Sunday, April 15, 2012

An Uncle, A Man, A Life

Uncle Paul by mdt1960
Uncle Paul, a photo by mdt1960 on Flickr.
I’m not one to claim favorites when it comes to family members, but I’ll say here that Uncle Paul was indeed a favorite when it comes to the extended family. And for him to be a favorite wasn’t a matter of simple math. Paul Kline was “Number Six” in the long line of Kline children (14 in all) who came from the marriage of Thomas and Stella Kline—my grandparents. I never took a survey amongst my fellow cousins, but I suspect if any of them spent a significant amount of time with him, he would be a favorite of theirs as well.

Born one day and thirty-three years before me, Uncle Paul and I occasionally shared informal birthday celebrations if I was in Akron during July.

As a child, I first knew Uncle Paul as “Uncle Chicky;” a nickname from his childhood. Many of the Kline siblings were given such nicknames from their father, Tom: Fred was called “Whitey,” Russell was known as “Teddy,” and even my mom was sometimes referred to as “Mamie.” Related to the giving of nicknames, Paul was originally named “Charles Monroe” at birth, but the birth certificate materialized with Paul J.; the J standing for Junior. Likewise, Uncle Fred was originally named Walter Sidney but somehow turned up as Fred Julius on the birth certificate.

During my early years, I was always a bit leery and thus somewhat fearful of Uncle Chick due to the roughhouse and boisterous air that seemed to surround him. I remember a fishing trip to Canada that included him and other Kline families; and even though each family had their own cabin, we always knew when Uncle Chick woke up with his signature yawn that was likely heard from the other side of the river. As I grew older and realized that the only pain he would ever inflict on me was a good charlie-horse in the shoulder, I saw through his gruff exterior and discovered a soft-hearted man who epitomized the word “serve.”

It has taken me years to pin down what was so special about Uncle Paul, but it finally came to me early in 2011 when I was unexpectedly home for my Uncle Jim’s funeral. You see, Uncle Jim was my father’s brother—a Tyree, while Uncle Paul was my mom’s brother—a Kline. Yet there was Uncle Paul sitting next to my mom and dad on that sad day during the funeral. I don’t know if he was there for my mother, who was there for my father, or if he was simply there for his brother-in-law. Regardless, there was no other Kline in attendance, nor were they expected. Yet, Paul J. Kline was there. That was the measure of this man that finally spoke to me. Perhaps it’s not that noteworthy, but for whatever the case, something happen inside of me when I saw him come through the doors at Uncle Jim’s funeral. That one show of unexpected kindness will forever stay with me.

The few lines of his obituary that were printed in the Akron Beacon Journal said much about the character of Paul Kline.

Paul J. Kline born July 12, 1927 passed away December 30, 2011 with his family at his side. Employed as a lineman/trouble shooter with Ohio Edison for over 40 years, he enjoyed his retirement taking care of his wife, cooking awesome meals for his family, and cultivating his garden.

He was an avid fisherman, handyman and chauffeur to anyone who needed him. Strong, wise, honest, ornery and always smiling—with a twinkle in his eyes…

I can testify as much as anyone that “ornery” he was, but always in a humorous way while that “twinkle in his eyes” was honest-to-God; and unlike a faint and distant star, was as bright and constant as the sun on a cloudless summer day.

Friday, April 06, 2012

“Obamacare’s” True Adversary

The Tailspin Begins by mdt1960
The Tailspin Begins, a photo by mdt1960 on Flickr.
Writing on or participating in discussions about healthcare is probably the same as kicking around the idea on whether or not God exist or what is the meaning of life. Yet, what puzzles me the most, is that unlike these latter two subjects, the Affordable Care Act is directly before us; and given we are so divided about it, well that is the most astonishing of all.

Admittedly I’m somewhat surprised that I have the energy to write about this topic, as if I have something to say that hasn’t already been considered in some other forum or context. Yet, here I go pretending such is true.

NPR reporter, Ari Shapiro reported recently in his coverage of the Republican primaries, that the rally cry generating more audience feedback from any of the candidates in the running was when they declared something akin to, “If I’m elected, the first thing I will do is repeal ‘Obamacare!’”

One has to wonder if the same spirited response would come if any of these candidates simply said, “If I’m elected, the first thing I will do is repeal universal healthcare!”

As an Anglo who has been around more than my share of dark-skinned-derogatory comments generated by fellow Whities in the course of my life, I feel pretty convinced that all of this is just another smokescreen to disguise the absolute destain this group holds for a man of color leading the country, period.

I know, I know. How dare I play the “race card.” Yet, how can one ignore it given our country’s prolific and sobering history of prejudice and racism—as if to pretend that it is so far behind us now (or never existed).

Racism is akin to cigarette smoking: for the most part, everyone knows it’s not a good thing, yet many still practice it for whatever reason. Like smoking, it will take generations to completely disappear—if it does at all. And the idea of Whites hating Blacks and vice versa shouldn’t be thought of as some relic hanging around from 200 years ago. Racism has barely had time to become stale, let alone rotten in a society that once commonly incorporated it into almost every part of our day and life. It runs deep in America and anyone who thinks otherwise is downright in denial.

That said, there is still no excuse for it. If racism had been a product of the classroom or the workplace only, we probably would be further along in overcoming it today. But, the truest fact of all is, racism is a product of the home—safely and quietly guarded by the parents who instill it in their children and can never be outlawed in the domestic setting.

Although this stealth population of “racist amongst us” aren’t too concerned about being politically correct, they know that their strong prejudice towards Blacks (or others not like them) isn’t tolerated, taken seriously, or will hold any water when it comes to elected officials of color. So, the best they can do is go after something that has his signature/name on it—much like a voodoo doll.

Had George W. Bush knocked on a poor, White, working-class individual’s door who currently opposes “Obamacare” six years ago and made them the same offer/benefits that make up today’s Affordable Care Act package, they would have signed up. However as today’s President offers the same, they turn it away and make up some lame, Constitutional-rights excuse that prevents them from feeling as if they are taking a handout from—God forbid—an African American.

But back to universal health care… Even President Obama has admitted that this healthcare plan isn’t perfect, it’s only a start. Yet, because it is his healthcare plan, those who oppose it would prefer to go back to the drawing board rather than improving on what has already been set in motion. And no doubt, the second iteration of healthcare coming from the Republicans (if given another chance) or an Anglo President will surely be received warmly even if there are negligible differences between “Obamacare” and “Whiteycare.”

One of my friends recently posted a comment regarding a conversation he had with a Canadian couple over dinner one night. After explaining how a socialized Canadian healthcare system had supported the man and his wife over the years (and mind you, he had some pretty serious health issues), he concluded with the following, “I don’t understand “Obamacare” and why it’s so controversial,” he said. “But I know that in Canada no one is ever going to lose everything they have just because they get sick.”

This is probably as good a place as any to remind the reader how old “Obamacare” really is…

“I am for people, individuals—exactly like automobile insurance—individuals having health insurance and being required to have health insurance. And I am prepared to vote for a voucher system which will give individuals, on a sliding scale, a government subsidy so we insure that everyone as individuals have health insurance.” —Newt Gingrich 1993

Really... “Obamacare” over the lackluster economy, over an ongoing war that has drained the country’s wealth, over getting our troops out of Afghanistan and other misguided conflicts around the world ASAP, over record profits notched by Exxon and company while gas prices continue to soar… Hell, I’m more worried about the drug/gang violence in Mexico spilling over onto our side of the border than mandatory universal healthcare.