image: Alex Steffler

A Father’s Day Requiem

In many respects it was a normal Father’s Day. The youngest of the grandchildren opened up a gash on his head on Friday and he and his mother Juliette (our eldest) spent part of the day in the ER near Oakland stitching it up. Eliza came over Sunday afternoon to be with her dad here in New York. Sophia is on summer break from journalism school and working remotely for the Washington Spectator—she was the last person I spoke to late Saturday night when she called about posting a piece on Japan.

I think about my children every day—what father doesn’t. I marvel at their navigational successes, and agonize over every roadblock. Some friends say I spoil them, I hope it’s true. There was a time when I saw Father’s Day mainly as a commercial invention, and while to some degree I still do, over the years it’s acquired greater meaning and become less of an artifice.

I’m sure the people at Hallmark weren’t thinking about the ironies of celebrating Father’s Day for children who don’t have fathers, or have been separated from them. My father died relatively young, and I miss him all the time. He was respected for many qualities, among them the civility he brought to public life. He was a Republican, though given the achievements of his years in Congress—extension of the Civil Rights Act, fair housing legislation, immigration reform, aid to people with disabilities—I doubt his loyalties would have survived the imposters who currently inhabit the seats of political power and who, with their corruption, and contempt, have brought our democracy to the brink.

Nowhere on Father’s Day is this rot more conspicuously on display than in the separation of children from their parents on our border. The marquee perpetrators of this inhuman practice of course were the Nazis. Diaries of the victims, non-fiction films and actual footage recorded by the German military have documented indelible and wrenching scenes of uniformed soldiers sorting children from their parents enroute to detention and camps. Over the years, I’ve been involved in documentary films on this period, and if you’ll forgive a commercial, one of these films, “The Memory of Justice,” can now be accessed on HBO. If you want a deeper understanding of the relationship between fascism and what is now unfolding in our country, I encourage you to see it.

Nowhere on Father’s Day is this rot more conspicuously on display than in the separation of children from their parents on our border.

I visited Cambodia in the seventies, where the genocidal Pol Pot had separated children from their parents and destroyed that ancient, cultured society. And more recently, every civilized mind has recoiled from the reports from West Africa of repeated kidnappings of large numbers of girls by Islamist militants.

To this list of modern outliers we add our name in shame. It is estimated over 2700 migrant children have been taken from their parents at the US-Mexico border in the past year, on orders from Attorney General Jeff Sessions who turned to scripture to defend the policy. “I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order,” Sessions was quoted in USA Today last week.

The Department of Homeland Security recently reported that 1995 children were taken from 1940 adults between April 18 and May 31 of this year alone. Parents are told their children are being taken away just briefly for questioning. Liz Goodwin of the Boston Globe cites a federal defender who said that in several cases, children were taken “by Border Patrol agents who said they were going to give them a bath. As the hours passed, it dawned on the mothers the kids were not coming back.” Other mothers, assigned at the border to federal prison, report being told by federal agents that “their families would not exist anymore” and that “they would not see their children again.”

People all over the country are expressing their revulsion. A group from our tiny town of Marfa, Texas left early Sunday morning to protest at the migrant youth detention center at Tornillo, about 30 miles east of El Paso. Several Democratic members of Congress paid a surprise Father’s Day visit to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center in New Jersey, which houses migrants who were separated from their families after crossing the border.

I spent Sunday evening at a Father’s Day dinner with my daughter. I treasure these moments with her. And I feel we have reached a place where none of what we cherish about this country is assured.

Hamilton Fish is the editor and publisher of the Washington Spectator. He has produced several documentary films, including The Memory of Justice (1976), and, most recently, Food Chains (2014), with Sanjay Rawal and Smriti Keshari.

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