I am starting to think it is no coincidence that I am tasked with writing this blog a few days before Father’s Day. When I think of the people closest to me with the strongest sense of pure moral character, I have to admit that I think of three amazing fathers in my life: Marshall Dexter Crabtree (aka “Grandpa Crabtree”), whom I never really got the chance to know, but I have heard plenty of stories to give me enough evidence of his unflinching moral character; my dad, Simon Bookout (of course my mother Paula, too, but I’m going for a pattern here with these fathers and I have a feeling she’ll understand – another mark of strong character); and my husband, David Christie. When I distill my own personal definition of strong moral character into what I believe to be its basic elements, I realize that each of these amazing fathers has embodied them all day, every day, throughout their lives. I am so lucky to have them in my life as examples when I need to find the strength to summon my own true character instead of turning to the easiest, most selfish, or most popular path ahead of me.
Grandpa Crabtree demonstrated an absolute sense of what is right and generous and compassionate, even when his choices flew in the face of popular opinion. My dad has shown complete and utter selflessness day after day, living his life and doing everything for his family – even if it means taking his grandchildren to Island Fin Poke Bowl to eat raw fish instead of his preferred Cracker Barrel for some dependable green beans and pork chops. And finally, my own husband demonstrates character every day by demanding absolute excellence of himself in everything he does: teaching hesitant students about the beauty of epic poetry, mowing the lawn twice to get it just right, and baking interminable loaves of sourdough bread to achieve the perfect texture and color. Even when he hits a brick wall of rejection in his personal or professional life, he picks himself up and keeps going, over and over and over again. Like a once jagged, bumpy stone worn smooth and shiny by the ocean after years and years of pounding and jostling on the grainy sand, the pressure and bumps and bruises along the way are what created the noble characters of these men and made them beautiful.
I cannot illustrate more personal details about what these men have endured and overcome in the creation of their characters – for they would be profoundly embarrassed by any public form of adulation (yet another mark of strong character – they don’t think they deserve any kind of excessive praise just for doing what is right and good and true), so I must turn to my other favorite source of character education: literature.
Some of my favorite literary characters have provided humanity – for decades or even hundreds of years – with some of the best representations of strong moral character, challenging us as readers to ask ourselves, if faced with the same situation, what would I do? What choice would I make? SPOILER ALERT From the beloved Owen Meany who throws his tiny body in between a grenade and innocent children, simultaneously realizing the providential purpose of his strange life, to the noble scoundrel Sydney Carton in A Tale of Two Cities sacrificing his life for friendship and love, to young Huck Finn, who proclaims that he will help Jim escape to freedom, even if it means he’ll go to hell as Widow Douglas believed, these characters listened to the true voice of goodness and love inside themselves, and when the voice called, they answered. I carry my grandfather, father, and husband – along with these fictional characters – in my heart and wonder to myself, when that voice calls to my character, will I listen, and what will I choose?