By Joseph Z.
If one word could summarize my father, it would be the deceptively simple title of “American.” As a boy fresh in his teen years, he sheltered his sister from their violently alcoholic mother, all while attending school where he could not participate in gym for lack of money to buy proper shoes. He was the first in his family to attend college, working every free hour to pay his way. By the time he married and I and my brother entered his life, he owned his own accounting business with multiple offices . . .
I remember a man who worked long hours to strengthen his business, yet was never too exhausted to for early morning walks with his young sons before another Saturday at work. I remember a man who sacrificed for his family but kept such a cheerful countenance that only as an adult did I realize all he gave for us. I remember a man who loved his country and the life he built here so much that his repeated stories of American exceptionalism rang with unmistakable sincerity.
He never let me shirk responsibility or hard work, nor did he allow me to forget that my potential would be wasted or achieved by my own hand. Integrity and honesty were not just words to him, they were a way of life. While cynics decried the American Dream as dead, my father rose each day as proof of its life. This country does not guarantee everyone success, he would say, but it does guarantee everyone the right to pursue it. You haven’t failed until you give in.
But for all he taught me about my native land, the subject of the Second Amendment or firearms as a whole never came up. We were New Jersey residents and we didn’t hunt.
Through college and beyond, my father’s success drove me to reach for what I wanted out of life and the lessons of his humble roots kept me grounded in logic and reason as to how I might achieve it. Though my father had always been a larger than life man ever since I was able to toddle, I never felt like I was under pressure to follow in his footsteps. He guided me but let me choose my own path, always urging me to seek my own passions. What else could one expect from a man who taught his sons that they could be anything they worked to be?
So while I never felt I had to live up to his success, I always wanted to make him proud of me, as sons tend to do. That didn’t mean having the fattest wallet or biggest house, but rather being a man of honor and integrity who ensured the world was a better place for him having lived in it.
Though I began to mature under my father’s influence, I became the man I am today starting in Pennsylvania.
At first, I was mildly interested and perhaps even amused by the idea of gun ownership. It was such an irrelevant concept in my family that I’d never even considered the possibility. My breath was taken away when I first laid my eyes upon the firearms section of the Hamburg Cabelas. I felt wrong just being there, and I actually asked of my gun-owning friend, “Is this legal?” He was patient and walked me through my first purchase, the first of many to come.
As I walked from the store, hard black plastic case in hand, I imagine my smile was akin to the one that always adorned my father’s face when he spoke of what America meant to him. I never felt more American than I did that day, not because I was holding a shiny new gun (okay, maybe that was part of it), but because I’d been introduced to a side of American freedom I never knew existed.
I was quickly hooked and within a year, I had a range membership, conceal carry license, several new guns, and became a stalwart follower of many firearms-related sites and blogs. During that time, I’d become well acquainted with the grimmer side of gun ownership and Second Amendment advocacy. I saw that not every American values the Constitution. Not every American forms opinions based on logic and reason.
I realized that the Second Amendment was not just about guns, but rather the freedom implicit in an armed citizenry. I found that I as a gun owner was the target of hatred due to heinous acts committed by others and that civil rights were only as secure as people allowed them to be. I learned that there is a stark difference between being American by birth and American in spirit. The America my father loved, the nation I’d loved and had only just begun to truly, deeply appreciate was one that needed protecting.
Months ago, as the Obama administration was preparing its package of gun control bills, I brought the subject up to my father in casual conversation, figuring that I would just find a sympathetic voice and like-minded respite. Instead, his brow furrowed and he growled how beneficial these slights against gun rights were. No one needed an “assault rifle” or “high capacity clips.” This was all “common sense.” I could only stare with a slack jaw as one mass media talking point after another tumbled from my father’s mouth, the mouth of a man who consumed world history books as quickly as the book store could stock them and who lived his whole life as a classic conservative.
So often as a young adult, I’d conceded contentious points of debate to him, respecting my father’s wisdom or simply lacking the conviction in an opinion to stand my ground. But that night, we exchanged hot words and I did not concede. As often results from debates on gun control, no minds were changed.
True to my father’s nature, he ensured that we did not part ways without a hearty hug and he called the next day for calmer, lighter conversation. Though the argument is behind us, I wonder sometimes if he sees me differently as I do him; not as less of a man, but with a little crack in the pedestal he’d occupied in my mind. But occupy that pedestal he still does, because while my American Dream may include other facets of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, my father’s Dream of a good life for his children, the ability to help those around him, and the love of family is one I aspire to as well.
Funny enough, I know that even if I’m wearing my 1911 on my hip when I get there, my father will be the first one to clap me on the back. And if, in the future, my father continues to lament the stance I’ve taken regarding the Second Amendment, I’ll smile and remind him that I’m merely being who he raised me to be: honest, rational, and unashamedly American.
I believe he’d smile back.