Your children see past any acts you devise to fool the rest of mankind. Your children see the phony in your soul. Your children serve as your ultimate judge. Your children see the real you.
And be sure to remember this:
Your children are, right now, listening and watching and remembering.
I was thinking of these truths Monday while talking with my friend Nancy. We talked of our unsettling and uplifting time. It’s been a June filled with fire and graffiti and idealism, a June dominated by the visage of George Floyd, who died after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
Protests in downtown Colorado Springs and in downtowns across America are filled with demands for our nation — for all of us — to do better. What was socially acceptable earlier this year will not be socially acceptable later this year. Progress is ahead. We will emerge as a better nation.
Parents will play a crucial role. Do you, in front of your children, ignore a friend’s racially inflammatory, insensitive remark? Do you, in the name of peace, allow racism to crawl forward unchecked?
Nancy’s late father, Winston, answered no.
Winston was a Texas judge who carried a copy of the Constitution to work in his suit pocket. He insisted, as a member of a Texas school board, that segregated local schools immediately integrate after the 1954 Supreme Court ruling Brown vs. Board of Education.
Winston did not hesitate to speak his mind. At a family gathering, Nancy heard her father arguing with her uncle, who dismissed and ridiculed an entire group of people because of color.
“He was very committed to justice, very committed to fairness,” Nancy says of Winston. “I can remember seeing all the riots on TV and the way that African Americans were being treated. Hosed down and worse. Both he and mother were infuriated. They really taught me that you should never, ever regard somebody by the color of their skin.”
Nancy then told a story that revealed her father to her. At a dinner table in Arkansas, she saw her father’s courage and righteous wrath.
She traveled back to the day after Thanksgiving, 1967. It’s a day that remains fresh in her mind nearly 53 years later.
Winston traveled to Arkansas to spend the holidays with his son-in-law’s parents. Nancy was 14 years old. She sat down the table from her older sister.
At the dinner table, the host told a story. Nancy can’t remember details of the story.
Well, except one detail.
“He used the N-word,” she says of her host.
Winston did not hesitate. He instantly stood and looked his host in the eye.
“Don’t you ever use that word in front of my daughters again!” he said. “Don’t you ever use that word again!”
Winston was furious, and the room grew tense as everyone lost interest in the leftover turkey.
There was one tantalizing addition to the drama.
“We were staying in their house,” Nancy says.
Winston and his host stared at each other for a long moment. Nancy knew who would win this staring contest. Her father, she says, never looked away first.
Her father’s rebuke was not personal, Nancy says. Winston was a man of integrity. He would have delivered the same rebuke to anyone. Winston followed a standard. He never wavered. All Americans were equal in the eyes of God. All were equal in the Constitution.
Yes, it would have been easy to ignore the bigotry of his host, but Winston never walked the easy path.
“My father had an absolutely fierce commitment to principle, to the principle of equality and justice for all, no ifs or butts,” Nancy says.
She laughs as she remembers that nervous yet holy moment from long ago at an Arkansas dinner table.
She saw her father’s soul that day. Nothing phony dwelled there.