My dad was a Constitutionalist.
He also was a welder.
Every day for more than 30 years, he went to work and stood with the sweltering flame of the torch. On the hottest of days, Mom would meet him at the door with a cold beer.
Regardless of what dad had faced in his day or the obstacles that stood between him and financial security, Dad was always smiling when he came home to us.
He spent his evenings reading.
He kept copies of the Constitution in the cabinets.
Dad would quote from the Constitution when we were taking walks together along the railroad tracks. It was the only time I would hear him using big words that sounded like poetry to me.
Perhaps Dad had loftier dreams than the welding torch. Somehow, the thought makes me weepy.
Once, there was a meeting of men at our kitchen table and all were aflame with talk of politics. I didn’t know what politics meant at the time, but I recognized the color it brought into the cheeks of those in discussion, and how our yellow ashtray was overflowing with hastily smoked cigarette butts.
I distinctly remember my dad pulling one of his copies of the Constitution off the shelf and how the words he pointed to seemed to settle a debate.
The Constitution sat next to the Bible, just like our picture of Jesus sat under the giant rifle that hung above it. “Both are peacemakers,” Dad said the day Mom made him take the rifle down for good.
The world was changing.
Rifles were not as admired as they once were.
Jesus stayed on the wall a few years longer, though.
When I studied for the Constitution test, my dad was there to explain the meaning behind the sentences I was memorizing whether I wished for him to or not.
“Do you know what that means?” he would ask.
I knew by his asking that Dad was going to tell me what it meant because he knew I hadn’t a clue or a desire to know, which to Dad was almost personal.
“Everything, all of government, rests on you knowing this, Shari,” he said.
That was the last straw for me. Dad simply had no idea what he was talking about. I blurted out, “No, it doesn’t Dad. That’s what lawyers and politicians are for. ... I’m just a regular person.”
I went on to make it clear to him that all I wanted to do was get those words seared into my mind so that I could pass my test and go on to high school.
Dad sat for a moment looking at me as if I had just committed treason.
Pointing to a place in the well-worn pages of his book, he said, “Read it out loud.”
In my most uninvested teenage voice I read, “We the people of the United States …”
“We the people,” Dad interrupted.
• Shari Tvrdik is director of special projects and communication for Cup of Cold Water Ministries. She can be reached by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.