Love It or Leave It?

When I was a kid, the nightly news was filled with images of the Vietnam War and the ugly protests against the war that were raging around our country. Although the pictures were disturbing, I would sit and watch the evening news with my dad any chance I got because I enjoyed the way my father would explain things to me. It made me proud that he thought I could understand “grown-up” issues.

Dad was a strong supporter of the Vietnam War, a Nixon voter, a law-and-order guy who had little patience with “flower children” or the anti-authority crowd. His opinions were shared widely in my hometown of Abilene, Texas, which was proud of its large Air Force base and three conservative Christian colleges. I don’t remember hearing anyone even mildly object to the war in Vietnam, but I do remember the look on my best friend’s face when her father returned from fighting there.

When I was around nine or ten, my grandmother came for a visit and proudly presented my dad with a bumper sticker adorned with a U.S. flag and the words “Love It or Leave It.” He thanked her and tucked the sticker in his desk drawer. I visited that drawer for weeks, pulling out the sticker that seemed to so eloquently express what everybody I knew was saying and feeling. I was impatient for Daddy to place it on our car so everyone could see our patriotism.

One day, I actually carried the bumper sticker to my dad, assuming he had simply forgotten about it. “When are you going to put this on the car?” To my surprise, he shook his head and said, “Never.”

“That’s not the way America works,” he told me. “You don’t have to leave because you disagree with the way things are going. Those people who are protesting are still Americans, and they love their country too.”

It was a quiet, private moment in a time of loud, public arguments, and I’ve never forgotten it. That day I learned that when we disagree over policies and politics and culture, it’s not “us” versus “them.” We don’t force out anyone who has different opinions or different agendas. We never have to “take our country back” from the “other side” because we are all part of this country.

I remembered Daddy and that bumper sticker yesterday when NFL players chose various postures during the pre-game national anthem. I was dismayed to open my social media feeds and read the angry comments from people who both opposed and supported the players. I could almost hear my father saying to me, “That’s not how America works.”

There has never been a time in the history of our country when every citizen stood in perfect agreement on every issue. You don’t have to agree with a fellow American’s opinion in order to respect their rights to publicly disagree with public policies. Allowing dissent — even dissent you find in poor taste — is not weak or unpatriotic. It is American.

September 25, 2017

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  1. I will definitely share this my F/B friends! Your Dad was a very was man!!

    • Thanks, Susan! I really appreciate that.

  2. Well said.

  3. Maybe that was how America worked then.

    Maybe it was how your dad’s America worked.

    That isn’t the America you live in now.

    • Maybe you’re right. But I can still do my best to live up to the ideals my dad taught me.

  4. It may not be the way America works now, but really, even though I express myself too often and sometimes badly, I think it is great people do express themselves. I think it helps them get rid of a lot of helplessness in a world gone mad.

  5. The point of the story is apropos right now. But a small thing can say a lot about how the context surrounding us affects what we think are obvious observations. I participated in those protests and didn’t see them as ugly at all. The war was an outrage, as have been so many that have followed.

    • Judith,
      I absolutely agree that what looks ugly to one observer can be a justified expression of outrage to another. I know I can never make everyone see things my way, so I just have to try to respect the ones who disagree.

  6. This is so good! I think a lot of us need to hear your father’s words right now.

    • Thanks, Megan! I have to remind myself of them all the time. It’s sad that we are so quick to make anyone who disagrees with us into “the enemy.”