Friday, December 5, 2014

The Statesman.

{Nevada Juniper}

Dear Lily, London, Ellie-Jane, and Emerson,

I'm back and ready to begin posting about our life. I previously mentioned that last month was a little rough. I debated whether or not to mention some of the events of the past weeks in this teensy corner of my internet. A space reserved mostly for family memories, happy musings, precious childhood stories, and frank confessions from your frequently overwhelmed, under-qualified mother.

I'm going to go ahead and record a bit of my thoughts regarding the current family events of November. Heaven knows, the rest of a damn internet has its own version clogging up my feed, so I figured I might as well do what I always do and spill my guts. It's strangely cathartic, to just let life hang out in the open sometimes.

The short recap version of recent events you'll read, if you google it (from here and through the eternity - thank you very much infinite internet), had to do with your Grandpa, Pop. 

The most miserable, evil, insensitive, stupid, lunatic, wingnut, crazy, racist, sexist, homophobic man

in pretty much all of history.

Yep. Your Pop. Sound familiar?

Yeah, it didn't to me either.

You're young now, but you've already noticed that Pop is involved in the political world of Nevada. An official in the NV Legislature, elected three times by the people to represent them. He was also appointed Speaker-designee of the House, voted in as leader by his peers. That is, until an orchestrated smear article surfaced, which randomly pulled quotes from his opinion columns written when he was hired as a local newspaper columnist 20 years ago. Random phrases and misconstrued ideas spread like wildfire. Because in popular political media, there is nothing more exciting than old newspaper columns cherry picked and aligned in such a way as to create a bizarre caricature of a conservative political figure.

It was a caricature of a hateful man who nobody had previously recognized - because he simply didn't, and doesn't, exist. But, when all of the local super reliable news outlets, and even the fancy schmancy Huffington Post, and even fancier schmancier New York Times, begin saying things - talking about this man - you can bet it's the truth. It's just got to be right? Because who could possibly know better than cliche left-leaning media reporters with an axe to grind? Those types just know everything.

Consequently, the caricature got a good, sound beating. The straw man was swiftly executed.

Okay, I'm sounding a little cheeky and vindictive. I suppose now I should confess that I really spent most of the past two weeks with my head tucked under a pillow, crying and wallowing in a bit of helpless anger and despair. It was brutal. It felt like watching the man you know, the good man you really know, get hammered again and again while you had no choice but to stand and watch. I know your Pop, girls. And let me tell you, this was media cruelty and injustice in all its sick and insatiable glory. Pop is certainly not the first to fall prey, and he won't be the last. You'll, unfortunately, receive much more education on this topic in your adult future.

As I had my head jammed under a pillow again one day, while you were napping, my thoughts turned to an afternoon we spent with Pop a little over a year ago. It was a rather chilly day, but nonetheless Pop decided to host a hiking adventure with his grandgirls. The destination of choice was the petroglyphs (old, Native American rock carvings) hidden in a canyon that he had also taken me to as a child. It is one of the many sacred mountainside ravines Pop has discovered while roaming the vast NV landscape. 

We loaded up in his pick-up and braced ourselves for the bumpy ride, meandering through anonymous dirt roads leading into nowhere-ville. You asked if you could ride in the back of the truck. Pop said of course!, because Pop always says of course! to absurd things like that. You were still in your pajamas for crying out loud.

{in a photograph, all you ever need to know about life with Ira Hansen as your Pop}

We spent the afternoon like this, tromping through the hills. Identifying every bush, branch and thistle along the way.

 And pssst, a bit of free advice from those who have hiked before you: take notes. He's bound to quiz you about the names of each indistinguishable shrub and stub and pile of sticks in the future. 

"Rachel, remember the name of this?"

"Oh! Um...yeah...Ummmm....oh...I think...der....Sagebrushius Deciduous Nevadius Shrubus."

{wait for it wait for it wait for it....the Silent Stare of Shame}

"It's spiny hop sage."

"Oh rrrright! Right. Totally my second guess."

For a man with an impressive supply of highlighted, marked up, vintage John Muir books and maps stacked all throughout his endless personal library, there is no such thing as a mere NV hike. It's a hikeducation.

