When I was little, I thought everyone’s dad had one. The scar was long and curved and deep, carved into my father’s back between his spine and his left lung. Because we lived in South Florida without air conditioning, he was frequently shirtless, and I just thought it was something all men had.
Then I went to my friend Linda’s house and saw her dad mowing the lawn without his shirt. Typical pale suburban dad back, but no scar.
So I asked my mom about it.
“Shush!! We don’t talk about that. Don’t say anything to Dad. Just ignore it.”
It was years before I discovered the truth. I knew my father had served in Europe during WWII. What I didn’t know was that he had been captured by the Nazis and tortured. That particular scar was the only one visible on the outside of the man they had broken. It was the internal scars that never healed; they were the ones that twisted him into a father who, in turn, broke his children.
I don’t write much about my father. Now that I am older than he was when he died, I think I can finally see him with some clarity and detachment. The best of him instilled in me an unshakable set of ethics. From him I inherited the knowledge of right and wrong, a profound devotion to the truth, a kick-ass work ethic, an unflagging honesty, a decided aversion to bullshit, a lifelong dedication to standing up for what’s right, and the absolute unwillingness to tolerate racism. When Miami schools were desegregated in the late 1960’s, the local PTA dads were sure they could count on my father’s support to protest the disruption in our little white bread neighborhood. My father had fought the Nazis, authors of white supremacy, so he clearly declined their invitation. Furious with his lack of enthusiasm for their plan, these local racists threatened harm to me and my brother Matthew.
Big, big mistake.
These men had a secret sign among them as a signal of their white supremacist leanings. Each of their porch lights glowed green in the night.
My father, who had been a sharpshooter, took out each of those green bulbs. One shot per bulb. That’s all it took.
Nobody bothered me or Matt after that. The other dads yanked their kids out of public school and put them in Christian school. Matt was bused to Brownsville, and my school (which was mostly Cuban) welcomed hundreds of Black students from Brownsville. And honestly, I never thought anything about it. This was Miami. We were a spicy gumbo of Cuban, Caribbean, South American, Black, and other miscellaneous influences. Folks like my parents had moved from the Midwest, and we were the minority. To me this was just life, and I was quite comfortable in this melting pot of humanity.
The long-term effects of my father’s brokenness played out in my life, as well as my brother Matt’s (1958-2007). I’ve spent a lot of time sorting the bad from the good. By the grace of God, and the healing that has come from my relationship with Jesus Christ, I believe I’ve been able to let go of much of the darkness that came from my childhood. Instead, I’ve allowed and encouraged myself to cling to the positive aspects of my upbringing. Above all else, I appreciate and celebrate the gifts my father gave me from an unbroken place in his soul:
The knowledge of right and wrong, a profound devotion to the truth, a kick-ass work ethic, an unflagging honesty, a decided aversion to bullshit, a lifelong dedication to standing up for what’s right, and the absolute unwillingness to tolerate racism.
My father taught me what is worth dying for. His many-times-great paternal grandfather Elijah was decorated for heroism in the American Revolution. His mother’s family home was a stop along the Underground Railroad. My family has stood up for independence from England, for civil rights, and against fascism. I come from people who fight for what we believe to be right.
Now honestly, I never thought I would have to stand up against my own people. I thought I was in with the good guys. But Donald Trump is not a good guy. He’s not even a decent guy. He is the epitome of everything my family fought to protect us from. Sadly, the crowd I was hanging with (Evangelical Christians) largely support him. Of course I had to go.
Consequently, many of my relationships with friends, family, and community members have become strained. Or worse. Yeah, mostly worse. Because I was conditioned, from an early age, to speak up when I see injustice, dishonesty, and racism. Recently I was mocked for writing that I would “fight against Donald Trump with my dying breath.” Clearly, the author doesn’t know me.
I have grandchildren. Would I give my life so they can have a future free of Trump’s legacy? I’d rather not, but if necessary, I will.
I wear a scar on my soul. It’s the price of being raised by a broken warrior; a man who gave his all for his country to fight the evil of fascism. It’s a battle scar that, for a long time, plagued me with the phantom pain of torture in Nazi Germany. Now I wear it with pride. The man who raised me would deserve to see it used to defeat evil once again.
I know what I stand for, and I’m ready.