On Tuesday I did a Skype call with Dale McGowan and then talked to my dad for a while and it occurred to me that one of the reasons I’m so inspired and fired up about the Foundation Beyond Belief and planning this conference and putting more of a focus in my activism on putting humanism into action to help others is because I feel like I’m doing the work my dad taught me to do.
From my earliest memories, he was always teaching us the importance of service to others. If someone around us needed help with something, he was there. When my best friend got married and wanted to build his own house, my dad was there for hundreds of hours working on it with him (his background was in construction, so he enjoyed the work and was really good at it).
When my uncle was diagnosed with AIDS, they set up a halfway house for AIDS patients who weren’t critically ill yet but needed some care. They bought a big old broken down house, gutted it and remodeled it to build apartments. And they opened a second-hand store to fund the project and, again, my dad would spend 50 hours a week there sorting and tagging clothes, working behind the counter, whatever needed to be done. I spent a lot of those hours there with him.To this day, at nearly 80 years old, he still goes out with the Tuesday Toolmen when he’s home (he still works away from home a few months at a time, overseeing safety on big construction projects; he oversaw the safety on the construction of Ford Field, where the Detroit Lions play) to build handicapped ramps, repair roofs and other things needed by the less fortunate people in the area.
And what strikes me about it is that this was always just a given. There was no decision to be made, it was just what you’re supposed to do. My father has been an atheist and a humanist since he was 16 years old and he has always been serious about the obligation to help make the lives of others better. He taught us that, in both word and deed. And I feel good about taking up that mantle. There was a long time in my life when I ignored his example. And I’m glad that I’m no longer doing that.