YOUR IMPECCABLE CHARACTER SHAPED MY DECISIONS IN LIFE

Dear Dad:

This is my letter of gratitude. To share with you that my decisions in life are largely because of your nurturing. As well they are from my nature – some also from you, some from mom and some from those that came before you. You were an incredible father who so positively influenced me to be a better person throughout my life. 

So much of who I am and the choices that I make are because of you. I attribute my upbringing to so many things that have helped me to achieve success, peace, meaningful relationships and be an effective contributor to others. 

My confidence, my giving nature, my deep appreciation and care for animals, my understanding that you take care of the land it takes care of you, that people are good, that starting with trust is not a fault, that humor helps us connect with each other, and that I can do anything I set my mind to, are all things that I value from your nurturing.

It comes at this time of our country’s election that I feel compelled to share with you how the link to your character informed my choices in politics this year.

WHO YOU ARE AND HOW YOU LIVED, HELPED SHAPE ME THE MOST

Work Ethic

You would call yourself a simple man living a simple life. And I agree, simply real, without an expectation that you deserved more or different, and with deep gratitude for everything you had earned or received. Nothing more.You would self-deprecatingly joke about being dense, having gone to school at age four and then skipping kindergarten since you were the only one, and having only gone to trade school. Yet you would take great pride in being able to build anything and fix anything. Anything. You loved your job as a mechanic laureling in both learning from colleagues and teaching them in the Ford Garage in Las Vegas and then on the ranch with hired hands.

Your ethic for work may have been over the top for some, but it was the thing that centered you in the world. You were most happy when you were working the land, often with a horse or cow involved, for your own provision or to support another land-owner. You would work 12-14 hours a day and then enjoy a meal telling jokes, recounting and retelling (and retelling) stories that made you laugh so hard you could hardly tell them. You would engage others in helping you work, both for their benefit of learning and an income, as well as a benefit to you getting more done. You didn’t like to ask for help or receive help but you did like to help others learn so this was how help. happened for you. With hired help, you would trust that they had the work ethic and they often would rise to that level of belief. It was normal that you would take care of any number of a variety of animals, work on machinery that had broken down (and you fixed everything), teach others that were helping you while you did this, and then support your wife and kids with whatever projects they had. During calving season you would sleep in your chair in your clothes so you could check and assist any new mother with a difficult birth. 

You (and Mom) were entrepreneurial, idea people. You were developers of others. You started five businesses spanning 40+ years and helped your kids start their own businesses. You employed many people to help you, teaching them life skills and providing for their income to get a leg up.  You would fully engage in the process of ideation, design, creation and prototyping. Then you would sell your product or service. Along the way of creation to production, you would build lasting relationships that you would call friends.

Being Resourceful

Whatever you did, you did so, fully. You would establish a new life in Nebraska on a homestead ranch of Mom’s Grandmother, noting to me from an early age, what a wonderful place to raise a family. You took pride in this decision, more of an evolution of your life. Pride in the cattle that would sustain you and force you to live on twice-a-year payments. Whose value would oscillate but we would not feel the squeeze because we used every piece of equipment ‘until it died.’ Buying ‘used’ was the first option. There was no internet, no CraigsList, no Google. Just some community trade magazines and friends of friends. Learning, doing, managing all came from resourcefulness, friends, family, the occasional magazine but mostly from intuition and trial and error. You modeled this frugality and resourcefulness to me. You would have tribulations, some causing great harm. You would get back up and go again. And again. Never commenting that the world was against you, only that you might do it different next time. 

Giving

Your level of giving was always completely selfless. Others would say you were ‘giving to a fault’. But your consistency of giving meant that others could rely on you. For. Anything. As well you had the peace of mind that you had done everything in your power for anyone in need, and without judgement. You never thought you were superior to another person. Or had more or deserved more.You loaned equipment to neighbors and friends at a moment’s notice ensuring they would not be held up or out a bunch of cash for what was often a one-time or quick project. Yet you didn’t ever ask what they were doing or why, you just gave. 

