Dad was, by nature, a "stand up" guy. Whenever a card game got intense, he'd stand up to make his play. Whenever he watched me play basketball or football he never sat in the stands with the other parents; he always stood by the side of the bleachers--usually alone. Whenever I came home late from a date, I'd sit on the couch and he'd stand in front of me to lecture--usually with a little pacing thrown in for good measure. That's just the kind of a guy he was. Forthright. Direct. You know--stand up. One Fourth of July we were on the front row for our town's annual Independence Day Parade. Dad had gone down to Main Street early to set our folding chairs along the curb, so we had a great spot from which to watch the floats and bands and beauty queens pass by. We had just settled into our seats when a snare drum cadence signaled the start of the parade. To our right, four men in ill-fitting World War II uniforms marched down the middle of Main Street, carrying the red, white, and blue of the United States of America. Their eyes were fixed forward and they marched with clear direction and purpose, apparently unaware that their tummies were hanging ponderously over their government-issue belts. But we were aware. To tell the truth, it was hard to miss. Some of the folks were chuckling and chatting about the veterans, who were so clearly past their prime. A couple of teenagers in the back shouted out jeers and taunts--this was, after all, the Vietnam War era, and such disrespect for the flag and for those who fought under it was common. Patriotism was unpopular, and in some settings even risky. I don't know exactly when my father stood up and took his hat from his head and placed it over his heart. He did it quietly, almost unobtrusively. But Dad wasn't a small man, and it didn't take long for the rowdies in the back to notice. "Down in front!" one of them shouted. "Yeah," another chimed in. "Down in front!" Suddenly I realized they were yelling at my father, who continued to stand at attention, his eyes riveted on the stars and stripes. Nervously, I looked at Dad, willing him with all my heart and soul to sit down and not draw any more attention to himself--and to me, who wouldn't stand a chance against any of those high school boys. "Hey, Mr. Hawk," came another shout. "Find a place to perch!" I had no idea why they called Dad "Mr. Hawk." I didn't know anything about the hawk-dove designations that were being used all around the country to characterize pro-war and anti-war sentiments. I just knew my father's propensity for standing was attracting some undesirable attention, and I was feeling embarrassed--and a little threatened. But then an interesting thing happened. Another man about Dad's age stood up a few feet away. He looked at the boys, then turned and faced the flag and put his hand over his heart. Then a woman to Dad's right did the same thing, and she tugged her husband to stand up with her. Then another couple, then an elderly woman, then an entire family right in front of the rowdies. Before the color guard had passed, the entire section of parade-goers--with the exception of a few high school boys--was standing at attention with their hands over their hearts. Not a word was spoken, but a message was sent to those teenagers--and to me. Patriotism isn't just something you feel. Sometimes, it's something you do. Whether or not you are, by nature, a stand up guy.
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