Sometimes the personal overrides the burning political—just before it doubles back to connect. For me, I reflect on the day not long ago when my late father would have turned 94. He was a mentor, a teacher, a counselor, and a friend. He taught me values that I continue to strive to uphold: integrity, honesty, fairness to all, courage, unbiased respect for all, care for the environment; care for and engagement in the community, grace, and generosity. In fact, in those rare moments I reach beyond my normal slothful greedy self, I can see him, literally, in my minds-eye, in my heartseye.
He was a member of that “greatest generation,” barely making it to high school graduation in the early 1940s before rushing to enlist in the Navy and shipped to the Philippines “for the duration.” So many never returned, so I am a lucky one—to even exist. He said almost nothing about his war experiences, but his lifetime peace activism spoke volumes.
Thomas John Hastings became a psychologist and both practiced and taught. He had a private practice and he was chair of his college counseling degree program at Metropolitan Junior College in downtown Minneapolis. His pro bono work was all at the VA in Minneapolis and he did a lot of it. Like all the peace vets I’ve ever known, his attitude was hate war, despise the chickenhawk politicians who drag us into most of them, and love the veterans. Of course today’s polarized conceptually monochromatic political factions cannot abide nuanced thinking like that, so my dad would be even more out of touch.
He was friend to Israeli Jew and Palestinian, and not in a surficial sense, but in deeper contexts he tried to help me understand, rooted in the long European persecution of Jews that culminated in the sincere attempt by Nazis to hunt and kill every last Jewish man, woman, and child; and anchored as well in understanding Palestinian history on that land and persecution in 1948 as hundreds of their villages were destroyed to make way for Israel.
As a young radical of 17, I railed for Palestinian rights. He calmly told me much of what I didn’t know about the Hitler Final Solution and said (this is a 51-year-old memory, clear as a bell), “Jews needed someplace to park their asses.” From a World War II combat veteran (who, by the way, never expressed hatred for Japanese or Germans), this helped me, his son, to accept context I had not personally experienced and that my high school had never taught me.
His additions to my knowledge and understanding were always in the “yes, and” format, never in the “well, but.” This seems small, but it marks a distinct difference between parenting that can alienate and that can deepen understanding. Of course, I only see this in retrospect, but he got it at the time.
It was tough to get my father interested in any political candidate and he never joined a political party. He taught me to be wary of talk and to check out action as speaking loudest. That does tend to give pause to potential excitement about any candidate for office, though he seemed to vote maybe half third party and half Democratic Party for most of his life. Never Republican. Ever. He had respect for virtually all people but despised the pro-corporate, anti-environment, and often unjust actions taken by most elected Republicans. I pretty much agreed with him and was grateful for his tutelage.
I became interested at one point in his path of becoming radicalized toward peace and justice but in his retention of friendships from his former world. It led me to ask some others who had gone through radical changes, members of his generation, how it worked out for them. I asked that of Daniel Ellsberg in 1982 and he said that he had lost every single friend from before his decision to release the Pentagon Papers. I asked that of Robert Aldridge, design team leader for generations of submarinelaunched ballistic missiles for Lockheed before his radical peace conversion (thanks to his daughter confronting him) and his answer was similar. My father did not have the public-facing struggle that they did, although he faced some serious consequences at one point for his war tax resistance. My father retained all his friends. This was a lesson to me and remains important in my remembrance of him and his life lessons.
He read voraciously, at least one paper a day, some magazines every week and month, and perhaps one book a week, on average. I appreciate his triangulation of evidence—he’d fact check when curious or surprised, a trait I try to emulate. When I was a boy, he personally brought me to the local library each and every week. That discipline was, in hindsight, crucial to my development. He tried to get me addicted to learning and to the public library system. I looked forward to that every week and, to be blunt, I failed to do that with my own sons, a regret I carry.
My father never once held any ambitions to be wealthy, and gave away a lot. I saw him do that and I hope I learned. I will never forget him talking to a young man “camping” (homeless) on a California beach. My dad listened to him for at least 10 minutes, gave him a $10 bill, and the guy asked me, “Is your father a minister?” This was not an infrequent question. Are ministers normally the only ones who listen and are generous? Can we do better than to ghettoize these characteristics to the “people of the cloth”?
One wonders what some fathers teach their sons. “Here’s how you screw the next guy.” “Beating someone is the best satisfaction you can get.” “Lying to get ahead is the way of the world.” “Dirty tricks are normal. Do them better than anyone else.” “Women are on this earth for men’s pleasure. Use ’em.” “Get ahead and stay ahead. Never stop accumulating.”
The difference is painful and is on buck-naked display at the highest levels right now. I can hear my father as I listen to the daily news: “Cripes! Who raised him?”
Dr. Tom H. Hastings is director of PeaceVoice, which syndicates columns from progressive writers nationally. He serves also on occasion as an expert witness for the defense in court. (www.peacevoice.info).