The Elephant on the Lawn
In the fall of 2008, as my father raked leaves on the front lawn, he bent to pull his Obama/Biden sign out of the ground. The election was over, and the sign, a standout symbol of liberalism in the conservative sea of Southeastern Wisconsin, was no longer relevant. As he stood and tossed the sign aside the pile of collected leaves, a neighbor happened by.
“Well,” he said to my father, amiably, but with a slight edge of unhappiness. “Your guy won.” He motioned to the sign on the ground.
My father nodded and smiled, not being one to gloat.
“I can’t say I’m too happy about that, but we’ll see how he does,” the neighbor continued. “I’m sure glad that Proposition 8 passed in California, though.”
If I had to guess, I would say the neighbor wasn’t trying to start an argument or raise a controversy. Perhaps he even said it in hopes of finding some common ground with my father. In 2006, Wisconsin had amended its constitution to prohibit gay marriage, and I would wager that, in the town where I grew up, the vast majority of inhabitants who voted supported that ban. So many other people in town would have nodded in agreement, smiling as they bonded over the thought of denying rights to their fellow humans. Others may not have agreed with the neighbor’s sentiment but would likely have changed the subject, not wanting to make a fuss.
Little did the neighbor know, he’d hit on a hot-button issue, and his comment would not be left unchallenged. My dad, who is normally quite mild mannered, threw rake to the ground in disgust. “Are you kidding me? That just makes me sick! Why in the world would anyone see such blatant bigotry as a positive thing?”
The neighbor’s mouth hung open as the worms continued to emerge from the can that he’d opened, and my father continued. “What business is it of the government or anyone else who a person wants to marry? Did you happen to think for one second how you might feel if a close friend or family member, or even you yourself were the one having their rights stripped away? No, you probably haven’t even considered it, but you know what? I have, and frankly, anyone who sees my son or my son-in-law as a second-class citizen can go jump in a lake!”
I don’t know if my dad’s rant changed the neighbor’s mind. I’m guessing it probably didn’t, but maybe it made him think just a little bit more about why he had the opinions he did. That may not seem like much, but it’s a step. A mind must be opened before it can change, and then, the change doesn’t occur in one fell swoop, but in a series of small steps. Transforming society happens even more slowly, but each step is an important one.
Perhaps other people would have remained silent on the issue, either to avoid confrontation or out of a hopelessness that the neighbor’s opinions were too deeply etched in stone, but my dad resisted such cynicism. He refused to remain silent and took the opportunity to face the issue head on, attempting to chip away at that stone.
My father, my hero.
© 2010 Elizabeth Barton
Originally published in the Journal of Ordinary Thought, Summer 2011