Retiring the Colors

July 10, 2015

When applied to the Confederate battle flag, the “heritage not hate” slogan all too often seems to be spouted out of only one side of a Southern drawler’s mouth, while the other side, given the proper audience and circumstance, may be saying something altogether different. That said, there is some truth to the notion of a Southern regional pride that, to me at least, is as inescapable as the humidity of a summer south of the Mason-Dixon.

When I was a boy, I had a Confederate battle flag tacked up on the wall of my bedroom. I don’t recall when or where I got it. It was likely a gift shop souvenir from one of the many Civil War battlefield site tours that my Dad took our family on after we moved to Virginia in the late ’60’s. All I remember is that the flag was a constant presence on my wall as I passed through boyhood, into my teen years, and then on to college.*

Some of you who are reading this are likely aghast at my flag revelation. “I thought I knew him! How could he be one of … them? How could he have displayed that symbol of treason, and prejudice, and hate?”

The thing is, I did no such thing. Though they looked the same, the flag that I had tacked on my wall was not the same as the flag of the KKK, George Wallace, and Dylann Roof. It was, indeed, a symbol of heritage – a nod to the place from whence my people came. Just as my grandmother’s United Daughters of the Confederacy membership certificate was prominently displayed in a frame on her wall, my Confederate battle flag held a prized spot on mine. Not unlike my grandmother, I bought into the Lost Cause narrative to a certain extent. I displayed the flag because it conjured up ineffable notions of duty, loyalty, chivalry, tradition, and family – with perhaps a bit of adolescent rebellion thrown in for good measure. Slavery, prejudice, and oppression didn’t enter into my thinking. In later years I did come to wrestle with the knowledge that the awful institution of slavery had existed under that flag. But, I knew as well that the Stars and Stripes had flown over the United States’ mistreatment of Native Americans in the 19th century, and of Japanese Americans during World War II, and nobody was suggesting getting rid of Old Glory.

In fact, few seemed to be suggesting getting rid of the Confederate battle flag, either. It was everywhere when I was growing up – bedroom walls, keychains, t-shirts, beach towels, bumperstickers. It was even on prime time TV, on the roof of the General Lee on “The Dukes of Hazzard” – and nobody ever called Bo and Luke Duke racists!

That has all changed, however. No amount of Southern hospitality and gentility can overcome the fact that the bad guys have won this battle. And no, I’m not talking about Sherman’s army and its scorched-earth campaigns, or opportunistic Yankee carpetbaggers. I’m talking about hate-filled racists like Dylann Roof. I’m talking about white supremacists of all stripes, whether they are driven by mental illness or plain and simple ignorance. Just as Hitler co-opted the sacred religious symbol of the swastika for his Third Reich, Roof and his ilk have co-opted the Confederate battle flag for their own vile purposes. It has no business flying on government property, and I congratulate South Carolina for taking it down.

As for the rest of us, it rightfully comes down to an individual decision. Those who advocate making it illegal to display the Confederate battle flag are off-base and need to read the 1st Amendment. No, we are all free to fly the flag – or not – as our conscience dictates.

And, it’s important to remember that anyone who chooses to fly it, or wear it, or sport it on a car bumper, may not mean any harm by doing so. But, it’s important to recognize as well that the choice to do so is probably causing harm, intended or not.
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*The flag stayed on my wall until one night when some of my fraternity brothers snuck into my room, cut it into 4 pieces, then re-tacked the pieces to the wall, together with a note questioning my patriotism, fraternal allegiance, and probably my manhood as well. My midwestern roommate was probably relieved, though I think he was still a bit unnerved by the Blue Oyster Cult and Jim Morrison posters that remained unscathed.
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The Right Thing to Do

January 26, 2014

It was one of the great privileges of my life to be able to speak at my father’s funeral.  As tomorrow will mark one year since the day that Dad left this earth and moved on to his next adventure, I believe it is fitting to publish the eulogy in this space.  Here it is – this time, without tears – but with every bit of the same emotion as when I spoke the words.

EULOGY FOR JENNINGS L. WAGONER, JR.

January 30, 2013

It’s only been in the past few years that I have really recognized how much of my life I have subconsciously patterned after my Dad’s.  As those who know me well will attest, I don’t always have a gift for recognizing the obvious.

Dad went to Wake Forest, and Wake Forest remained near and dear to him.  Despite having grown up in the shadow of Mr. Jefferson’s University, I also went to Wake Forest.  There was no pressure involved – it just seemed like the right thing to do.

Like Dad, I was active in fraternity life while in college.  I didn’t pledge the same one – but I wasn’t trying to be different.  I sought out the house where I felt the best fit.  It was no coincidence that my Sigma Chi of the early 1980’s happened to be the house that best mirrored Dad’s Kappa Sigs of the late 1950’s.

