The quote goes something like this: Being a candidate does not change who you are, it reveals who you are. And when everything is said and done, it comes down to character. This is because issues, problem-solving challenges and the policy-needs environment will change. What will not change is character.
I was the only strawberry blonde baby girl in the hospital in Maui, Hawaii, where I was born. I am the first daughter of a large family. My father was a Navy pilot and later the chief of security at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida. My mother was an only child of a southern California family with pioneer roots.
My mother was fragile and seriously ill during most of my early childhood, so my father played a central role as parent. My father was winging it, so to speak, as a parent. I recall that our housekeeper would routinely herd all of us children out to the yard to see him fly over (Hawaii? Cuba? I cannot recall); and he would dip his airplane wings. I was dazzled. Imagine, a mortal who could fly. Lesson learned: indeed anything was possible.
When we lived in Pensacola, my father railed against the injustice and immorality of segregation. And to prove the point, one day he loaded all my brothers and sisters and myself into our car and drove us to the “other side of the tracks” so we could witness the misery and poverty resulting from prejudice and racial discrimination. Incredibly, we were invited in to share a glass of iced tea with a Black family living in a wooden hovel. That day taught me about gratitude for my good fortune and began a life-long quest for social justice. Such changes require courage and relentless work.
My father rarely spoke of WWII. He had survived the attack on Pearl Harbor, the war in the Pacific, and finding his way home by following the wake of aircraft carriers. But one day he did offer one compelling story. He explained to me that pilots who had survived the hellish air war were the ones who “did not race their engines.” I thought he meant it literally; that is, did not push their throttle. No. He meant it symbolically, in terms of attitude, emotions, and ultimately character. Those who had survived were pilots who were steady, present in the moment, and calm under fire. He explained it was a practice, a way of being in the world. It was based on knowledge and grace. It took me decades of life experience to learn how to do it. So that today, I am my father’s daughter. His optimism, sense of gratitude, work ethic, and courage to do the right stuff lives within me. And when he died, I got his wings…the gold ones they pin on pilots in Pensacola.