My father turned 80 last month. For a birthday present he asked his children to let him know what they learned from him. I have been thinking about this as I travel the country talking about sustainability, smart growth and the importance of planning for the future. Where did my commitment to sustainability, smart growth, whatever, come from?
I am named after my father, as he is named after his uncle, grandfather, and great-grandfather. Our family came to America in the early 1700s. We fought against Cornwallis in the Revolutionary War, built the first church in Virginia west of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and suffered through the Civil War and the Great Depression. My family came to America for a better life for their children and their children’s children. Sustainability.
I am not a particularly religious person, but I learned my faith from my father. The first thing I learned in church (after Jesus Loves Me and the Doxology) was the Golden Rule, that one should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself. Sustainability.
My father was an officer in the US Army, and I grew up a proud Army Brat. But there were difficult times. When my father was in Vietnam, where he earned three Bronze Stars for heroism, we waited in a hostile community for him to come home. He had two other overseas tours where we had to stay behind. We moved a lot, lived in little apartments and base housing, attended lots of schools, said goodbye to lots of friends. We could not afford all the stuff we saw on television. When I asked my dad why, he said it was an honor and a privilege to do his part to make the world a better place for his children and their children. Sustainability.
My teen years were spent in the Boy Scouts. My brothers and I are Eagle Scouts, in large part due to the efforts of our parents. Our dad was our Scoutmaster and put his heart and soul into the Scouts on our behalf. On the path to Eagle we learned that citizenship and conservation are not mutually exclusive values, but integrated into something that makes us special. Sustainability.
I attended the University of Virginia, like my father. According to Thomas Jefferson, the founder of the University, “The earth belongs to each generation during its course, fully and in its own right, but no generation can contract debts greater than can be paid during the course of its own existence.” Sustainability.
My father and I have both been elected Fellows of the American Society of Civil Engineers. The ASCE’s Code of Ethics states that, “Engineers shall hold paramount the safety, health and welfare of the public and shall strive to comply with the principles of sustainable development in the performance of their professional duties.” Sustainability.
Recently there are some scared and angry people, who say that sustainability is a bad thing, some global plot to bring America down. They don’t scare me, and I won’t surrender the moral high ground to them. I learned from my father, an American hero, my hero, that sustainability is an American value long held by Americans of all persuasions. So I’ll do my part to make the world a better place for my children and my children’s children.
Happy birthday, dad.