At your funeral a young man shared with me how inclusive you were to his dad and how that left a lasting impression on his mind. That you were never above anyone. That any person had as much say as you did. 

Integrity

From this you imparted honesty and trust. To always speak the truth and believe others will as well. To trust. And even if that trust was betrayed, you held any judgement and just moved on. You knew that their lack of integrity resided with them. You taught me this as my honorable example. I recall a business challenge where you conveyed the rent was too high and the other party confirmed a reduction. Later, when our business was finally cash-flowing, they would pretend that verbal transaction did not occur and threaten to sue you for back rent. We were forced to close the business. The other party was then left with a property that they could not re-lease and lost the only good tenant in a decade. I recall the vivid memory of telling this mister, that he had taken advantage of your trust and would never meet a business partner with as much integrity. In a way we all lost. I learned the value of a person’s word and pride associated with honesty. Even if you have to walk away.

Adventure

You loved adventure and taught me to love one as well. In organizing photos for your tribute, I recounted with so much joy and pride, your travels from New York to Florida, to Texas, to California, all states surrounding your home of Nebraska, to Utah, to Arizona, to Alaska, to Canada, to Australia and to India to meet your son-in-law’s family. In each place you retold (and retold) stories of the people who were with you on your adventures. It wasn’t the things or the places but the people and animals (and often the machines…..cars, equipment, gear.) When you met son-in-law’s grandfather, you ate your first (and only) meal of authentic Indian curry while engaging in heart-rich stories of G.B.’s life and his animated appreciation for stories of yours. In the car leaving his home in Delhi, you would be overcome with emotion as you reconciled how similar his character was to your own father. 

My own adventures would begin with a trip to Spain to visit the exchange student that you and mom sponsored for a year. It was a rare thing for a rural family to want to sponsor an international student, especially for this length of time and a rare thing that a student would want to experience the life we had. Most (including ours) sought New York or Los Angeles. This trip would spark an ember in me for travel, for connection to other cultures and appreciation for diverse thinking, diverse living and diverse beings. I would become an expat in Australia for two years and you would come visit. I would meet an Indian (from India; not the Lakota Reservation where you would lease land long term to grow alfalfa,) and would marry him. You would completely welcome him into our family with love, humor and acceptance. 

Care for Land & Animals

You took pride in working a ranch that wasn’t yours, that was leased from Mom’s side, for over four decades. You took pride in caring for the Sandhills not as if they had been given to you. But for the opposite. Because they had not and you knew that they are and will always be fragile. You recounted to me the stories of hundreds of years previous to our living in the special spot in the world, that it was a special terrain and why. I grew up with pride in where I lived. A 100 year old house with horrible windows, a floor furnace that heated only parts of the house, mice in the ceilings and a cellar full of moisture with happy spiders to ‘guard’ all of our preserves! 

You helped me see the land as something to take care of. To think long-term about it. That certain things went in the trash and certain things did not. That water was not to be wasted, even though we had a well. That everything had a price. Even the tons and tons of hay we would cut and stack every year for the cattle. That we could grow everything we needed, can it, preserve it, freeze it. (A lot of this came from Mom but you were her primary partner in creating the space in which to do it all. And the primary taster and cheerleader of home-grown, home-cooked food.)

You imparted to me a respect for others, the animals and the Earth. Fostering a close relationship with Grandad, your Father, whom you would involve in any opportunity to work a horse. You respected his expertise as a horse-whisperer, creating opportunities for me to learn while you did. Grandad would become another man I would look up to. That I would go to for clarifying my many questions, for helping me with my horses and for taking care of us when needed. I respected him and all of my grandparents as much as I did you and mom. ​​​​​​​This is because of your expectation and practice that I come to know them. That I spend time with them and they be trusted to parent me as needed. 

