Sunday, September 24, 2006

IT’S GOOD TO HAVE A GOAL

I’ve always believed in having goals and am hardly alone in that regard. For some people, the goal involves some sort of career success – like being able to call your colleagues “partners” instead of just “colleagues” (or worse yet, “supervisors”). For others, it involves money – like having a million bucks in the bank, or a $250,000 salary. Still others set goals based on their kids’ achievements – “my daughter goes to Hahvahd, isn’t that special?”

My dad had a goal: to reach age 90. I heard him mention that goal for years when I was growing up, and it thrilled me to no end to see him reach such a milestone. At his 90th birthday party, we bought him a cake that bore the words “Happy Bar Mitzvah Irving.” My dad didn’t get the joke at first – his name was Julius, not Irving – but then we explained that Edith Bunker brought home a similar cake to her husband Archie, the Jew hater, in a classic episode of All in the Family. The cake made him laugh. Then, a few minutes later, watching his two granddaughters sing a song to him made him cry. That was May 2002. That October, I didn’t so much cry as keen – my father, you see, never reached 91. But at least he reached his goal.

Those who know me best realize that I obtained virtually my entire philosophy of life from my father. My values. My sensibilities. You can pretty much name it – he inspired them. And that includes my goal.

So as not to be a mere clone, however, I’ve always adjusted my father’s ideas just enough to be able to consider them my own. That applies to my goal as well. I would like someday to celebrate my 60th wedding anniversary. Today, September 24, 2006, I can happily report that I have exactly 42 years to go.

I can’t remember how old I was when I decided someday to get married, but I couldn’t have been more than ten. It’s not that my parents’ marriage was so idyllic; they did more than their share of fighting. But they persevered through each and every battle, and continued deeply to love each other, even when it appeared that they didn’t like each other. I knew, as a boy, that if they – Ali and Frazier -- could stay together through thick and thin, there must be something very special about this institution called marriage. I understood, in other words, that all I had to do was meet one person with compatible values, compatible chemistry, and an ample capacity for tolerance, and I would have found the closest possible thing to earthly salvation.

As a post-adolescent, I would meet a few people who made me wonder could this be the one? Then one thing or another would go wrong, and I would go into a deep depression – at least until it was time to start studying for Finals. (I guess those Nazi bastards were wise when they inscribed on the gate at Auschwitz the words “Work shall set you free.”) Finally, in my 27th year, I saw an old friend from law school whom I had never dated but always liked very much. It probably took me all of an hour to realize that my search was over. I also realized that if luck would have it, we could someday celebrate our 60th anniversary. Today, we could still realize that goal without reaching my father’s favorite milestone – we’d both have to come close but wouldn’t quite have to get there.

I place my wedding day as the greatest in my life, greater even than the birth of my daughters. Without the first, you see, the latter days would never have occurred. I’ve never seen anything nearly as beautiful as the face of my then-fiancé who walked down the aisle. For I was smart -- I made sure that neither of us saw each other’s face prior to that moment during the day of the wedding.

Today, 18 years later, I am happy to say that while we argue occasionally – mostly about child rearing philosophies – we’re happier together than ever. Based on any objective standard, my marriage is by far the best thing in my life. And for that, I am eternally grateful.

In light of the above, it should not surprise you that I value deeply marriage as an institution. I value the idea that a teenager, smitten with infatuation, only to learn a bit later that the infatuation was unrequited, can contemplate the fact that an institution exists that will support his ability to find someone, someday whom he can count on for a love that is permanent. I value the idea that a young adult, whose work-ethic is exceeded only by her loneliness, can someday stop counting on her technocratic job for emotional fulfillment but find it instead in the adoring smile of her husband. I value the idea that a student of philosophy who learns that enlightenment stems from expanding the concept of “self” from one’s pitiful little ego to the universe as a whole, can realize that a wonderful first stage in this progression is to get married. His old self will then vanish, and in its wake he will find the knowledge of what it is like to love “the other” as much as the “self” and, in fact, to transcend the opposition between the two. In a good marriage, you see, two people come before their friends and, if applicable, their God, and take advantage of the opportunity to double their metaphysical size. Strike that – I meant to say that a bride or groom can more than double their own metaphysical size, because never has the phrase “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts” applied better than in the case of a successful marriage. Perhaps that’s why we call it holy matrimony – holiness resides in harmonious unions.

With that as introduction, perhaps I should realize for the first time why so many voters in 2004 felt the need to go to the ballot box and safeguard the institution of marriage by voting Republican. It’s not that the Democratic candidates – Kerry, Dean and Edwards – came out in support of same-sex marriage. Lord knows, they “couldn’t” do that without committing “political suicide.” But it was clear that in opposing gay marriage, the Democrats didn’t have their hearts in their work. They couldn’t figure out how to invoke the traditional values of the Democratic party in a way that would permit them to wax eloquent about the threat to the institution that is posed by two men or two women tying the knot. Only a Republican could explain the threat in a way that truly comes from the heart.

The GOP message is straight from John Wayne, or if you prefer, Ward Cleaver: the strong, powerful, responsible father figure knows best. Daddy understands what paths in life are tried and true, and what paths are deviant and potentially dangerous. Daddy recognizes, as we should as well, that marriage has been associated in the past with the notion of a man and a woman joining together to have children who benefit from both a “male” and “female” role model. Why then mess with the formula by encouraging gay couples to get married and raise children? Seriously, if it isn’t broke, why fix it?

