Last Thursday morning my dad sat down at the breakfast table for his first cup of coffee and opened the paper, as he has done every day of his life as long as I've known him, and eventually found himself reading the wedding announcements in the back. The first happy couple his eye fell on caused him a moment of pause.
"So I leaned in for a closer look," he told me recently over the phone, "because I've never seen a same-sex announcement in this paper before, and I had to make sure what I was seeing."
As long as my dad has been reading a paper, it's been this one, even back when Albuquerque was a two-daily town.
"Did you have your glasses on?" I asked.
"Did it look like two females at a normal reading distance, or was it a little hard to tell, a little ambiguous, maybe?"
"No, it was very clear they were two ladies."
"So you had to lean in for a closer look anyway? Just to double-check?"
"Yeah, because, like I said, I've never seen an announcement like it in this paper before. And I knew, when I went in for a better look, that I was seeing this for the very first time."
My dad and I are both romantic transcendentalists, slightly more idealistic versions of Slaughterhouse-Five's Billy Pilgrim, the main character who keeps getting unstuck in time. My dad was born with the Piscean gift of a consciousness like the still waters of a shallow, salt-cedar swale, so his sense of time and his place in the cosmos has always been pretty fluid to begin with.
I'm not suggesting that my father is a man of shallow or washy intellect, but that his understanding of existence and the universe at large is readily accessible and right on hand, easy to grasp on the surface of things. He doesn't get muddled down in weighty philosophy or drown in the lightless depths of murky logic like I do. His awareness springs from the poetic, pastoral language and thought systems of his agrarian tribe of cattle ranchers, who rustled up an adventurous if not always prosperous way of life along the Brazos River drainages on the canyon-carved steps of West Texas' Caprock Escarpment, deep in the heart of rattlesnake country.
My dad's patiently ponderous nature gives him the sense to recognize history in the making, and to mark it profoundly in a way that those of us who possess a more frantic neurological constitution rarely are able to. So when something like a gay wedding announcement makes it into his morning paper for the first time in history, he reverently honors it with a closer look, an affirmative squint of his aquamarine eyes and a turn of the page, the informative rustle of which announces the news that something big has changed.
So he calls to ask if I've heard about the marriage-license revolution happening in my home state. I've been unplugged in nature for the past four months, so he's concerned that the news might not have reached me, and he has good cause to worry; he lists my need to withdraw from humanity as the foremost quality, at the top of a long list of them, that makes me a true hippy. Because my dad has watched with wonder as the music of his youth continues to transcend time to get adopted and cherished by each new generation, he laments that I didn't get to go through the 1960s with the revolutionaries I remind him so much of.
Both my folks watched, in their own demonstrations of peace, the hippy revolution from the conservative sidelines of small West Texas towns, while in contrast, all my friends' parents marched for peace and took up their respective banners in the anti-war movement. Undoubtedly, the relative tranquility of their ag-school surroundings at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, where my folks met and married, allowed them to maintain a safe distance from it all, while my dad was still able to reap the many fruits he saw the revolution of his generation bear in manifold bounty: the music, the ideas, and the revolution to something he himself and all his kinfolk were already familiar with themselves, nature.
Sometimes we muse that I was actually born a hundred years after my time. My neoclassical delusions would have found good company amongst the people of Lincoln's generation, who already had a crude form of email in the telegraph, a ready ease with the high speeds of locomotion, a contemporary adaptation to life in big, rapidly developing urban environments, and instant gratification through an increasingly globalized, industrially supported market economy, the very things their descendents would take for granted as natural features of life.
The Civil War is my favorite story of all time, because it's about those people who, because of the very progress and physical expansion that would forever define their times, realized that they could no longer put off the difficult work that their predecessors had so cleverly managed to run from at every opportunity over the previous century of nationhood: the eradication of slavery. Whether they wanted that role in history or not, their era and the forces of the epoch required them to take action, and they did. Who wouldn't dream of possessing the strength to demonstrate just as much courage in a similar situation?
In the Pulitzer Prize winner Team of Rivals, the comparative biography of Lincoln and three of his top cabinet members on which Steven Spielberg's recent biopic Lincoln was based, author Doris Kearns Goodwin does a marvelous job of illustrating the four decades precipitating the first shot at Fort Sumter, and I read with something like a fire burning in my chest about the handful of politicians and abolitionists who heralded the end of that disgraceful era of our history by standing in defiant opposition to a federal law that was, long earlier, in the common consciousness of Americans living in free states where slavery was already outlawed, dead in the water: the Fugitive Slave Law.
While the U.S. government claimed its powerlessness to end centuries of crimes against humanity within its borders, individual states took the necessary power into their own hands and declared (not always successfully) their dominions safe havens for those fleeing institutionalized oppression. Then they dared the federal government to infringe on that promise of protection.
I'll always admire the brave people of Lincoln's generation because they reached the breaking point and broke an obsolete law in order to move on, just like my friends' parents struggled to break with an already broken system a hundred years later in the shadow of the ominous figure of the Vietnam War.
I have cried with joy many times reading about the struggles for justice in the Civil War and peace movement, and I felt that familiar prick of fire in my chest as my dad related the startling events in New Mexico over the past couple of months. He was right: I was not aware that, collectively, seven counties had effectively sparked the gay-marriage revolution that we've been building up to and waiting for since Stonewall, and he got to fill me in breathlessly on the details as he's patiently observed them unfold with a deeply watchful eye.
When I came out to my dad 17 years ago, he told me that he hadn't even found out what a homosexual was until he went to Texas Tech for his freshman year of college. (Yikes!) It was understandable why he thought I needed to change for my sake and safety. Then, last spring, over sirloins at our favorite steakhouse in Albuquerque, he told me that he believes gays ought to be able to marry, adopt, serve openly in the military and be protected from every form of discrimination. He's a fiscal Republican who doesn't understand his party's current obsession with spending time and resources to infringe on what are obviously constitutional protections. He laments, among many things, our government's intrusion on what would otherwise open countless avenues of free-market capitalism in its natural state.
But my dad didn't call the events in New Mexico a revolution; that's my term for it, because local authorities acting in opposition to a slow, bureaucratic, often despotic and completely backwards judicial system such as the one that the State of New Mexico is notorious for operating is exactly the behavior exhibited by abolitionists and hippies. They revolted. Because I'm a true, romantic, naturalist hippy in my dad's mind, I should have been given the chance to take up the battle cry next to abolitionists 150 years ago, or alongside my friends' peacenik parents in the '60s.
But, I tell him, I'm glad I get to live now, to witness and be a part of this revolution, when rights that have never been recognized in the history of the "civilized world" are being codified in our laws and customs. Mine is an age for glorious posterity too, when people all across the globe might be able to look in their morning papers and see, for the very first time ever, two people of the same gender announcing their love and devotion to the world. That is something neither Lincoln nor the peace marchers in the '60s ever got to do.