Pastor Walter Mitty drove up to Manitowoc after church on Fathers Day. His sister-in-law Susan and her sons, Brian and Matt, had invited him.
When he walked in the front door the two boys were wearing Milwaukee Brewers gear and started laughing when their uncle feigned a look of horror. They grilled bratwurst in the backyard and found themselves talking about Herman. Susan had been a widow for two years now, and was able to tell stories about her late husband without choking up very much.
The boys seemed to enjoy hearing and telling the stories, as well. At one point Brian said, “Uncle Walt, do you remember the time we took Dad’s old Grumman canoe out in those humongous waves on Lake Michigan and surfed back to shore? What a blast!”
“Or the time we went camping at Point Beach,” Matt added, “and that racoon managed to open our cooler on the picnic bench at ate a whole stick of summer sausage.”
As the story telling tapered off, Susan winked at the boys and said, “Let’s show Uncle Walt what we made for him.”
They hustled into the house. Matt carried out a big cake with Happy Fathers Day written in frosting and Brian brought a tub of ice cream.
Pastor Walt turned to Susan and simply said, “Thank you.”
Without saying anything more, everyone understood what was going on. When Herman was diagnosed with cancer four years ago and began needing full-time care, Pastor Walt had negotiated a plan with the Poplar Park Community Church in which he would stay at Herman’s house during the week, drive to Poplar Park on Saturday, preach the sermon on Sunday and then make the three hour drive north after church let out.
The boys always called him “Uncle Walt” in the year and a half between the diagnosis and Herman’s death, but all four of them understood why they were celebrating Fathers Day with their uncle and brother-in-law.
They had all made a choice to make the arrangement work. They had all said “no” to some things and “yes” to others, and Uncle Walt had become much more than a fifth wheel in the family.
A week later, the Saturday Morning Men’s Fellowship Group gathered as usual in the big booth in the back corner of the Main Café.
“I’ve had it with men,” Alice spit out as she stood over them ready to take their orders.
“Good morning to you too,” replied Dominique with a grin.
“No, I’m serious,” Alice continued. “If you take the news seriously, it seems like every man in the universe has sexually abused women at one point or another.”
Asch joined in. “C’mon, Alice. Things are getting better. You heard that they are no longer doing the swimsuit competition at the Miss America Pageant.”
“Yeah, and it didn’t happen until a woman became chairman of the board!”
The men were quiet for a minute after Alice stomped off to deliver their order to the cooks.
Asch broke the silence saying, “I confess that I did enjoy that part of the pageant, but if Dorothy was watching with me I’d pretend to not be interested.”
“Isn’t all of this change happening because of the #MeToo movement,” asked Pastor Walt, hoping to get a discussion going about male identity and responsibility.
“I guess so.” Dominique began cautiously. “But because I’ve been in the banking industry so long, I’ve seen what ambition can do to people.”
“Say more,” probed Eric Anderson.
“OK.” Dominique took a deep breath. “I’ve seen men lie and betray friends and colleagues to get the inside track for a promotion. I’ve seen women, in the name of feminism, become as ruthless as men.”
“And,” here the African American banker in the Brooks Brothers suit steeled himself to say, “I’ve seen women in the office not say ‘no’ because they wanted to keep their jobs.”
“But aren’t you blaming the victim by saying that?” asked Eric.
“Yeah. I know that it sounds that way, but I think of my mother all the time. She was a cleaning lady until she retired and we could always use more money. But my mother would say ‘no’ every once in awhile to tasks that she decided were beneath her dignity.”
“Kind of like Rosa Parks?” Pastor Walt asked.
“Yes. Very much like Rosa Parks. She refused to step and fetch, and financially I guess our family paid a price. And now, of course, I’m in the opposite situation. I make a lot of money and I have a fair amount of power over other people as I sit in my corner office.”
Which made Asch ask, “But how does that story relate to #MeToo?”
“Number one,” Dominique continued, “whenever I’m tempted to abuse the power I have, my mother appears in my memories and chews me out for even thinking those thoughts.
“And second, whenever I hear my nieces complain that life isn’t fair and that the deck is stacked against black folks, I try to show that I understand where they are coming from, but then I almost always tell them stories about my mother.”
“You may be a victim of circumstances,” I tell them, “but no one can take that inner power, that inner dignity away from you unless you let them. As you become adults you are going to be making a lot of choices. And you need to determine ahead of time where you draw the line, at what point you will refuse to go to the back of the bus. It might cost you your job, or a promotion, or the approval of your friends, but what will it profit you if you gain the whole world and lose your soul?”
As Pastor Walt walked home, he realized that Dominique’s sermon was better than the one he was going to give the next day. He also figured out that in making the choice to care for his brother and his family that he had gained a lot more than he had lost.