burlington Northern coffee cup, with the words, “Safety in ’88” on one side and “Yellowstone Division” on the other.  In between the two, it has the BN logo emblazoned in gold lettering, all of it set on a blue colored mug.  When I’m holding it, the mug has a solid, comfortable heft to it.  It is a good cup for coffee…

Perhaps the most consistent image of my father when I was growing up was him sitting at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee in his hand.  Whether it was at his house, over at our grandma’s, at one of our relatives, or visiting my brother and I at our Mom’s, Dad always sat down and drank a cup of coffee.  Cream and sugar, never black.  He’d sit there at the table, talking with us boys and sip that cup of coffee.  By the end of the day, it was a guarantee that there would be coffee stains on his shirt, almost like a measuring stick of how much coffee he’d had that day.  As I got older, I’d have a cup with him, and we would sit and talk about whatever we had going on that day.  Those times became our way of bonding.  Anytime we wanted to spend time together, we just turned to each other and said, “Want to go downtown and have a cup of coffee?”

So, yesterday, I sat down with that cup of fresh brewed coffee, thought about life at age 36 and told my dad everything that’s been going on for the past year.  He didn’t say much, he never does anymore, but we drank our cup, enjoyed my birthday morning, and, like my father before me, at the end of they day, I had a coffee stain or two on my shirt, too.

To each their own…decision.

I happened to be reading this article when my oldest son looked over my shoulder and started reading along with me.  This lead to a conversation of sorts with him, which I rather enjoyed.

At first my son was actively against the shop owners.  He said he would have sued the owners, too.  Not because of any particular leaning so much as he views all discrimination as wrong.  I explored his thinking on that for a bit and I was satisfied with where he was coming from, but then I told him how things might have been different in Montana.  I shared with him how, in lot of states, the right to refuse service to anyone is available to business owners.  I also shared with him how customers have the same right not to go to a particular business.  They can complain to others about it, too, which usually works out better that just suing somebody.  It was fun to discuss the various alternatives.

We spoke on a lot of different topics related to the situation and the fun thing for me was watching him consider other viewpoints than his own.  He didn’t dismiss things out of hand, he spent time thinking about where the shop owners were coming from and why.  He considered other ways to handle the conflict and what some of the results were.  At the end of the day he held to his own opinion, for his own reasons, but he thought about things!  It was a great father/son moment, but it also made me laugh and think about how often I can’t have that kind of conversation with an adult…

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times

I don’t post personal things on Facebook much. I don’t believe in airing my dirty laundry, and I happen to like my life, so I see no reason to complain about it, even when I struggle. Having said that, I want to share a bit of a story with you in the hopes that it might provide some perspective on this generation.

When my dad was a kid he prayed in school, got spanked when he got in trouble, went to church and read the bible. He played outside, did sports and hunted. Things were different then, with no Internet, color TV or cable. As he grew up, he joined the military, worked for Milwaukee and BN railroads, got married and had children. When times were tough, he buckled down and worked harder. If people were struggling, he did what he could to help. When his mother was older he bought her a house and took care of her. He looked after a few of his brothers from time to time, too. Cancer took his life, too soon, but by most accounts he lived an honorable life and enjoyed a modicum of success. I guess things were better and different for his generation…

What he didn’t tell many people is how much hated his childhood. Oh, not all of it, of course. Very few people can say that, but he did have his moments. He got picked on and hazed as a kid, horribly so. So badly that people would come up to me 60 years later to tell me how sorry they were that it happened, how bad some of the kids had it back then. You see, it wasn’t popular to be an Indian in a Catholic school and he didn’t have the advocates like he would have had today.

When he was about ten, he got his 1st job setting up pins in a bowling alley. He didn’t do it for fun, he did it so he could buy clothes for himself. You see, alcoholism and gambling were big issues back then, and his family wasn’t immune to the problems they caused. But that wasn’t something that was talked about like it is today.

His older brother took his own life at the age of 17 and decades later that still haunted my father. Times were hard, but you weren’t supposed to talk about it back then.

The world was a very tough, cruel place 60 years ago. Bad things happened back then, just as they do now. Yet Kids in my father’s day generally had it better than their parents did, how could they not? It’s called progress. I had it better than my father did. But you know what? I was bullied, picked on- even ended up homeless for a time as a teenager. The world wasn’t always a great place when I was kid, either.

So why am I sharing all of this? Maybe because I think it’s time we stopped looking at the world through the false lens of nostalgia and idealism and started taking responsibility for the way things are, right now. My father had it tough, no doubt about it. But you know what?  A lot of people did.  What made a difference in my dad’s life, and in mine, were the people that came up next to him and influenced his life in a positive manner.  A nun taught him the value of self-respect and hard work.  A school principal, a teacher and a pastor were huge influences for me.  So were many friends and family members along the way.  This world is what we choose to make of it now, not what it was, not what it will be.  You get out there and you do good things today.