Friday, January 23, 2009

Moving Letter from One Set of Presidential Daughters to Another

Earlier this week, the staff of the Today show (after similar stories by outlets like CNN) was made aware of a letter written to Malia and Sasha Obama by Barbara and Jenna Bush, who talked about life in the White House and the relationship with their father and gave advice on adjusting to their new life as part of an exclusive club. As the father of two small daughtesr of my own, it moved me to tears (probably the only time that Meredith Vieira and I will get emotional about the same thing).

I wanted to share it with you here; the letter is entitled, "Playing House in the White House."

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Taking to the Streets

No, not in the sense of causing a riot, but more just to witness how much quieter Washington has become since yesterday (it's amazing how quickly 2 million people can just fade away). During my lunch hour today, I took our intern and went walking down around the White House (conveniently located just three blocks from the office) so that she could see it for the first time -- and so that I could see what was going on with the man on the street.

Heading down to Pennsylvania Avenue and cutting across by the reviewing stand, I was amazed to find the crowd of folks mingling around the home was still pretty sizable -- even though the most exciting thing to watch was the crews already hard at work tearing apart the stand, the media platform, and all of the bleachers. The view of the north front of the White House was difficult to see because of everything blocking the view, but there were still a few points at the gates to the drive where you could slide up to the fence and peer through. I think a lot of the folks were hoping for a glimpse of the new First Couple, and who knows: maybe they would have gotten one later on. For the team being, they were still just reveling in the moment.

The walk took us down 15th Street and around to the South Lawn, where there was also a good number of people angling for the souvenir photographs with the White House as the backdrop. Unlike other visits, though, where folks have tended to be a bit pushy in trying to get to the fence, everyone was exceptionally polite and accommodating. And all of them were still glowing over the events that brought them to the city to begin with, and several were just lingering in the area, taking photo after photo -- seemingly afraid to stop for fear that everything would end up being a dream.

It really is a remarkable time to be in this city, and it will be fascinating to see what happens in the days and weeks ahead -- and whether our new President gets out and about in the Nation's Capital as much as people are hoping...

Monday, January 19, 2009

A Few Thoughts on This Inauguration Day

Eight years ago today, and again four years ago today, I was one of the tens of thousands who ventured onto the grounds of the United States Capitol (with prized tickets in hand) to witness history as President Bush took the oath of office. Both were extremely exciting events and it was an honor for me and A. (she attended the 2001 inaugural with me) to be able to witness the ceremony and the continuation of a tradition that started with George Washington in 1789.

Today, the tradition will be continued as Barack Obama takes the oath of office and begins his four-year term as president. This time, I won't be out on the Capitol grounds or on the National Mall -- not because I don't think this is historic, but because it's a lot more difficult contending with two million people than it is with just 300,000. No, this year we'll be watching from our comfortable and heated den as power is transferred peacefully from one administration to another. Having been there, though, I get some sense of the excitement the men, women and children who have been crowded into Washington since before dawn are feeling to be a part of a historic event.

But there's a lot more to the excitement to which I will never fully be able to relate. Obama's inaugural marks more for so many people than just a simple handover of power; it marks a massive racial and generational step forward that even forty years ago was almost unthinkable. I don't think that anyone present for Dr. King's speech at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963 could in their wildest dreams imagine that a young African-American -- not much older than Dr. King was on that August day -- would return to the steps of that memorial just 46 years later to give a speech, not as a minister or politician but as the president-elect of the United States. Even one of my heroes, John Lewis, one of the icons of the Civil Rights movement, still seems stunned by how far this country has come, and how quickly it has done it. (One of the best Capitol Hill newspapers, Politico, ran a great story about Lewis in today's edition: "A 'Down Payment' on the Dream.")

The generational change is more apparent to me. In fact, I've seen this change at work for a few years; it was always a sign to me of getting older that, while working in the House of Representatives, I saw more members of Congress and many more staffers who were nearly a decade younger than me. After getting over the shock of recognizing that I was getting older and that politics was getting younger, I also recognized how far we've come since the days of the Sam Rayburns and the Tip O'Neills and the Dwight Eisenhowers, days when you couldn't be taken seriously as a politician or a leader if you didn't have the age and experience to reinforce the perception that you should in fact be in charge. I get a sense of how the young voters of the 1960s felt when John Kennedy was elected, that they were finally being represented by someone who understood them and was one of them (in terms of generation, not money).

I did not vote for Barack Obama, but I took the time to look at him and his candidacy. The photo above, which regular readers of this blog will recognize, was taken at a rally I attended at American University in January of last year (the day he was endorsed by Ted Kennedy). On that day, when nearly 30,000 people crowded into back-to-back events at that college, I got a glimpse of the excitement that Obama was generating -- not just among black Americans, young Americans, or Democrats, but across all racial, political and generational lines.

Today, I have moved beyond watching Obama as a Republican or as an opponent; today, I will be watching as an American hopeful that things will be better for his daughters in the future. I will be watching on television with my daughters as they experience for the first time the peaceful transfer of power from one president to another. I will try and answer the questions that I know my oldest will inevitably ask about the day. And I will watch the faces of the men and women, young and old, black and white, who have traveled from near and far, from the United States and from overseas, as they celebrate the change in their lives and in the life of the country.

