Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Fox News said what? Did anyone ask Why?

A few days ago, Fox News (that utterly reputable news source!) broadcast a talk show in which three people of the Fox News staff discussed the fact that the University of Missouri had added Wiccan holidays to their list of recognized holidays.

The broadcasters of course had great fun ridiculing the Wiccan faith (Wiccanism, as one of the presenters inaccurately called it), and made mention that 20 percent of all holidays are pagan. That point is true, but it got immediately misinterpreted to say that Wiccans have twenty holidays.
If you haven’t already seen the piece in question, it’s here:

Naturally, Wiccans and Pagans were up in arms over this, saying that Fox News was misrepresenting or ridiculing their faith. That’s absolutely true, they were, and many voices, including Selena Fox of the Lady Liberty League took to the defense of Wicca.

But I don’t think that the Fox News people were doing that simply to have fun poking fun at Wicca. They weren’t out to start a War On Religion or any such foolishness. No, all they were doing is much more simple than that.
Have you ever encountered someone who will say whatever he thinks it takes, just to gain the attention of his superiors? The kind of brown-noser who’ll overhear a conversation making fun of, say, autistic kids, and add a comment to let the others know he’s ‘one of them’? That’s all it was. Glad-handing their superiors, in a way.

The Fox News folks were just making the right kinds of noise, saying things their wealthy, corporate-owned Christian Conservative Coalition (capitalization mine) would want to hear, so they’d give Fox more money.  They could just as well have made detrimental remarks about gays, handicapped people, vegans, whatever. Today it happened to be Wiccans, and the University of Missouri’s decision happened to be the target.
Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely detest the things they said, and the attitude they took. They could have done so much better. But remember, they hold Wiccans and Pagans in as much regard as the dirt they scrape off their shoes when they walk inside. They don’t care about Wicca. They just wanted to win the favor of their corporate backers, so they made the sort of noises that they’re expected to make. 

Which, as far as I’m concerned, makes them even less a reliable news agency than they were before.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Charles David Batty 1932 - 2013

 I love my Dad.

Anyone who’s known me for a reasonable length of time knows that I am so very proud to be my father’s son.
He is my mentor, my hero, my compass, my best friend.

He’s always nurtured me, supported me, guided me. Even when I was 19 and thought he was a buffoon, I knew that I loved him and needed him.

My Dad died this week.

He’d been diagnosed with liver cancer about eight years ago, which had spread to his pancreas.
He’d always had something of a cavalier attitude about his health. My Dad was the sort of man who controlled his health by sheer force of will. He didn’t want to get sick, he didn’t get sick. He had the kind of willpower that could stop a tank. When I was very young he used to smoke cigarettes. One day he decided he didn’t like them anymore, and that’s all it took, he stopped smoking. That kind of willpower.
So he called me when he got the diagnosis, and we talked about it for a little while. I don’t know if he took it seriously – he always seemed dismissive and glib about his health – but I was worried. He underwent various treatments, which had successfully overcome BOTH cancers, but the treatments rendered him diabetic. He never had the full-body chemo that makes your hair fall out; he didn’t want that. He’d agreed to experimental laser surgery that zapped and neutralized the tumors. The tumors came back, and he’d get zapped again, and they’d come back again. Stupid cancer.

Six months ago he began to get noticeably worse, and his condition worsened rapidly. A month ago he was hospitalized, and agreed to at-home hospice care. The doctor said he had maybe three to six months. But Dad was in a lot of pain, and I think that when he lay back in the hospice bed that had been set up in the living room, he simply said to himself, “That’s it, time to go.” His last words to Gayle, my stepmother, were a few hours before he died. “I love you,” he whispered, “I don’t think I can do this anymore.” Then he went back to sleep, and a few hours later just stopped breathing.

My Dad was truly a renaissance man. He was a teacher, an author, a poet, a musician, a chef, a philosopher, a dreamer, a world traveler, a fighter, a father, a husband, a friend. Music was one of the joys of his life; I grew up in a world of classical music. Dad was the kind of person who could pick up any instrument and play it. He’d be able to play it well within an hour. My brother has the same skill, but I never did. The only thing I can play is a radio. 

He loved to cook. Pottering around in the kitchen, experimenting with new dishes, tasting the food of different cultures, always delighted him. It was through my father that I learned to enjoy trying new dishes, and the general willingness to try anything new.  Many’s the day you could walk in the house and find something remarkable bubbling away on the stove, making the whole house smell warm and inviting. Dad had libraries of cookbooks, and volumes of pages of recipes clipped from newpapers or printed from websites.  It’s from him that I learned to appreciate good food and to make cooking an adventure, and why I worked as a banquet chef for so many years.

My Dad wrote and performed music for church; he wrote, directed and managed the Tudor Christmas Feast for three years running for the University of Maryland in the mid-80’s. He was a University professor, who taught Information Science at McGill University in Montreal, and the University of Maryland at College Park.  After retiring from teaching, he created a consulting firm and helped major corporations develop in-house library systems.

He was a man of deep faith whose devotion to God was without measure. But he wasn’t one to follow God’s word without question; Dad always questioned everything, and expected the same level of inquisitive dedication from everyone he worked with. There were times we’d have long debates about religion, and it was only after I’d published my textbook on teaching witchcraft that he came to accept my own faith. And after that, of course, we’d have long discussions in which he encouraged me to deepen my own understanding of my faith.

If there was anything he detested, it was idiots. There is a phrase, “I will not suffer fools lightly”. That is so very true of Dad, who could not abide simple-minded people.  God gave you a brain, use it!

Knowing that my Dad is no longer here is not easy. I’ll miss being able to call him to chat. To be honest, one thing I don’t think I ready for will be walking back into my parents’ house for the first time, knowing that he’ll never be there again.

If there is any consolation to my grief, it is this story:
My Dad’s father was killed in World War II, when Dad was only 9. He left his wife – my grandmother – as a single parent, raising Dad and his sister Hilary. Grandma never remarried. The years went by, and in 1995, Grandma Batty died of old age.
On the day she died, Dad was at work in his office, and his sister Hilary was at home in England. As Dad tells it, he heard his mother’s voice – as if she were talking in the next room, say, “You waited for me…” and then he heard his father’s voice which he hadn’t heard in over 50 years, say, “It’s alright, time doesn’t mean the same thing here.” Straight away, Dad called Hilary, and she said that she’d heard the very same voices, at the very same time. They both heard it, they both knew.
So, yes, death is a chance for another meeting with those loved ones you’d thought you’d left.
I am glad that Dad is no longer suffering, and while I do miss him, terribly, I know that he is at peace, and enjoying long fireside talks with his father and his family.

In closing, here’s an excerpt of a poem he wrote shortly after his mother died.

On Grief for the Departed

"The room is empty now.
Between the curtains, sunlight’s fingers
Touch first the bed, the vacant chair.
The day moves on. No point in time.
The room is empty now.

Grief for the dead is based in love.
Felt as guilt, expressed in sorrow.
They left too soon,
Before we had the time
For all the words, for all the gestures.
Always we could rely on tomorrow –
Until tomorrow became a yesterday.

Did we ever say enough?
Did we ever do enough?
Enough perhaps is any, and any, all."

Dad, I love you.