I don’t look it but I’m actually an old man. I enjoy reading, gardening, long walks in the woods, and history.
You see when I was 4, my dad almost died. Worrying for money, by age 8 when I needed that Green Day cassette tape… he wouldn’t buy it for me. Instead, he got me a job and I went to work in the factory with him. By the age of 12, I was helping train new employees who were 20 years my senior.
“Damn it, Carl, I said to hold the sandblaster at a 45-degree angle and 6 inches away. We could train a monkey to do this… but monkeys are expensive so figure it out dumbass.”
All of that to say, I grew up very fast.
It’s been an incredible journey of playing in punk bands, working in restaurants, and finding my love in the creative world.
But like any old man, I started to think of my legacy.
The truth is that I’ve hurt people on that journey and more than just Karl. Once during a break at a men’s retreat, an attendee said “I’ve been with you all weekend and I don’t see this person who is quick to judgment and anger.”
I told him, “Oh sir, I save that for people I love.”
We both laughed because it’s tragically true that we tend to hurt people we love. But in the bigger scheme, Hundreds of people were affected through countless interactions over the years in a myriad of ways. There are some people who despise me, some of them may be in this room.
What is also true is that through my efforts I’ve also impacted the lives of thousands of people.
So am I a good guy? Do the rights I’ve done overshadow the bad?
That has a complicated idea for me, but as I have learned more history I have come to realize that all people are more complicated.
Honest Abe is celebrated for freeing the slaves in the States. But if you look at the historical context Britain had done so years prior, it’s often sub noted as it was done to win the war, and one pitiful idea was that they would ship all the former slaves to Central America.
So was honest Abe a good guy?
If we look at Dayton’s history, we all celebrate the Wrights, Kettering, and Patterson. Our founding fathers.
Our namesake Jonathan Dayton fought alongside General Washington, he was the youngest person to sign the Declaration of Independence. He went on to serve in the House of Representatives. He went on to purchase vast tracks of land in Ohio which grew his wealth and power. Dayton’s downfall was his association with Aaron Burr. After the famous duel that left Alexander Hamilton and then Vice President Burr’s political career dead. Dayton helped fund his conspiracy to turn the newly acquired Louisiana Purchase into a separate nation.
Yet no monument plaques in our city note that he was the financier of America’s first attempted succession.
The Dayton Chamber has an award named after John Patterson, founder of NCR. There is a memorable speech he gave the day of the flood: “there’s going to be a flood, we’re going to make boats and save the people.” It’s inspiring! It’s engraved into the sidewalks at Riverscape near the fountain. It’s hard to read and corroded over the years but you can still rug your fingers across and make out the words.
What’s unfortunate is that Patterson did it at the advice of his attorney because he was under federal indictment. Or that to this day he remains on lists for the top 10 worst CEOs of all time. It’s also speculated that the famous phrase “You’re fired” originated from Patterson’s unscrupulous method of letting employees know they were terminated by rolling their desk on the front lawn and setting it literally on fire.
Bicycle builders turned Aviation pioneers made history with their brilliant design of the warped wing. Their telegram from Kittyhawk cemented their legacy. This too is enshrined in the stone at Riverscape.
What isn’t inscribed is their subsequent power lust. They patterned and sued every potential competitor into submission.
Glenn Curtis, motorcycle builder, and aviation enthusiast had developed a better engine and the Wrights refused to partner. During a flight exercise with the Army the Wrights crashed killing one of the first airplane causalities. It was U.S. Army Lt. Thomas E. Selfridge, a friend of Curtis. Curtis believed a stronger engine could have prevented the crash, vowed revenge, and attempted to subvert the Wrights’ patents with the creation of the aileron. The Wrights sued and won (check this).
Years later during WWI, the federal government was forced to overturn the Wright Patents because American planes were so technically inferior to European combatants.
Pilots died because of the Wright Brothers’ power grab.
So were these good men or bad men?
The truth is that they, like me are complicated.
And I would presume that likewise all of you have complications in your own lives.
History has a great power in its ability to wash away sins. The adage goes “history is written by the victors”.
But sins can also be forgiven by the afflicted. Love, compassion, and understanding that none of us are perfect. And that’s okay.
At our best, each of us is doing our best while going through things that we may not be able to understand, but it is within our power to hope. To hope that we all may try to right our wrongs and find a path to love, servitude, fellowship, and the mystical wonders of the universe.
And that is the work of a lifetime.