There are some anniversaries that are harder to note than others. For me, this is one of them. Twenty years ago today, my father, Henry G. Warrington, passed into eternity in a South Florida hospital. He was the first of my immediate family to do, but certainly not the last: my brother followed suit six months later, and my mother five years after that.
Evangelicals and Pentecostals love to wax warm about their Christian upbringing. With me, things were a little more complicated. But that should serve as a reminder that we’re supposed to be about conversion growth, aren’t we?
In any case, my father was, in reality, a child of privilege. He was raised in Chevy Chase, MD, just outside of Washington. How our family got there and what we did after that is documented here. But privilege has its burdens and responsibilities too. His father was an outsized “mover and shaker” who left a large, multi-faceted legacy that proved a hard act to follow. I never realised it until years after his death, but much of my growing up–moving to Palm Beach, cruising the Bahamas and the like–were us following in “Chet’s” wake.
On the other hand, my father served in the Pacific in World War II in the United States Coast Guard, installing Loran stations and participating in some of the gruesome landings we had to make against the Japanese. The gruesome part he never discussed until his deathbed, but one thing was clear to my brother and me: his time in the military was the defining experience of his life, one which he, to varying degrees, tried to replicate in his family. My brother got most of that: he spent what I came to call “seven years in boot camp”, including military school, maritime academy, and his own trip to Cape May in the Coast Guard.
My father shared that experience with millions of other people in World War II, and he shared it with people from other walks of life that he would not have crossed paths with otherwise. Today that would make him an outlier in our class-stratified society where “they” do the fighting. But with all the talk about tax policy and the like we should never lose sight of the fact that World War II was a great leveller of our society, where people from the top learned a responsibility for those at the bottom and vice versa–and the hope that we could all move up to a better life when it was done. That high regard for people different from us created a tension, especially in the years we spent in status-conscious Palm Beach. When he was faced with two contradictory things, he would say that “I have a no-fit going here”. But he never resolved this “no-fit”, which meant that, no matter how I sorted it out for myself, it would be wrong.
His experience in World War II left him a super patriot. Traditionally that meant “my country, right or wrong”, but in his case he made it clear to my brother and me that it was never wrong and that we had to agree with it on every point, even when it was manifestly in error, as it was in its dithering way of handling Vietnam (it repeated that error in Iraq). What advantage democratic process and liberty have with an attitude towards country like that is another one of those “no-fit” things, but he wasn’t the only child of privilege to have to deal with that.
His outlook, Louisiana bayou-inhabiting ancestors notwithstanding, was typically and narrowly WASP. That meant that he was, by today’s standards, hopelessly politically incorrect. Blacks, Jews, Catholics, gays were all subject to disparagement. (He had his exceptional moments such as this one). But that included another group of people: Evangelicals, whom he despised. That extended to his customer base and potential purchasers of the family business. “Bible-thumpers” were beneath him in every respect. Had he understood the difference between WASP and Scots-Irish, he might have thrown that in to the mix. But not even the expensive lesson my mother gave him was educational; he was, as he was wont to say, “too soon old and too late smart”.
That leads to the subject of his religion. For most of his life, probably the best way to describe it is “Masonry without the Lodge”. All of his Warrington ancestors (and many others) on this side of the Atlantic were Masons and Lodge members. In his case, probably as a reaction to his fathers penchant for being a “joiner”, he was never in the Lodge AFAIK. But the sentiments he expressed on the subject definitely sprang from Scottish Rite Freemasonry. For someone who disliked ambiguity to espouse the Masonic concept of all religions leading to the same goal and the same god seemed awfully open-ended to me, but that’s another one of those “no-fits” that I had to resolve.
If you, by now, get the impression that my father was a hard person to grow up under, you’d be right. It wasn’t an easy relationship, and that was made worse by his hard drinking, another family tradition that got him into trouble. My family was one where the upcoming generation was seen more as a present threat than a future legacy, and that’s not as unusual with families in business as you might think. It really wasn’t until his last years that real softening took place.
Today we have many groups of people who think they’re morally superior to anyone who has gone before them. That’s one reason many of these groups are anti-Christian: Our Lord taught us that self-righteousness is a sin. Ultimately, though, putting on moral airs is easier than making a better world, or even a better life. My father’s generation wrote the destruction of fascism in their own blood; today we dither in the face of our own challenges, hidebound by currently fashionable prejudices and a hopelessly dysfunctional political system.
The people who exalt themselves today need to really make the world a better place, and not just for themselves. That’s the challenge that comes from my father and all those who have gone before us.