Thursday, June 18, 2009

Happy Fathers' Day

My father died a long time ago and i still miss him. Dad was a man of deep convictions and fervent likes and dislikes. He was a strong Democrat. No, I mean STRONG! (This photo was taken in 1971 with our son Timothy.)

But his convictions arose from having been poor, misunderstood, abused as a kid and abused by employers as an adult. At an early age, maybe 20, he lost two and a half fingers off his right hand in a manufacturing accident while working in Chicago. To hear him retell the story a million times the company wasn't very concerned with his pain or problems just the fact that his machine was idle for some time. Efficiency!

I crossed a picket line once. Just once. I was about nine and wandered across the picket line set up to protest unjust practices at a retail store in the County Seat, Mt. Vernon. We lived in the village of Ina, pop 300 just ten mils straight south from the city.

When dad was told by a man on the picket line that his second son had brazenly walked across that line Dad's shame rose up like the great speckled bird and descended upon my head like a hawk.

"Don't you know better than to cross a picket line? What's the matter with you boy? Have you lost your mind? All those men and women on that line SAW you. You sashayed across that line like you owned that scab store and made a fool out of me and my family.

Coming from a Union Family I had no excuse. I was supposed to have been as knowledgeable about union affairs as John L. Lewis, the head of the United Mine Workers. Being only nine and not thinking like a striking union man was a short cut to hell and my dad would have sent me there with a quick dispatch. So, I decided that becoming a deaf mute with a "face to the ground" look on my face was the best bet.

"Can't you hear me boy?! Explain yourself! Speak up!"

Dad did not really mean for me to speak up because there was no defense for being stupid and blind. Any nine year old kid from a union family would smell a strike for miles and I walked or sashayed right across the picket line like I owned the place.

So, silent shame was the best punishment. I prayed for a beating or a month in jail rather than the look of exasperation and complete shame in my dad's face and voice. Would we Sweetens ever be able to hold our heads up in public again? Had I so humiliated the Sweeten Clan that people would start whispering that we were secret REPUBLICANS?

What drastic penance would be demanded, silently of course, from our clan? Shame faced depression for two decades might assuage the guilt but to show just how callous I was a nine I never learned what price dad had to pay for my sin. So, I was forced to leave southern Illinois and come to Ohio where no one knows of my families generational sins. They are safely left behind.

Gary Sweeten

PS Please don't ask my brothers about this infamous affair lest it cause them to redouble their political activities for the Socialist Workers' Party.


Vicar of Vincennes said...

You sound like it you still bear wounds from the affair.

Gary Sweeten said...

Maybe, but still trying to understand my roots. The next post explains my values more expansively.

I had no excuse for walking over a picket line. I was not paying attention and I embarrassed dad and my entire family.