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Fault on Father’s Day: My Dad was woke before woke was even a thing

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I grew up with a very athletic Dad who was all-city in Minneapolis high school hockey before he joined the US Navy at age 17 to fight in WWII (Pacific theater, Philippines).

I was born after he got home and married my Mom. When I was little my Dad played semi-pro hockey while he was trying to rise from the loading docks to be a junior salesman for a large printing company.

When he came home from a rough hockey game one night with a black eye, broken nose, and stitches, my Mom laid down the law. No more of this semi-pro hockey. The pay was lousy, the players were pugnacious, the travel was unacceptable, and while it might impress the guys on the loading dock, my Dad could not show up as a salesman with a black eye and bandages.

So my Dad switched to coaching hockey and playing public parks tennis. Of course, in his role as Coach Dad he would take me to the best public park rinks in winter, the ones where the current Minnesota Gopher hockey players would skate alongside kids and inexperienced “sandlot” beginner adults. Sure enough, my Dad was always the best player (in my young opinion) and would make sure that once he stole the puck from another guy he would bring it through any and all opponents to virtually place it on my stick and give me a chance to get into the game.

Then on one winter Saturday a novice accidentally stuck his hockey stick through my Dad’s lip. Now, in my 70s, more than six decades ago, I can still clearly see in my mind’s-eye him driving with one hand, holding a cloth on his bleeding lip. He found a doc, got stitched up again, and Mom was not happy, but she let it slide since he was being Coach Dad, not playing Golden Gloves on ice with the other rowdies.

He was a proud public parks tennis player, scrappy and untrained. “We are going to clean the clocks of those country club guys,” he would tell me. He often did.

There are many faults in tennis. There is a default, if you don’t show for your match. There is a double fault if you miss both serves. And there is foot fault if you step over the serving line before your racket strikes the ball.

My Dad never defaulted on any debt, even though there were some poor years, especially after he went back to the university on his GI Bill education benefits. He scuffled, but took care of everyone.

Many Dads Just Do It. They don’t make the headlines. They don’t cheat on their obligations, like Donald Trump does. They don’t grandstand against the vulnerable like Ron DeSantis does. They just work hard.

I became a single Dad years ago and on Mother’s Day my Dad would send me a card, saying that I was trying to do both, so Happy Mother’s Day.

On this Father’s Day I want to honor both Fathers and single Moms. We see you, no matter how much you feel unseen in the background. You are not the ones who default, double fault, or foot fault.

Working Dads, working Moms, thank you. I am so much more grateful for you than for the ones who trumpet hate and exclusion, who tell Moms and Dads what their children can read or not read. If some kids grow up despising gay people or people of color, it’s the fault of a poor subculture of Dictator Dads and Boebert/Greene heartless Moms who presume to tell us all that to be kind and have empathy is woke and wrong.

I guess my Dad was woke before woke was a thing. From my earliest questions about politics: “Dad, are you a Republican or Democrat?” he would always say, “Neither, son, I’ve never been a joiner.” But even as proud Navy veteran he was an activist against the next war, in Vietnam, a war waged by Democrat LBJ and Republican Nixon. He helped me get a Conscientious Objector status–I worked in a locked-down mental health unit instead of heading to Vietnam to kill or die. Later, when I became a nonviolent resister to nuclear weapons and got arrested he would say to others, “Hmmm…I think I over-trained him.”

He volunteered at his church, which was in the heart of a very poor neighborhood, so he was always helping poor kids, which made me even more proud of him. He had gay friends and joined them in saying, “Blatant is beautiful.”

He earned a doctorate in psychology and his pro bono work was all done at the Fort Snelling VA, counseling veterans.

He passed on years ago, but if there is a heaven, I still look up to him in more ways than one. Blessings to all Fathers. May your children be kind and loving, especially to those who are in need or in any marginalized group. What you show them, of course, is what they will tend to emulate because you are their hero.

Dr. Tom H. Hastings is Coördinator of Conflict Resolution BA/BS degree programs and certificates at Portland State University, PeaceVoice Senior Editor, and on occasion an expert witness for the defense of civil resisters in court. 

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