Several years ago on Memorial Day, while placing flags at the markers of fallen heroes, I would realize just how profoundly important the old adage of actions speaking louder than words truly is.

My daughter was a Daisy Scout at the time. We had volunteered to be a part of a larger group of scouts set to place flags in a local cemetery. When we were the only ones to show up, my daughter looked at me in confusion and quite honestly, with a fear of burden in her eyes. “Dad, how are we going to put all of these flags in the ground?” I knew I was at a crucial moment in her life to turn worry into clarity. “One at a time, sweetheart, just like these heroes did for us,” I told her.

As we started to move along, I would pause occasionally to reflect on the names and dates of the heroes laid to rest here. And after each flag was placed, I would offer a salute. While this was instinctive for me, I had a moment of even greater pride and humility when I saw my young daughter stop to do the same. From that point on, we would talk about their sacrifices and what that meant for our freedom.

It was in this moment that her patriotism was born, but greater than that, her respect for both herself and others.

My daughter and I are very close. Her mother and I divorced when she was only six years old. I was determined to make certain that she never question my love and dedication to her as a father. We would start an early tradition of going for long hikes in the beautiful Wisconsin wilderness. I’d teach her about the world around us, and she’d remind me of the humility in a child’s innocent perspective.

More than the miles in our boots or the lessons in survival, we were establishing trust and discussing the importance of being resourceful, rational, and practical. She’d learn the tangible benefit of using shadows to tell direction and time of day, but it was the intangible benefit of confidence and self-reliance that was the real lesson gained.

From an early age, my daughter would experience respect for the world around her while also learning that she was empowered to make her own choices to survive and succeed. She would learn that effort equals reward, and she would understand the value of that effort and achievement.

Just recently, many years later, my daughter would introduce me to the world of “furries” when telling me about an incident at school where a peer got in trouble for pulling on a classmate’s tail. “Tail,” I said, puzzled. That’s when I’d learn a bit about the world of people identifying as animals and dressing as such. Although not surprised this happens, I was taken aback that it would be a circumstance inside of the school. Especially when another student was reprimanded because the furry claimed their tail was their hind end and as such, the peer who grabbed it was grabbing their butt.

I made a comment about it being ridiculous, and quite honestly absurd. In quick response from what was undoubtedly the PC-conditioning that happens in schools now, my daughter would say, “It’s not a big deal.” She would go on to suggest that it’s just what that person likes.

From enduring many thousands of counterproductive conversations online, I knew that attacking the premise of this wouldn’t get the point across. I would need to paint a perspective that made my daughter the center of that attention for a moment. “You dance a lot, right?” (She’s a competitive dancer for her school and a local studio). “Of course, dad. Every night of the week.” She seemed baffled until I said to her, “You love to dance. What would it be like for your classmates if you wore one of your dance costumes to school everyday and spent the day dancing in the classroom and down the halls?” She laughed and said that would be ridiculous. Bingo!

It was a simple conversation from that point, because we could tap back into the values of self awareness that were rooted years earlier during our hikes. She would understand that while it’s something she loves and identifies with, not everyone shares that purview and the greater periphery of it is less about personal expression and more about not becoming a distraction to the greater social group’s goals in that environment.

When she was only nine years old, I would teach her to shoot for the first time. We spent many long hours talking about gun safety and the function of firearms before she was even allowed to hold an unloaded one. Weeks, in fact. It wasn’t until she could recite from memory the safe handling and operation of a firearm that I even let her touch one.

Her first experience shooting was one of intimidation, of course. I could see that she felt somewhat uncomfortable so we didn’t push it. I wanted her to have an understanding and respect for firearms and that was achieved.

Proficiency would eventually happen. Many months later she would want to try again. Today, she loves to go shooting with me and has quite honestly become a pretty amazing shot. More importantly, she’s a determined and confident young lady. This, as every lesson and interaction with her, was about awareness.

I don’t hesitate to say that my daughter is more empowered, more in-touch with her identity, and more aware of her surroundings than any woman marching down the street pumping their fist in a polyester vagina suit.

So what makes her a patriot? It’s not the time in the wilderness, at the shooting range, or during the many nights we spend stargazing beneath an illuminated American flag. A teenager now, it’s deeper than that. It’s the value of appreciation for what we have. It’s the value of appreciation for the reward of hard work. It’s about having self awareness, independent confidence, and valuing the cost of freedom. It’s about humility.

Mostly, it’s the engagement between a father and a daughter. It’s taking the time to explain life and to try to set examples by actions. It’s sharing wisdom but also sharing the meaning of that wisdom. It’s putting intangible values into tangible actions that one’s child can proudly emulate. Our American heritage, our patriotism, is in the fundamental and traditional life values that we pass onto our children.

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