I learned that taking care of animals and people meant that they could take care of each other and me, and provide for what was needed. Baby anything was something to be nurtured. From calves, to chicks, to turtles, to ducks, to racoons, to puppies and to the many many kittens. I was riding my own Welsh pony from the age of two. Often by myself, out of sight of the home ranch. I recall the autonomy I had in getting Rusty saddled (or go bareback), to make him walk (not run) toward the barn and to create my own adventures that would last hours. You trusted that I would be fine because of the many hours of horse-time I had daily with you and grandad. 

Respect

You supported mom with anything and everything she wanted to do. And she did a lot. You didn’t just support, you encouraged her. You got involved yourself. You built wooden crates to hold the Sandhills Salsa jars for the gift packaging of Sandhills Ranch Products. You made a disco ball shaped like a boot for Bootscoot’n Country Supper Club. You prepared picture perfect (and flavor filled) meals for many guests at the Bunkhouse Bed & Breakfast when mom had to be at her hospital director job. You would sit by her side for the 18-month battle for her life after a surgical error. You would drive 400 miles each way, from home to Omaha, multiple times per month, to support the possibility that the Nebraska Medical Center could rectify this error. We would never hear you complain about any of this or show any anger. Only guilt for not influencing this medical matriarch’s initial care in a different way. 

It is from work ethic and engaging others in shared projects, often with land and animals dependent, that you modeled a complete lack of bias or preference. You treated everyone the same, with the same opportunity to work – succeed or fail. Not once did I witness you being punitive or demeaning. You didn’t adjust your expectations for females over males. You did approach females with utmost respect and asked before assuming anything. You would note you were traditional in your own beliefs and were chivalrous. 

Community

You were always involved in your community. From the cattlemen’s association, to ranching associations and religious affiliations. Mom likely influenced your affiliation with the Presbyterian Church. Your mother was a devout Christian and I don’t recall ever seeing grandad in a church. Your church was really the land, the cattle, the horses. So often your church would be our church and the building in town would be without our voices on many occasion; tithing extra at the next service. Your reverence for a christian service, a wedding, a funeral, was always clearly defferant to those being revered or honored. Your mother would take me with her to summer bible school. I would stay with grandma and grandad for a week in town. My primary time outside of bible school would be with Tracey and Sherry, whose mother was a church member. They were adopted. Lakota girls in a white world. I don’t recall identifying any differences about them. Only that they wanted to play with me. And they were more confident about things like the big grocery store, or the streets, or the berries on the trees in the high school yard. If it were not for grandma’s church affiliation and your trust of my time with this learning, I would not have become friends with humans different, culturally, from me. 

You affiliated as a Republican your entire life. You believed that the party stood by you and you stood by the party. You fully trusted the process of a candidate elect being representative of the party. This Boomer attribute of being committed and loyal is prevalent across more than politics. It is true for friendships, business dealings, and religious beliefs. Few things happened to upend this continuity of party loyalty. 

Grandad would affiliate as a Democrat, his entire life. He believed similarly about the party as you did yours. What is remarkable is that you were very similar men with very similar if not same values. It was not so remarkable not so many years ago when the Democrat and the Republican were more similar than they were different. As when the Iowa Democrats were more similar to the Nebraska Republicans, to illustrate. It would have been hard to know the difference between a set of folks in each group. Some might lean more socially liberal and some might lean more fiscally conservative but generally there was significant overlap. Especially in the plains states. 

YOUR INFLUENCE INTO MY MAJOR LIFE DECISIONS

Being around ideas, bringing them to fruition, learning how to help a baby calf or it’s mother, taking the land and producing from it’s resources enhanced my curiosity and gave me a deep agency. That I have taken with me from the time I left home and am still appreciating and navigating today.  

