Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Father Knows Best: Generosity and a Sense of Community Support and Participation Should Extend Further Than One's Own Neighborhood

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Father Knows Best: Generosity and a Sense of Community Support and Participation Should Extend Further Than One's Own Neighborhood

Article excerpt

"Very often a lack of jobs and money is not the cause of poverty, but the symptom. The cause may lie deeper in our failure to give our fellow citizens a fair chance to develop their own capacities."

--President Lyndon Baines Johnson, State of the Union, Jan. 8, 1964

I was still in grade school when President Johnson launched his War on Poverty. In my home, Johnson was a hero, maybe because my parents had both grown up poor and never forgot what deprivation felt like. They saw Johnson as someone who understood what I they understood about poverty: Nobody chooses to be poor.

The other hero in my house was my Dad, a larger-than-life figure who had scrabbled his way up to a good middle-class life. He had "developed his own capacities" in large part because he had access to the G.I. Bill, which inspired him to return to high school after dropping out and then go on to college and earn an engineering degree.

One of my favorite childhood memories was watching my dad ring the bell for the Salvation Army at Christmas. Dad ran the largest construction company in the area, which meant that he knew most of the movers and shakers in our town. During the holidays, he volunteered to ring the bell downtown on Friday nights because he knew that was when all of the local leaders went out with their wives.

He would position himself on the main street corner in town and make quite a show of strong-arming a businessman and convincing him to separate himself from a wad of cash. His technique was very simple: He loudly extolled the man's success. "Now, Charlie, I know how good you're doin'. Why, I know you bought Marian that beautiful fur coat last year because you had such a year. So, how about leaving a little here in this bucket for the folks who haven't had it so good? …

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