But don't worry about your self-evident ignorance of the landscape, or the history of Nevada. Pop gladly shares the stories of the land and relishes in simply spending time in the great outdoors with you. I think it is the one thing he loves more than the books he reads so voraciously. You

{Dried Bob-cat poop. Pop picks it apart to show us the bird teeth inside.Yep, that's what I just said.}

{no lizards were harmed in the making of this photograph. I REPEAT, no lizards were harmed}

Pop stepped down, and resigned the NV Speakership last week. I know he saw the way it was hurting his family. He's a tough cookie, but I gotta say he's kind of a big mush pot when it comes to seeing Grandma sad. Additionally, he preferred the State not be continually distracted by an endless back-and-forth in the media over him, when there are much more dire issues facing Nevada. 

It hurt me to think of how the State just lost a great Speaker, but I was more grateful for my good, protective father. Because when he realized he couldn't be both, I'm glad he chose the latter.

I think Pop is most worried that he's embarrassed you, or me, or our family with this whole media spotlight scandal. He worries that moments of poorly chosen words, or insensitively articulated ideas, may forever cause people to think he really is a lunatic villain. I think he worries that he has somehow tainted the beauty of your family legacy. 

I've been thinking long and hard about that. And I've come to the conclusion that I think this whole thing is just utterly ridiculous. 

A favorite quote from C.S. Lewis keeps coming to mind:

"...Every age has their pet virtues and curious insensibilities..."

Isn't that the truth? I find it curiously insensible that we live in a nation which so easily forgives and even hails leaders who lie, cheat on their wife, and get their dingy dong played with in the once dignified oval office. I think of how current American heroes seem to be criminals who rob convenience stores and looters who steal from innocent store owners in a demand for  'justice'.  I think of President Obama's friend and favorite fund-raiser, the Forbe's list highest grossing music rap artist, who proudly sings blatantly misogynist and abusive lyrics while millions sing along. I think of our country's favorite broadway play, which openly and offensively mocks a minority religion. I think of America's popular political shows, with hosts like Bill Maher, an admired left-wing liberal who unabashedly says wonderfully sensitive things like,

“I thought when we elected a black president, we were going to get a black president. You know, this [BP oil spill] is where I want a real black president. I want him in a meeting with the BP CEOs, you know, where he lifts up his shirt so you can see the gun in his pants. That’s – (in black man voice) ‘we’ve got a motherfu**ing problem here?’ Shoot somebody in the foot.'”

“But I’ve often said that if I had – I have two dogs – if I had two retarded children, I’d be a hero. And yet the dogs, which are pretty much the same thing. They’re sweet. They’re loving. They’re kind, but they don’t mentally advance at all. … Dogs are like retarded children.” 

{ and this guy regularly hosts political leaders and media writers who gladly appear on his show?}

I think about these instances and the strange lack of meaningful accountability. I think about the deafening moral silence over certain forms of sanctioned insensitivity, offensiveness, or speech. Consequently, when I see the incensed firestorm that erupted over Pop's old article excerpts, taken out of context and extracted from the archives of an obscure local opinion paper - written years and years before you were born - I can't help but say, "What on earth is going on here?!"

So, if I seem defensive of your Pop, it's because I am. Not because I condone insensitivity. I certainly don't. I wish the whole world would try harder to be more sensitive, including your Pop. But there is a nasty double standard in life, one that you will have to contend with one day as well. With your own two eyes and a sound mind, you will quickly observe that only certain people are allowed to cross certain lines offending certain groups over certain issues because we are a nation that cares about EQUALITY! Yep, makes total sense.

We must try harder. We must all try harder to be kinder, to think harder, and to be more sensitive to others around us. 

Someday, when you are grown women who have known the truth of who Ira Hansen is as a human being, I am confident that you will look back and read those types of harsh, name calling articles with a sense of stupor. You will marvel at the authors who think they had the man pinned, crying for his political head on a plate, and you will say, "Whoa there. Now that just wasn't fair." Because it WASN'T. 

After crying like a ninny for a few days, I snapped out of it. I decided that I will be taking a pass on the selective moral outrage tour that is rolling through my area, thank you very much. I am not ashamed, or embarrassed. And you don't have to be either.

 I can only pray that you girls will always be in the company of men with good character who may say the wrong things on occasion, rather than be in the company of men with lousy character who say all the right things. 

