ValueSpeak - A Weekly Column by Joseph Walker

WHAT IS A PATRIOT?

It was football season, about 20 years ago.  My then-8-year-old daughter Andrea and I were watching the Sunday night news, which included a report of the day's NFL highlights.

"...and the Jets cruise past the Patriots, 34-7.  Meanwhile in New Orleans..."

"Daddy," Andrea interrupted, "what are patriots?"

"It's a football team, honey," I replied, absently.  "Sort of."

"I know that," she said.  "But what does it stand for?"

"The way they're playing these days, not much."

"Huh?"

Obviously, Andrea wasn't much on sports humor.

"OK," I said.  "A patriot was, you know, like in the days of the Revolutionary War.  People who really loved their country, like George Washington, the Minute Men and stuff."

"Oh."

That was that, I thought, and I returned to the football highlights until . . .

"Daddy, what happened to the patriots?"

"I don't know,” I said.  “A bad trade, a couple of injuries, some lousy draft picks . . . "

"No, I mean the patriots who lived with George Washington.  What happened to them?"

"Well," I said, "they won the war, they established a great nation and then they all died."

"Oh," Andrea said.  "So patriots are kind of like dinosaurs, and they're extinct now?"

I was losing ground here.  But what was I supposed to say?  Patriotism hasn’t been high on the list of politically correct postures for a few decades.  So I turned to the dictionary.  A patriot, I told Andrea, is "one who loves his country and supports its authority and interests."

"Oh," Andrea said.  "Like the man who lives over by the school who flies his flag almost every day?  He told us it's because he's proud to be an American.  Is he a patriot?"

"Yes,” I said.  “I think you could say so."

"And what about Mrs. Davis?" my daughter continued.  "Last week at church she was  teaching us that song about America, and she was talking about the purple mountains magically and the fruity plains and she started to cry.  I think she loves our country too."

"That's `purple mountains majesties' and `fruited' plains,” I said, “and yes, I'm sure she does."

"Then she's a patriot too!  And Bryan (the neighbor in the military) and Rosa (the friend who was working toward U.S. citizenship) and Chuck (the teenager who . . . well, I wasn't sure)."

"Chuck?" I asked.

"He always has a flag on his truck antenna," she explained.

"I guess that qualifies him as a patriot," I said.

"Everyone I know is a patriot," she said, "because everyone I know loves America!"

I could have told her that there are a lot of people who would be quick to point out all of the things that are wrong about America.  But then it occurred to me that maybe they complain because they care.  Besides, what could be more American than criticizing the government?  It's a tradition that goes back a long way -- all the way to George Washington and his fellow complaining patriots.

"You're right," I said.  "We're a whole country of patriots, each in our own way."

"Including those guys?" she asked, gesturing toward the Patriots on the sports report.

"EXCEPT those guys," I said.

(Hey, there's nothing patriotic about losing football games.)

— © Joseph Walker


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Look What Love Has Done:  Five-Minute Messages to Lift Your Spirit. 

How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen?  Home Remedies for an Ailing World.

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