Sunday, December 23, 2012

Sunday Reading

A Father’s Journey — Frank Bruni talks about his relationship with his dad and being gay.

For a long while, my father’s way of coping was to walk quietly from the room. He doesn’t remember this. I do. I can still see it, still feel the pinch in my chest when the word “gay” came up — perhaps in reference to some event in the news, or perhaps in reference to me — and he’d wordlessly take his leave of whatever conversation my mother and my siblings and I were having. He’d drift away, not in disgust but in discomfort, not in a huff but in a whisper. I saw a lot of his back.

And I was grateful. Discomfort beat rejection. So long as he wasn’t pushing me away, I didn’t need him to pull me in. Heart-to-hearts weren’t his style, anyway. With Dad you didn’t discuss longings, anxieties, hurts. You watched football. You played cards. You went to dinner, you picking the place, him picking up the check. He always commandeered the check. It was the gesture with which he communicated everything he had trouble expressing in other ways.But at some point Dad, like America, changed. I don’t mean he grew weepy, huggy. I mean he traveled from what seemed to me a pained acquiescence to a different, happier, better place. He found peace enough with who I am to insist on introducing my partner, Tom, to his friends at the golf club. Peace enough to compliment me on articles of mine that use the same three-letter word that once chased him off. Peace enough to sit down with me over lunch last week and chart his journey, which I’d never summoned the courage to ask him about before.

It’s been an extraordinary year, probably the most extraordinary yet in this country’s expanding, deepening embrace of gays and lesbians as citizens of equal stature, equal worth. For the first time, an American president still in office stated his belief that two men or two women should be able to marry. For the first time, voters themselves — not lawmakers, not courts — made same-sex marriage legal. This happened on Election Day in three states all at once: Maine, Maryland and Washington. A corner was turned.

And over the quarter-century leading up to it, at a succession of newspapers in a succession of cities, I interviewed scores of people about the progress we were making and why. But until last week, I couldn’t bring myself to examine that subject with the person whose progress has meant the most to me: my dad.

In my case, my father and my mother have been the most giving, loving and supportive parents a son could wish for in his life’s journey.  My father is the opposite of Mr. Bruni’s; loving, compassionate, free to display his emotions and give a hug, warm and giving to friends and lovers, open in his disdain for those who reject their gay children, and concerned above all with my happiness.  I count the blessing every day that my parents are with me, always have been, put up with my fancies and dreams, and gave me the strength and courage to be who I am.  In that simple way, they have done more for LGBT equality and freedom than all the campaigns and bumper stickers ever could.  If I am ever a parent — hey, it could happen; I’m only 60 — I want to be just like them.

A Second Look — Jeffrey Toobin explains the Second Amendment for you.

Does the Second Amendment prevent Congress from passing gun-control laws? The question, which is suddenly pressing, in light of the reaction to the school massacre in Newtown, is rooted in politics as much as law.

For more than a hundred years, the answer was clear, even if the words of the amendment itself were not. The text of the amendment is divided into two clauses and is, as a whole, ungrammatical: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” The courts had found that the first part, the “militia clause,” trumped the second part, the “bear arms” clause. In other words, according to the Supreme Court, and the lower courts as well, the amendment conferred on state militias a right to bear arms—but did not give individuals a right to own or carry a weapon.

Enter the modern National Rifle Association. Before the nineteen-seventies, the N.R.A. had been devoted mostly to non-political issues, like gun safety. But a coup d’état at the group’s annual convention in 1977 brought a group of committed political conservatives to power—as part of the leading edge of the new, more rightward-leaning Republican Party. (Jill Lepore recounted this history in a recent piece for The New Yorker.) The new group pushed for a novel interpretation of the Second Amendment, one that gave individuals, not just militias, the right to bear arms. It was an uphill struggle. At first, their views were widely scorned. Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, who was no liberal, mocked the individual-rights theory of the amendment as “a fraud.”

But the N.R.A. kept pushing—and there’s a lesson here. Conservatives often embrace “originalism,” the idea that the meaning of the Constitution was fixed when it was ratified, in 1787. They mock the so-called liberal idea of a “living” constitution, whose meaning changes with the values of the country at large. But there is no better example of the living Constitution than the conservative re-casting of the Second Amendment in the last few decades of the twentieth century.

The Christmas Letter — William L. Copithorne of The Atlantic examines the tradition of people you don’t know or care about telling you everything they did this year.

“I THINK we ought to write a Christmas letter this year,” my wife said at the breakfast table the other morning.

“A what?” I asked warily.

“A Christmas letter. You know, like the kind the Huggins send out to all their friends every year.”

I recalled the Huggins’ Christmas letters: five page mimeographed reports on family activities for the preceding year, with the simple greetings of the season all but buried.

I hurried off to work before my wife could pursue the subject any further, but, that evening she presented me with a packet of letters including not only the recent efforts of the Huggins hut Christmas letters other families had sent us as well.

“Now you read these and see if you don’t think it would be a good idea for us to do this instead of sending cards this Christmas,” she said.

One would have been enough, for the letters were indistinguishable in style and content. Posing innocently as Christmas greetings, they were actually unabashed family sagas. The writers touched lightly on the misfortunes which their families suffered during the year, dwelt gladly on happy events, and missed no opportunity for self congratulation.

I haven’t the slightest intention of writing a Christmas letter myself, but once I’d put a red or green ribbon in my typewriter, I’m sure I could turn one out in no time at all.

“OUR HOUSE TO YOURS!” is the standard beginning. Centered at the top of an 8 x 11″ sheet of paper, it spares the writer the nuisance of penning salutations on the hundred or more copies he will doubtless send out. The exclamation mark is the first of dozens that will be used. No Christmas letter averages fewer than eighteen “!’s,” “!!’s,” or “(!)’s” a page.

The opening sentence always starts with the word “Well.” “Well, here it is Christmas again!” is a favorite; or, “Well, hard as it is to realize, Christmas has rolled round once more!” A somewhat more expansive opening is “Well, Christmas finds us all one year older, but young as ever in the spirit of the Season!” Actually what is said is unimportant as long as the sentence starts with “Well,” and ends, of course, with an exclamation mark.

Doonesbury — They need women!

One bark on “Sunday Reading

  1. First I teared up when I read Frank Bruni’s tribute to his father and then I did it reading your own to your parents…. me and Himself. What a nice Christmas greeting and a family letter to all from our loving family.

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