Bridg­ing the di­vide

GA Voice - - Columnists -

Re­cently my sis­ters and I planned my fa­ther’s 80th birth­day cel­e­bra­tion. It was quite the mile­stone and we really wanted to do some­thing spe­cial.

My sis­ter Ch­eryl, who is a self-pro­claimed “Army Strong Mom,” came up with an idea to send our dad on an “Honor Flight” that lets veter­ans from World War II, the Korean War and Viet­nam take a bus trip around DC to see all the memo­ri­als. It was the per­fect gift, but there was a catch: some­one had to be his guardian for the day. With an over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity vote, my five sis­ters elected me.

My dad’s and my re­la­tion­ship hasn’t al­ways been easy, and I have to ad­mit I was a bit anx­ious about the re­spon­si­bil­ity I was given, sim­ply be­cause this would be the long­est time my Dad and I would spend alone to­gether in my en­tire adult life.

What would we talk about? It’s not like my dad isn’t a man of many words. He has very strong opin­ions and has no prob­lem voic­ing them, and he raised his son to be the ex­act same way. The chal­lenge is our views couldn’t be more dif­fer­ent on some of life’s most con­tro­ver­sial top­ics, like pol­i­tics, re­li­gion and all those other lib­eral vs. con­ser­va­tive hot-but­ton is­sues that can ruin re­la­tion­ships.

There we were; the con­ser­va­tive, Fox Newswatch­ing, Air Force vet­eran and his lib­eral, anti-war, NPR-lis­ten­ing gay son, off to the most di­vi­sive place in Amer­ica: Wash­ing­ton, DC. Lit­tle did I know that the city that usu­ally breeds so much di­vi­sion would ac­tu­ally bring the two of us to­gether like never be­fore.

I learned a lot about my dad that day. I found out that he was in charge of se­cu­rity for the B-52 nu­clear bombers dur­ing the Cold War, and I ac­tu­ally got to see one of the two-seater planes that he flew. Dur­ing a hot de­bate about mu­sic with some Viet­nam vets on the bus, I found out that “Cheek to Cheek” is one of my dad’s all-time fa­vorite songs, but to my greater sur­prise, I re­al­ized that my fa­ther and I could be com­fort­able “My fa­ther and I found our own per­sonal free­dom by fi­nally re­lax­ing in each other’s pres­ence and en­joy­ing each other’s com­pany. I think we fi­nally re­al­ized that we both are a part of that big, beau­ti­ful melt­ing pot that makes Amer­ica so great.” sit­ting in si­lence while we ab­sorbed the many mov­ing sights at the na­tional me­mo­rial parks.

See­ing the num­ber of men and women who lost their lives for all of us was breath­tak­ing, and trav­el­ing with over 150 veter­ans to pay re­spects was hum­bling. I feared I would be trapped on a plane full of po­lit­i­cal pos­tur­ing that would have forced me to bite my tongue out of re­spect for those who fought for my right to ex­press my­self. To my sur­prise, the words “Repub­li­can” and “Demo­crat” were never even ut­tered, and the only thing that mat­tered was that we were all Amer­i­cans.

I have never been more proud of my dad, and it was such an honor to fi­nally see him ac­cept the grat­i­tude from me and the nu­mer­ous strangers who thanked him for his ser­vice that day. My fa­ther and I found our own per­sonal free­dom by fi­nally re­lax­ing in each other’s pres­ence and en­joy­ing each other’s com­pany. I think we fi­nally re­al­ized that we both are a part of that big, beau­ti­ful melt­ing pot that makes Amer­ica so great. We fi­nally put our dif­fer­ences to rest out of re­spect to those who fought for both our rights to be our au­then­tic selves. And for that, I am for­ever grate­ful.

Bill Kaelin is the owner of Bill Kaelin Mar­ket­ing Events and Con­sult­ing Agency in At­lanta. www.Bil­lKaelin.com

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