Daddy may be OK with the idea of a “civil union,” or with the notion that gay couples should have the same economic benefits as married couples. Daddy, you see, doesn’t like to think of himself as prejudiced against gay people. “Some of my best friends are gay,” he might say, while adding, “but we’re just friends, you understand?” (Pfew. For a minute there, I was worried.) “Civil unions” don’t threaten the institution that we consider holy. Nor will we as a society grant “holy” status to such a union. And we shouldn’t, daddy tells us, because Scripture – that ultimate arbiter of holiness – hardly blesses homosexuality. It’s one thing to accept it, much as we accept blindness or herpes, but it’s something else to actually encourage it, and allow it to enter the realm of holiness. That, daddy tells us, would be going way too far.

Personally, I don’t expect the “daddies” of the world – or their wives, bless their traditional hearts – to change their view of gay marriage over night. They, after all, are self-proclaimed “conservatives,” and it is hardly a conservative concept to see two men walk into a church in front of rabbi or priest, smooch for several seconds, and walk out of the building with wedding rings.

But what about the so-called “liberal” party? What about the Democrats? Should their leaders support gay marriage? I know a lot of Democrats who would analogize such support to committing hari-kari. “Think about it,” they’d say. “The Democrats lost the last election because they didn’t bash gay marriage enough. Now you’re talking about actively supporting it? Are you nuts?”

Perhaps. Then again, perhaps I’m just a long range thinker. I continue to believe that the three most important Presidential campaigns in my lifetime were those of Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and Barry Goldwater. Reagan told us that he would govern well to the right, and he honored his promise – the result has been called the Reagan “revolution” and that might indeed be an apt term, so powerful was his reign. Clinton, who came to power after the Reagan revolution was a man of unbridled ambition and highly bridled principles – so he decided to triangulate, and therefore served as an example of a “New Democrat”: a Democrat in name only. But Goldwater is the one I’d really like to think about as the model for the Democratic party today. In 1964, Goldwater’s party, the GOP, was at sea. The conservatives who controlled the party were confused, fractionalized, and accordingly, marginalized. So what did they do? They turned to a true believer and found their soul. Sure they lost that election, but they won nearly every election since.

The Democrats need a Goldwater – a serious person, someone with gravitas, but someone who is also beloved by the faithful. I’m talking about a person who can rally the troops from all wings of the party. And I’m talking about a person who has the stones to take on difficult issues in which the party’s core values demand that they announce a position that is not held by the majority of Americans.

Imagine that – the Democrats standing for something that most Americans disagree with. Imagine the Democrats standing for something like the right of two consenting adults to enter into wedlock regardless of their race, color, creed, or sexual preference. Imagine the Democrats wagging their finger at their opponent, asking who the heck are they to get the Government involved in telling a law-abiding, taxpaying adult whom he can marry and whom he can’t. Imagine the Democrats coming across as people who are willing to put principle over pragmatism if a core moral issue is involved. Imagine the Democrats fighting for the right of gay people to get married not because they’re moral relativists, but precisely because they believe in the absolute beauty of marriage. And imagine Democrats blasting the notion of a “civil union” as an alternative to marriage because they hold the unique spirituality of marriage – holy matrimony -- in such esteem.

I’m not sure John Kerry could imagine it, but I bet John Lennon could. And I can imagine my political party someday proposing a Presidential candidate whom John Lennon could respect as a fellow traveler.

Here’s to a liberal Barry Goldwater. And here’s to wedding anniversaries!

6 comments:

Finding Fair Hope said...

The Democrats have long since left Liberalism in the dust for the practical reality of getting elected. The sooner we realize that Bill Clinton's attractiveness is not ideology-based -- nor is his wife's -- the sooner we might reach what you suggest, an election for ideas.

I think Bill Clinton's real betrayal was of principles, as he signed on to Republican programs such as NAFTA and "Work-Fare." Hillary is even worse.

The truth is that voters look for electability and that both parties are equally corrupt in making promises they have no intention of keeping in looking for ways to get in power. Al Gore looked like a dork, yes, and I'm told that George W. looked like someone to have a beer with (a bad idea; but we're talking appearance only). What Hillary looks like will be determined by some P.R. agency or other, but the Democrats are so entranced with the idea of getting someone in the White House, they don't care.

Yes, it's a shame that our ideals have brought us to this, but it's the pop culture, the rock-star mentality, the essential shallowness of life that has put us in another bad war and kept another empty suit in the greatest office in the land for eight years.

Congratulations on a good life and a happy marriage -- but don't expect politics to get any cleaner in your lifetime.

Daniel Spiro said...

A happy marriage? Yes. A good life? I'm much too neurotic to claim that kind of accomplishment.

I don't begrudge Bill Clinton his position on NAFTA because he may believe in it. But I think we agree that the real tragedy of the man is that nobody knows exactly what he believes, because he always seemed to stand on every issue for whatever the Gallop Poll stood for. Somehow, that seems like a bit more than a coincidence.

Finding Fair Hope said...

I wonder why you give him credit for "believing" in NAFTA. The groundwork was dug by Bush Sr., and Clinton just signed on. My puzzlement has always been why the Liberals have embraced him, but the reason is simple -- he can get elected. And, as you suggest, anybody who can read a poll can get elected.

PS -- you're now linked to my blog. Hope this will boost us both.

Finding Fair Hope said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
bcinfrance said...

This is a very touching post...
And when are you going into politics? Your ideas sound good to me...

Daniel Spiro said...

Politics? Me?

Not in this life, Betty. It would only take me one day on the campaign trail before I put my foot in my mouth with a frank, but impolitic, comment.