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Father’s lessons

Sometimes the personal overrides the burning political—just before it doubles back to connect. For me, I reflect on this day of my late father, who would be 94 today had he lived. 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.

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. 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 just 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.

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 any 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.

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 factcheck when curious or surprised, a trait I try to emulate.

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.

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?”

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Tom H. Hastings is core faculty in the Conflict Resolution Department at Portland State University and founding director of PeaceVoice

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