The election is over, and it is time to once again try and come together. I have friends and acquaintances who want Obama to fail -- little recognizing that if he fails, the country fails. There will be time enough to try and seat a new president in four years; until then, I think we should keep in mind the words of Bishop Gene Robinson from the invocation he delivered at the Lincoln Memorial just a few days ago:

... God, we give you thanks for your child Barack, as he assumes the office of President of the United States.

Give him wisdom beyond his years, and inspire him with Lincoln’s reconciling leadership style, President Kennedy’s ability to enlist our best efforts, and Dr. King’s dream of a nation for ALL the people.

Give him a quiet heart, for our Ship of State needs a steady, calm captain in these times.

Give him stirring words, for we will need to be inspired and motivated to make the personal and common sacrifices necessary to facing the challenges ahead.

Make him color-blind, reminding him of his own words that under his leadership, there will be neither red nor blue states, but the United States.

Help him remember his own oppression as a minority, drawing on that experience of discrimination, that he might seek to change the lives of those who are still its victims.

Give him the strength to find family time and privacy, and help him remember that even though he is president, a father only gets one shot at his daughters’ childhoods.

And please, God, keep him safe. We know we ask too much of our presidents, and we’re asking FAR too much of this one. We know the risk he and his wife are taking for all of us, and we implore you, O good and great God, to keep him safe. Hold him in the palm of your hand – that he might do the work we have called him to do, that he might find joy in this impossible calling, and that in the end, he might lead us as a nation to a place of integrity, prosperity and peace.


Sunday, January 04, 2009

Daily Devotional Courtesy of the Family Drive to Church

The family was piled into the car to head for church this morning, and as we were backing out of the driveway E noticed that one of our neighbors still had his Christmas display set up in the yard (very commercial, I might add; everything from giant inflatable holiday characters to tons of lights and even a creche made up of nothing but dinosaurs and Godzilla action figures). She started screaming, "Santa! Santa!" Almost immediately, MB countered, "No, it's not Santa. He's at the North Pole!"

I tried to explain that what E had seen wasn't the real Santa, but rather an inflatable Santa dummy that was in the yard, but MB would have none of it and said that it WASN'T Santa or a Santa doll -- he WASN'T there. However, she hadn't actually even been looking in that direction, and so I said, "Just because you don't see something doesn't mean it's not there."

And then I stopped talking because I had just, in trying to explain something to my oldest daughter, defined the very faith struggle that I have endured at different periods in my life. I know God has been very present throughout my life -- and at very crucial points, ranging from my car accident right after high school graduation to being protected during my time in the United Arab Emirates during the Gulf War in 1991. However, I've always been very much a sort of "I have to see someone sit in that chair before I'll believe it holds them" sort of person with regard to my faith, and I've been able to overcome that with varying degrees of success.

But does the fact that I so quickly recognized the significance of what I had said so quickly after I said it mean that that faith is more embedded in me than even I realize? In the midst of a crazy life and days that seem to have us running from point 1 to point 3 without even noticing that we've hit point 2, was this a blessed moment of clarity?

In trying to give MB something to think about, I have in fact been given something to think about.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

What Do I Want to Accomplish in 2009?

So ... having missed the entire month of December -- there was just too much else going on for me to take the time to blog -- I now find myself at the leading edge of a new year. It's been a quiet celebration: a big lunch; an amusing Michael Palin documentary tracing the steps of Ernest Hemingway; time to un-Christmas the house and move everything into the clean New Year's phase; movies and some rough-housing for MB and E (who couldn't go outside because of the cold). What am I forgetting?

Ah, yes -- the resolutions.

I used to tell people that I gave up making resolutions because I never kept to them anyway. But is not making a resolution the same as resolving to do nothing? If so, that will never do. So what do I resolve to do this year? Here's what I'm thinking:

  • More focus on my spiritual life. Over the past year, I've gotten a good distance away from prayer and focus on my faith journey and development. We've gotten very involved at our new church, but I've allowed myself to get to a point where I've forgotten how to effectively pray and to do some serious study each week. I can't be a truly good father and role model for the girls if I'm not focusing on what should be the most important part of my life, and learning as much as I can so that I can be prepared to help them with their questions about God and faith as they get older.

  • More time with A and the girls. The work hours for my job this year will be in the neighborhood of 8-6:30 every day, and so I will have to do more to make the most out of the time I have with them during the course of a week.

  • Become more financially responsible. With a new car and a house purchase floating somewhere on the family's horizon, and with A currently out of work, money will become even more important. With my current job, this particular time isn't as much of a cause for stress as it would be if I were working at one of my previous jobs. However, I would like to focus more on saving and on what we need, rather than the bright, glittery books that catch my eye in the bookstore window!

  • Take more time to read for fun. I read so much during the course of a day at work that I really only read for pleasure a few minutes a day. That has to change, since it's one of my biggest sources of relaxation -- and since I have so much Hemingway, Mishima, Fitzgerald, and American Revolutionary-era books and countless others on the shelves and stacked by the bed that need to be showed some love.

  • Write more. I really want to get back to blogging more regularly, journaling more regularly, and continuing with my short-story writing that I started last year and continued in fits and starts. And with whatever time I have left, I have some great ideas for some full-length projects to take on at some point down the road.
Happy New Year to everyone, and thanks for continuing to visit and comment here. I look forward to hearing and seeing more of you over the next year!