In Memory Of My Father
For the first two afternoons after eighth grade football practice I let myself get taunted into roughhousing with some kids. I didn't like the way they were roughhousing, they were what psychologists call "mean little turds". I went to my father and explained my problem and he told me an amazingly wise solution that changed my world. He told me that I didn't have to play with them; it didn't matter what they taunted me; my time and energy was my own. The next day I walked past those kids and to this day I have never regretted doing so. Applying that one lesson saved me an enormous amount of grief over the years.
Tom Lasswell spent his life defining himself on his own terms. He decided not to be a victim. Instead of looking inward for something to despise, he looked outward for something to accomplish. We are here in celebration of the amazing success he had in defining his character on his own terms.
After his last battle in Korea, when he was in the hospital in Japan one of the orderlies was a former Imperial Japanese Army corporal. After hearing why dad was in the hospital and the fortitude he showed, the once corporal gave dad his sword. I brought this (sword) along in celebration of my father's courage. I also wanted to take a few minutes to emphasize the ground rules and consequences for the open mike portion of the evening. My father abhorred firearms violence, but who doesn't love a samurai movie?
After the war, Dad decided to become a pacifist. This had always been a mysterious decision to me. Having argued with my father from infancy at almost every opportunity, I never viewed his nature as "pacific". Within the context of a man in active, intelligent struggle to define his own identity, this decision makes an absolute sense. Having explored the capacity of violence to accomplish worthwhile contribution to his character, and found it wanting, dad turned away from it. In much the same way as that hospital orderly had given up his sword as part of his decision to be a healer, my father decided to give up violence in order to accomplish something better.
In pacifism, my father found compelling resonances and tremendous room for growth as a decent loving man. More than that, in pacifism he found a way to break the cycle of anger in his own heart. To be a pacifist means more than not using violence as a tool to accomplish change. To be a pacifist means to commit to overcoming the causes of violence with principle and decency. Pacifism gave my father a way to help others stop being victims without causing additional victims along the way. He found another way to keep the faith. He found a way to not look inward in despair and instead look outward to accomplish.
For myself, I am here to celebrate some particular gifts from my father. I did not get a car for graduation from high school…or college either, now that I think about it. Where was I? Oh yes, I supposed to be grateful for some thing. Now I have it. I was trained not to be a victim. I was given unconditional support to study honestly and come to my own conclusions. Defending those conclusions became a…special…tradition for our family afterwards. But I learned from him how to argue earnestly and love the arguer, despite their manifold intellectual shortcomings. The last time I saw my father, we argued quite vigorously, but comfortably for us. Afterwards we watched a ball game and talked about our comfort with our intense discussions and the peculiar terror that gripped people who observed those chats.
I would also like to celebrate my father's gift of commitment to serve honorably. It is difficult to explain to strangers who never met him how important that gift is.
Finally, I want to celebrate Tom Lasswell's decision to never take his children to a riot. I mean that literally. Dad was willing to risk the police brutality of the genuinely brutal police of the 1960's himself to exercise his first amendment right to assemble peaceably. He never risked his children getting stampeded to make the six o'clock news. Even though we asked to go, the message was more important to him than the noise, and his family was more important than the message. He did not settle for a protest when he could find something to accomplish. In my final analysis, that is surely the measure of a great man.