{Tangent time. Bear with me. Come on! I haven't posted in a long time!}

Here is a rather awful, fuzzy picture that I love. 

For two reasons.

1) It is a good cautionary reminder of what happens when I go through a post-partum identity crisis and dye my hair and, 
2) Pop is wearing braces and his funky hat - which covers his bald head from sunburns - along with his signature, stained plumbing sweatshirt.

You see, Pop could never afford to fix his teeth while he was raising me and your other seven aunts and uncles. I remember he would trade plumbing services with a local dentist in exchange for our dental care. It was only when all of his children had clean, straight teeth and clothing and cars and educations that Pop finally had his teeth worked on. Hence, the poor man is in his fifties wearing braces.

One of the hater articles poked fun at how Pop looks just like Walter White from Breaking Bad. Is it wrong that I sort of thought that was awesome? And really, when I think about it, that was probably the most factually correct assertion in all of print at the time of the media frenzy. Now just imagine how much better the series would have been if Walter had Pop's hat. Well, come to think of it, you'll never be allowed to watch the show anyways.

 {Tangent over.}

I'll wrap up my Mama epistle to you now and relay something a sincere, well-meaning fellow legislator from across the aisle mentioned about Pop. He said he suspected Ira Hansen didn't have much exposure to many other places and cultures and walks of life. This is probably accurate. 

I have to say, when I read that, I felt guilty and sad. 

Because the truth of the matter is, once again, Pop spent all of his time and money making sure that I - along with my siblings - had that exposure instead. My siblings and I have traveled to many more countries and continents than our Dad. Pop's children speak more languages than he does. His children have experienced more cultures than he has. His children will all attend college, but he didn't. 

Each time we've returned home and gotten off of the plane from our latest parent-funded venture, we could count on finding him, steady and sure, in one of two places. He'd either be working in the plumbing shop, wearing that sweatshirt. Or, he'd be home, reading - soaking in the knowledge of other cultures, histories, places, and ideas - while eating potato chips with a big glass of watered down lemonade. And he'd always inevitably request, "So, Rae-pooper, tell me all about your trip..."

Yes, his travels may have been limited to a specific geography out of sheer necessity. But the landscape of which he is accustomed to, the Nevada range, he has scoured so broadly, and loved so deeply, and researched so widely that it's practically impossible for his children to distinguish him apart from the home of his birth. 

It's quite fitting that Nevada has become a part of his DNA,
 a place "where the wind blows wild and free".

We sure got lucky when we got Ira Hansen for a father and a 'Pop', wouldn't you say?





The Mrs. said...

Wow. Just wow. I didn't realize that he spent his life making sure that his children would be educated, traveled, and independent. It eared up reading about that. He's a great man. xoxo

Mike Hamilton said...

Very nicely said. I grew up with your Dad, going through school with him. I'm sorry we didn't keep in touch after High School, and after reading your article here, Now, I am really sorry we didn't keep in touch. I, too was offended by the articles written about Ira. Although I obviously didn't know him well over the years, yuor article and his recent letter to the paper really makes me wish I had. Please tell Ira that Mike Hamilton (SHS class of'79)said "Hello" from SoCal. Regards & Merry Christmas !!

Mike Hamilton, MSgt
Ca. Air National Guard

Kalyn Glines said...

Well said Rachel!!

Katy Nicole. said...

Rae! Honest and beautiful glimpse of the man who has built such a legacy… The Hansen Family! If only more fathers/husbands had Ira Hansen’s integrity and character. I am saddened by all of this nonsense and proud of you for speaking up.

Excited to see you soon. Love ya friend!


renee said...

Beautiful and refreshing post. NY Times should post THIS! Sorry you're having to deal with this.

thepainterfamily said...

Oh wow.

"I can only pray that you girls will always be in the company of men with good character who may say the wrong things on occasion, than be in the company of men with lousy character who say all the right things. "

over and favorite part.

Joan said...

Rae, I had NO idea about any of this! Disgraceful those people who would say disparaging things against your Father. He's a good man. I've always admired and appreciated his straightforward, tell it like it is, no sugar coating it personality.
Such a shameful loss for Nevada. Politics needs more staright shooters like Ira!