Dad was a thinker, and a reader, and a writer.  He taught me how to write by way of liberal application of red ink to any rough draft that I would show him.  The corrections were sometimes difficult to take – but they always helped.  In like manner, my kids and many of my work colleagues know that if they ask for me to edit a draft – I will edit the draft.

Dad was a worker.  As a professor, his was not a 9-to-5 job.  He didn’t clock out when he came home.  I am sure that he spent many more hours working at home in his study than he did in the classroom or in his office in Ruffner Hall. While our career paths went in different directions – Dad was in education and I have been in law and business – our habits are much the same.  He taught me that work is not the most important thing – but it is an important thing – and it can’t be done well in the space of an 8 hour day.

Dad was a Cub Scout, Boy Scout, Eagle Scout, and Scout leader.  I was a Cub Scout, Boy Scout, Eagle Scout, and am a Scout leader.

Dad loved high adventure – while he enjoyed all sorts of outdoor activities, he was drawn to those that involve personal challenge and a gut check – things that get the blood pumping and adrenaline racing.  And, he particularly enjoyed making these experiences available to others.

He shared with me the challenge of climbing up a rock face, and the thrill of rappelling back down. I well remember how excited I was when my wife Jennifer finally let her determination – and my coaxing – overcome her fear, and took that first backward step off the top of the cliff at Raven’s Roost.

Together with some adventurous Sunday School  classmates, some of whom are here today – Dad took on the world-class rapids of the Gauley River in West Virginia. A year or so later, he invited me to join that group on a Gauley raft.  In the years since, I have organized many Gauley trips of my own.

I could go on with the parallels. I want to be clear that I was never trying to be Dad – I could never come close – but I was, sometimes consciously and more often subconsciously – trying to be like him.  Sometimes I succeeded, and sometimes I didn’t.

When I pass, I cannot imagine having that event producing anything close to the same outpouring of love and admiration that you and so many others have expressed.  So many people have said wonderful things about the impact that Dad had on their lives.  Dad’s literal shoes were a size 9 ½, but his figurative shoes were immense.  Much too big to try to fill.

It has only been in the past few years that I have realized that he didn’t see it that way.  My failures – and I’ve had some doozies – were not disappointments or embarrassments for Dad.  He hurt with me.  I was always humbled by him, but he never humbled me.

And he reveled in my successes.

As with most parents, Dad gave me many material things over the years.  But, his encouragement, his pride, his affirmation, and his love were the most precious gifts that he could offer – and he showered me with them.  Those are gifts that I can never repay – I can only hope that I can pay them forward with my own kids.

As with so many other things that I’ve done in following Dad’s lead, that just seems like the right thing to do.


Lessons Learned the Hard Way

December 31, 2013

As I look ahead to 2014, I realize that I have spent too much of 2013 focusing on what I have lost, and not enough on what I have learned.  While I may be tempted to add “and good riddance to 2013” after shouting “Happy New Year” tonight, the past year has taught me some powerful lessons.  While they were hard lessons to learn, I am grateful for them.  Here are a few:

There is never enough time with those we love.  My Dad died in January.  He had inoperable cancer, and we knew what the end result would be.  We tried to savor the time that we had together before he passed.  It wasn’t enough.  I realize, though, that no quantity of additional days, weeks, months, or years would have been.

Time passes quickly.  In my mind, I often feel that I am about the age of my eldest daughter.  When I do, I’m ignoring three intervening decades.  I’m not sure where they went, but I know that I can’t get them back.  In another 30 years, I’ll be 80.  I have a lot of living to do between now and then.

Nothing should be taken for granted.  A few months ago, I walked into my boss’s office for my mid-year review, armed with the confidence that came from knowing that I had already surpassed my year-end revenue goals.  I walked out with a letter from HR explaining that my position had been eliminated.  Things don’t have to make sense for them to be real.

We are more than our work.  The extent to which the layoff knocked the wind out of me has made it clear that what we do for a living should only be a part of who we are.  Defining oneself in terms of something that can so easily be taken away is not a recipe for happiness.

Things may not be what they appear.  Imagine the most “together”, confident, successful, popular person you can.  Then imagine him deciding that his family would be better off without him, and ending his life.  I received word of that happening to a friend a few days before Christmas.  Regardless of appearances, we are all fighting a battle of some sort.

Hard lessons, but important lessons.

Be good to each other, and to yourself.