As a loyal Nebraskan, I was grateful to leave home (except for Summers) and receive admission to the University of Nebraska – Lincoln. You were proud of me trekking across the state to become a Cornhusker. Your love of college football and near heart-attacks every televised game, significantly influenced my decision to stay in Nebraska, to go to Lincoln. There I was exposed to a firehose of experiences. To diverse people, challenges and beliefs. I experienced my first cult church (and then another one), complexity in relationships with boys (not yet men) and also met friends that would become like sisters to me. It was all of the experiences, trust, and agency that was developed in me that would guide me into becoming my own person. I would openly try new churches only to find out they might be a cult. I would need basic medical care and learned that the easiest, most caring and supportive (and economical) place would be Planned Parenthood. I would be betrayed by friends, run out of money, pick the wrong major, and I could always call home. 

I have voted since I was old enough to vote, 18. Thanks to your guidance. It was a given that I would register to vote within days of turning 18. Like you, and mom, I affiliated with the Republican party. I believed in fiscal responsibility and social conservatism.

Over time, starting in Lincoln and evolving in Dallas and Sydney, I would clearly become Independent, changing my affiliation to this. I remain fiscally moderate and socially more liberal. I mostly wanted the freedom in process and my heart to vote for the person not the party. This became so clear when I wanted to vote for fiscal measure that would empower free market-based results and entrepreneurship but also vote for the rights of people who need representation or community services to support them – the social needs of our community. 

From my travels and living in different parts of the world, I have come to know amazing people. They are not white, they are not from my same socio-economic status (many have less) and they are not defined by a binary gender system but instead by LGBTQIA. I have never believed that anyone would chose a life where being different meant discrimination; and as a Christian know that it is not my or any human’s place to judge. 

Because of your non-judgement, I hope to never judge; sometimes I fail. You modeled a complete lack of judgement and to never thought of yourself as superior. 

MY OPENNESS TODAY IS THE CULMINATION OF BEING RAISED BY A MAN OF CHARACTER

I’ve been wrestling with confusion regarding this year’s presidential election. Mostly for the wonderful people like you who have always been ‘ok’ voting your party. Your party has provided good to great representation. 

I’ve struggled with how to connect the dots between your character and integrity and the lack of character and integrity of so many of our nationally elected leaders. Even those that are affiliated with the party you are affiliated with. How can it be that there is so much difference between how you live your life and how those we elect to represent the free world  live theirs?  

I’ve also been struggling to understand how what was true during my childhood and young adulthood is not true today. I admire you and respect your affiliations, decisions and the way in which you live your life so fully. I wonder if the things that defined your political values across your life have shifted? I wonder if on the continuum of your beliefs, you have remained steadfast but those representing you have moved down the continuum beyond what even you would tolerate? I wonder if you would think it is ok, and even strong, to not vote the party line and instead vote for the person that is the least bad in this world of limited options? 

Having been a registered Republican more of my voting life than not, I have seen the shift. 

Think of a 12-inch ruler. At the end with 1 (or the left side) the color is deep dark blue and at the end with 12 the color is deep dark red (the right side.) As the colors cross at number 6, red and blue mix and create purple. At number 5 the color is a purplish royal blue and at the number 7 the color is a purplish apple red. 

According to the principles of conservatism when you were a young man, and throughout your adult life, you would have placed yourself at 8. Grandad would have placed himself at 5. Because historically each side has represented half of the ruler, this shift by our elected leaders no longer represents your values. Because we all think of this as one big bucket of blue or red, conservative or liberal and pour all of the defining elements into each bucket, we feel like we are forced to associate with the bucket instead of the attributes along the ruler.

Keeping with this metaphor, if a leader’s position puts them at 5 today and you have historically been between 7 and 8, then that leader, albeit on the blue side of the ruler would be closer to your values than the leader who is on the red side but sitting at 11 on red scale. Your views and Grandad’s were more similar than different because your political values were only a few apart. My political views are more closely represented by any leader who is at or between 4 and 7. I am a registered independent; I got tired of watching the colors get more deep and dark and decided to disassociate with either. 

