Rest Easy, Dad. We Win

Published on
by
The Huffington Post

Rest Easy, Dad. We Win

by
Dante Zappala

Don't think of an elephant and what's the first thing that comes to mind?
And so it goes that I try not to think, 'Dad should be here.'
Phillies win.
Obama wins.
It's a boy.
He's missing it all.

This campaign has produced a montage of personal narratives. People of all backgrounds stepped up to tell their stories of inspiration, heartbreak, and fate. We've read, we've yelled, we've cried. Empathy is rampant.

This was my dad's strategy all along...

25 years ago, at the tender age of 7, I sat in my father's lap as we drove down Germantown Avenue. The Sixers had swept the Lakers, we were champions. Traffic at a standstill, my father let me sit on the horn as my brothers hung out the window. I've cherished that memory more every year, as Philly sports teams have failed, time and again, to reach the top.

A week ago, we broke the curse. I watched Brad Lidge seal the deal from my father's living room in South Philly. I joined the revelry on Broad Street.

On Tuesday, Barack took the White House.

A week from now, my wife is likely to give birth to our second child.

It's a good time to be me, I have to remind myself, except...

My father, Alfred Zappala, died on August 14th of this year after a battle with lung cancer. And forever lost is the memory of sharing this with him.

Yet, in all that has happened this past week, my father's hand is evident. He taught us to embrace the hopelessness of our sports teams' futility yet still find a way to cheer. We literally talked about the Eagles' prospects this year while he lay on his death bed.

In 2004, after much effort by my entire family to prevent the Iraq War from beginning, my beloved brother Sherwood Baker deployed. He was killed in Baghdad just six weeks into his tour.

Amidst the trauma and a crucial election, my father emerged as an unlikely, yet powerful voice for peace. And all he did was what he'd always done. He told stories.

He traveled the country. He talked about how Sherwood, a foster child, became his son. He hoped that through the power of shared emotion, people might see the travesty of this war and join him in trying to end it. He stood tall with other brave souls who had skin in the game. That work contributed to a shift in the national dialogue. It was no longer if, but when we would leave.

A free and independent press is essential to the health of a functioning democracy

He spent the next four years working to end the war. He marched to New Orleans with vets, he spent a summer in D.C. camping out every day in front of the Congressional office buildings.

Tonight, I imagine the conversation we would have. The first African-American President will soon be sworn in. My father had a long personal journey in matters of race. He grew up in South Philly, surrounded almost exclusively by other Italian-Americans. Prejudice was a fact of life. But he also learned self righteous aggression. A stint in the Army nurtured his disdain for authority and exposed him to people from all over the country. He would move into a neighborhood ripe with white flight. Those experiences flipped a switch and he emerged a crusader for justice--hard headed, determined, and passionate about equality.

And is it not these journeys that have, collectively, brought us here today? President-Elect Obama's success is due, in large part, to his ability to connect with us on our level and embed his unlikely life story within our own. In a similar but much smaller way, my father's story, and his work, continues.

We all have high hopes for our next President. We have expectations, and, to be fair, we should include disappointment in them. But what got us here must be what carries us. We've embraced the pain, struggles and triumphs of others as our own. We're a better country on a better path for it. And now we must expand our embrace. My father cried with other dads who had lost a kid, be they anti-war or not. We can and must find community, for truly, we all have skin in the game.

Let us heed Barack Obama's call to begin the hard work of realizing just how amazing we can make this.

I'll leave the last words to my father. I interviewed him about two weeks before his death. In this clip, he talks about the bookends of fate that framed Sherwood's life and what would become his defining legacy.

Rest easy, dad. Finally. We win.

Dante Zappala has written extensively about the war in Iraq and the loss of his brother. He has spoken at universities and appeared on panels around the country and internationally. He is a member of Military Families Speak Out and Gold Star Families Speak Out.

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