Last Saturday at my son's lacrosse game, I sat down next to an older couple that was at the game watching their grandson, who was on the other team. It was a beautiful day and I was looking forward to rooting for my son and his team. I struck up a conversation with the grandfather. He told me he was 74 years old, retired from the Air Force and delivered "Meals on Wheels." As the game progressed we had a great conversation about life, staying healthy and the Air Force that we both love. Then he brought up politics. He told me, "We have to quit blaming George Bush for everything that is wrong with our country." I thought to myself, 'I wonder if he is ready to hear about transgender children?' But as usual, I decided to take it slow to see where the conversation might lead us. I said, "You are right, you cannot blame one man; all of our leaders need to put aside their differences and do the right things to help our country." He agreed but then said, "Obama has to go. He is ruining our country with all of this gay marriage nonsense." I said, "Sir, with all due respect, I have disagree. Changing the way we think, providing all American's with the same rights and privileges is what this country is all about." At this point he looked at me in kind of a funny way, but he was still listening, so I thought what the hell.
I told him that some twenty-five years ago after I got out of the Air Force, I was a Ronald Reagan-loving, pro-military student with few places to speak out. I described the day Hans Bethe visited one of my classes to express his disagreement and concerns regarding nuclear weapons and his displeasure with Ronald Reagan's "Stars Wars missile defense system." I explained that after the lecture, a few students were discussing the key points and they said they hated Ronald Reagan. I spoke out in favor of our President. Defending our Nation's leader did not go as well as expected.
I continued to say that it seems like over the years, I have had to defend presidents from both sides of the aisle. I apologized for my long-winded story and said, "My point is that we must always respect the position of our President and Commander-in-Chief and we need to teach our children to do the same. I pointed to my son on the other side of the lacrosse field and said, "When my son was 10 he came home from school and told me he hated President Bush. I abruptly said, "What did you say?" He looked up at me and said, "I hate George Bush because he started the war." I said, "Listen, you cannot ever say you hate the President. He is our President and Commander-in-Chief. You can say you disagree with his policies, but you cannot say you hate him." My little boy looked up at me, scared and looking a bit puzzled because of my harsh tone. I was on edge because I had just come from a school meeting to address the bullying and harassment that his sister was being subject to at school. I said, "Hate is such a strong word, lets not use the word hate in our family." The grandfather looked at me with a smile, extended his hand and said "you're a good dad." I shook his hand and said, "There is another reason why I needed to teach my son about hate at such a young age. You see, he has a twin sister who is transgender. She was born as a boy, but is a girl trapped in a boy's body. You may not understand this, but maybe knowing how much I love my children, my family and my country will help you begin to understand that what I am saying is true. My son has spent most of his life worrying and protecting his sister from harm. He has experienced a great deal of pain that could have easily made him hate many of the leaders in his school and our state but he does not." I paused to let what I said sink in.
I waited for him to tell me I was nuts. He looked me in the eyes and said, "Young man, I do not understand all that you are saying, but I apologize for being disrespectful. I am very pleased to see you are trying to raise your children the right way. I think the best thing we can do is teach young people to vote. Maybe I am too old to change. Maybe your son and my grandson will be able to make things better. God bless you." I was not sure what to say next, so I said, "I hope you are right and enjoy the game." We were both at a loss for words.
We lost the game ten to four, and as my son and I were walking to the car, I saw the grandfather congratulating his grandson; he looked over, smiled and nodded his head in approval. I nodded back, placed my arm around his shoulder and thought it has been a good day. I hoped that maybe I had at least planted the seed for change. He asked me about the man that nodded. I said, "He is the grandfather of a boy on the other team. We had a nice chat while watching the game." He asked, "Why are you smiling? I said, "Because you never know when you are going to teach someone something new. Never be afraid to speak up for what you believe in. It was a great game, I love you." He said, "I love you too, dad, I am hungry."