The polarization of the two parties is more extreme today than it was when you were first affiliating and across the majority of your voting years. I don’t recall a debate, let alone an argument, in our family across political party lines. I don’t recall there being any judgment either. 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Left%E2%80%93right_political_spectrum

Today’s representatives of conservatism (not all of them but those in key positions), through their actions, have positioned themselves at 9-12 and the representatives of liberalism position themselves at 1-3. You don’t associate with many of the views of those that sit at 10-12, deep dark red to gray (offo the red scale.) Grandad definitely did not associate with many of the views of those that sit at 1-3, deep dark blue (off the blue scale.) So your party, via the president, and many (not all) officials are not representing your values. 

Now the situation is serious; and requires strong leadership to bridge people and put us back into the position of a country to emulate. We are currently viewed as weak, lacking in strong leadership and a joke by our former international allies. Those countries we have always sought strong ties with.

The actions of extremist groups are usually what you would read about in a third world country. Yet our country has torture, death, discrimination and harm from extreme positions, every day. Our country has never been in this state of civil unrest.

WHEN A PARTY FAILS YOU, YOUR INFLUENCES HELP ME TO DECIDE TO VOTE THE PERSON

I never talked to you about what happens when the party fails you or if it had. It feels to me that the party is failing you and those like you Dad. Good, hard-working, God-fearing people that live a simple, caring life to provide for family and others. Farmers, ranchers, tradesmen and women, and the many people living below the poverty line in our county in Nebraska. Isn’t the conservative party creating a marketplace where people are thriving, based on their trade, and building their work with their hands, brains and hearts? How come more people are unable to make a living than before? Why are people living on so little per month? The leaders of the conservative have failed to focus on the balance of helping hard-working people with the right support.

You have been loyal with unchanging values aligned to fiscal responsibility and social conservatism that includes giving to those in need, and taking care of the land. Grandad was able to be loyal to his unchanging values and did not see his party fail him. But it too is failing its members. 

With all of this confidence, worldly experience and agency in my life, I know it is ok to not vote the party. I wish I could unshackle the ties of party loyalty that is binding so many people as wonderful as you with as strong of character. We are so far from the reality of who is representing us in our party affiliation. We can only know them through what we read or what is reported and this is full of revenue-based bias – ‘what will sell?’ and ‘what will create an emotional reaction?’

The current president of the United States is the opposite of you dad. He lacks consistency, he is entitled, flippant, emotionally charged and believes he is superior. The other candidate isn’t you either. But he is more like you than the president. He stands for values that are closer to yours. I know the alternative, a Democrat has been defined by the liberal media as a socialist. He is far from that as his is vice presidential candidate. Those with socialist views had to concede that their person was not elected. So they have very boldly moved to support the the Democrat. That does not mean his leadership will serve their platforms. He has proven through leadership with a former president that he has friends and makes decisions from a bi-partisan position. Our country needs that. 

If your mother were to be casting a vote this election, she would most certainly agree with Billy Graham’s granddaughter who urged evangelicals to not support the current president. She would have gained perspective from multiple news sources including CBS Evening News and would understand that the republican ticket does not uphold the Christian morals that she based her entire life around. That saying you are evangelical does not get you to heaven. It is your actions. She wouldn’t like the alternative and may chose not to vote. I bet she would vote for the Democrat to ensure that our country can recover from the intense level of hate that is pervasive in all communities.

And we know grandad would vote his party this year. And we know why. We know it is ok to acknowledge that your party failed you and know that this lack of integrity does not define you. Especially if you chose to vote against it. If not this election, the next one. I hope all people can get to a place of voting for the person, not the party. This polarization with extreme views is not going away anytime soon. We have to hope that candidates want the job and can associate with the middle of the ruler more than the ends. 

Thank you for giving me so much love, support, encouragement and for modeling how to live. Thank you for staying true to your values always. I hope to stay true to mine, built from yours. 

In loving memory of my dad Clyde September 1942 – September 2020. Lymphoma front line soldier.

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