I am currently working on the chapter of the Book that deals with lessons I learned from my Father—there were many. Most of what I am writing comes from my own memories, but while going through the newspaper articles found among my “buried treasure” –the craft paper to which they were attached brown with age and crumbling at my touch– I was reminded of a very important lesson on being a good citizen.
My Dad was never elected to public office, probably because he was too honest and ethical to “look the other way” or “bend the rules,” which is often needed to succeed in politics, but he did play an active role in government through supportive participation. He was a staunch Democratic believing it was the “party of the people” rather than of big business.
On November 9, 1949, a news article in the Bayonne Times reported on a speech he delivered at the regular meeting of the Bayonne Lions Club at Hendrickson’s Hall, 31st Street and Broadway. A member of the Americanization Committee, he spoke on the significance of American citizenship:
“Those who enjoy citizenship as a birthright do not always appreciate what it means—they take it for granted. To the newcomer, however, the acquisition of citizenship is a great and significant event. It is the fulfillment of the aspiration which moved him to come here seeking a broader freedom. Each citizen must do his part to make democracy work for all instead of expecting it to work for him alone. The Golden Rule must
prevail and hate with all its kindred evils must be eliminated from the heart. Hate, prejudice and bigotry, whether religious or racial, tear down and destroy and can have no place in our democracy. Above all, the new citizens must not be content with the progress already made; much yet remains to be done to achieve the ideal of those who have gone before. Many inadequacies still exist in our American life—inadequacies that can be removed in a legal and orderly way. Because the flag does not fly over a perfect country, sovereign citizens, genuine and faithful in purpose, must be ever mindful of their trust to hand on to the next generation a greater and better America than they themselves found.”
Dad of course voted in every election, mostly along party lines, but that was because he had his input beforehand, working on the committee level to put together the best available slate of candidates and the fairest platforms and policies to benefit the constituency. Dinner table discussions and conversations at family gatherings focused on the issues of the day—local, domestic and international—and how they could most effectively be handled and resolved. There were sometimes disagreements among relatives who held different views but they were treated with respect. Dad always seemed to have the most persuasive arguments—being an attorney that was one of his strengths—and brought others to “the right decision.”
Even when I was in grade school, I can remember being aware of campaigns and elections. While most of my classmates were reading comic books, I was exposed to newspaper articles on political issues. My reports in social studies class always earned stellar grades.
On several occasions Dad let me accompany him into the voting booth when he cast his ballot. We would of course have studied the sample at home earlier in the week and Dad would double check to make sure the choices on the voting form were identical to those on the sample. He would then pull the tab over each of the names he had preselected and check again that they were all secure; only then would he allow me to pull the lever that would cast the vote and open the privacy curtain. It made me feel that I was part of the democratic process, and I looked forward to the day I could vote on my own.
I registered as soon as I turned eighteen (1957) and voted in every municipal election. The first national election I participated in was November, 1960. Since Ed and I would be on our honeymoon in Florida on Election Day (Tuesday, November 8) I voted for John F. Kennedy for President by absentee ballot. I’m sure Dad was pleased.
I wonder what my Dad would think of the incidents that are going on in the country and the world today—the violence, racial unrest, hateful rhetoric, etc. He was a man of compassion but also one of justice. He believed matters could be settled by reasoned discourse, not contentious conflict. He stood up for and acted on his principles but he also believed in keeping the peace. One thing I know for sure is that he would have gotten involved in making this a better world.
St. Francis of Assisi’s Prayer for Peace
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy;
O Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to love as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.