Farewell to Facebook

April 16, 2012
Dear Blog,
 
I just posted the following on my Facebook page.  I hope it’s not too late for us…
 
~~~~ 
 
Facebook,
 
I’ve been thinking a lot about us lately, and I’ve decided that I need to do other things, and see other sites.  Like my blog, for instance.  Since you and I got together a few years ago, I’ve barely posted anything on my blog – and I really enjoyed doing that.  You and I have had some good times together, sure – but I miss writing longer, more substantive posts.  One or two lines with a link attached just doesn’t do it for me anymore.
 
But really, I owe it to you to be fully open and honest.  So here goes.  You’re clingy.  You’re always … there.  On my laptop, on my desktop, on my ipad, even on my phone.  I need space.  Space, and time.  I’m not getting any younger, after all, and there are so many things that I’d like to do.  Write more, read more, learn more, play more, do more.  Be more.  But the days roll on, and I find myself checking for status updates, posting something that might be witty but won’t be remembered, and then guaranteeing myself even more updates to wade through by clicking “like” on something or another – all the while feeling spread too thin at work, at home, and everywhere in between.
 
So, it’s time for a change.  I guess this is it, for now, at least.  I don’t know what’s going to happen down the road.  Who knows, we may even get back together again at some point.  But if we do, it will have to be as friends, nothing more. 
 
I’ll still be around.  Email me, if you want to talk.  If you’re in the mood to read, you can find me at my blog:  https://wagsoutside.wordpress.com/.  If you want to know how work is going, you can find me on LinkedIn.  But it’s time for the two of us to take a break.
 
Thanks for everything, and no hard feelings, OK?

So What Did You Do Over the Weekend?

May 1, 2011

I’ve only been skiing a half-dozen times in my life, and I haven’t been skydiving (yet), but I still think this video shows a great example of living with a capital “L”.


Christmas Letter 2010

December 27, 2010

’Twas the week before Christmas,

And David finally sat down

To write the year’s Christmas letter,

For friends out of town.

 

2010 was a good year,

All things considered,

Though with 4 kids in 4 schools,

We ran hither and thither.

 

Morgan got into Longwood,

Early decision, no less!

We’ll miss her next year,

But not her room’s mess.

 

She’s licensed to drive,

Our Suburban she prefers.

Maybe one day she’ll have

A car she can call hers.

 

The cross country team

She captained this year

Though injured, running remains

The sport she holds dear.

 

Caroline’s blazing new trails

In Albemarle’s 9th grade

Going to the math and science academy

Was a big decision she made.

 

Field hockey’s her sport

And perhaps lacrosse as well

But mainly she loves to sing

With a voice clear as a bell.

 

She plays piano, too

And has for several years

And when trying something new

Rarely suffers from fears.

 

Katherine’s DI team

Won the state tourney

Then went to Knoxville for Globals

It was a fun but long journey.

 

K also loves to sing

Like her sisters and Will

She’s in the Bearettes choir

Because her audition went well.

 

 

She has almost reached her teens,

The years go by in a whirl

But however old she gets

She’ll always be our little girl.

 

And then there’s the boy,

Wow, where does one start?

In describing a 2nd grader

Who uses Legos to make art?

 

He’s a Wolf cub scout,

His den leader’s his dad,

With hiking, camping and games,

There’s lots of fun that is had.

 

Soccer, piano and reading

Are Will’s other favorite things

Along with the joys of being 7

And the discoveries each day brings.

 

Of course Jennifer’s the glue

That keeps us all together

Always doing, doing, doing

And slowing almost never.

 

She’s retired from PTO

But now manages Will’s D.I.

And with work, church and kids,

Can do everything but fly.

 

David spent the last year

Educating the Virginia Bar

But now he’s back with Lexis

Where he’ll travel near and far.

 

His distance running fell off,

No more ultras or marys.

He’ll do better next year

To keep his chest hairy.

 

So that’s our year in a poem

Some quick highlights, anyway

We hope that you are well

And are grateful for every day.

 


Hanging Up the Cape

September 24, 2010

It’s been seven months since my last blog post, and even longer since my last good long run.  That’s pretty sad considering the grounding and stabilizing roles that writing and running have each played for me over the past few years.

So what have I been doing in the interim?  Someone asked me recently where I keep my Superman cape.  It wasn’t meant as a compliment – it was an observation that I tend to fall into/get led into/jump into “fix it” mode with work and  my various activities – so much so that the day-to-day aspect of living life falls by the wayside.

What has it gotten me?  It’s finally dawned on me that I probably cannot save the world on my own – probably not even my little corner of it.  Even if I could, it’s not worth the cost.  I can do my fair share, and then some – but, barring an unanticipated appointment as king for a day, I would do well to end my Quixote-esque quest to save the kingdom.

An admittedly cryptic post – but what do you expect after 7 months?