It's Christmastime, which means I've had a chance to shake hands with President George W. Bush for the last time before Barack Obama succeeds him. On the way into the White House press party this month, guests passed risers being constructed for the inaugural parade. The peaceful succession process is a beautiful thing, even when it means I won't be invited to next year's Christmas party. That's more than fine, especially because I received a great gift from the president this year -- more proof of his moral leadership. He's had his flaws, of course, but he's always led with an ear to his conscience and his heart, consumed with the burden of not only protecting and defending but also loving the people who are so integral to what America is, has been and will be -- and whose lives are directly and dramatically changed by decisions he makes.
A friend of mine told the president that night about how grateful she feels toward him. She's the mother of an Iraq War veteran -- one of those countless, intensely proud moms who prayed and worried about their children overseas. When she finally welcomed him back home, she knew he had seen and done things from which any mother would want to protect her son. If anything can help a mom in that situation besides faith, it's knowing that her commander in chief takes his responsibility deadly seriously. And that's a fact the troops on the ground know -- even when others in Washington shamelessly decried the war effort, the commander and sometimes even the troops.
Still, I can't imagine the pain and worry suffered by the troops and their families. I haven't experienced the sacrifice firsthand. But I sure do give thanks for all those who shed blood for the rest of us. And I sure am grateful for a president who fully appreciates that sacrifice and who fully understands his pivotal role in war, peace, stewardship and leadership. Every time I've ever seen the president over these past eight years, he's managed to talk about the keepers of the flame of freedom. Every time I've seen him give an address to military audiences, I've seen in the crowd a great respect for him and our country -- a real enthusiasm informed by experience. The respect President Bush feels for soldiers and their families is mutual, as my friend told him during these last weeks in Washington, D.C. The love is mutual, she said.
My friend's son made it home. Another friend's brother didn't, killed by an IED in Afghanistan a few months ago. Over the past eight years, people have had innocence, limbs and lives taken from them while voluntarily serving our country during the war on terror. Their stories should inspire us, and they have -- tales of wounded men on multiple tours, even after suffering catastrophic injuries. Visit Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and your response may be a lot like mine: These folks have what it takes.
Similarly, the interaction my friend had with the president struck me as so very Christmas. For all the "Bush lied, people died," hysteria, there is something of St. Joseph in George W. Bush.
St. Joseph plays a key part in the Christmas story. If you're a believer, you know -- you have faith -- that he wasn't Jesus Christ's biological father. But he was a loving, hard-working man, who out of all men the Creator trusted with his Son. St. Joseph had a faith that allowed him to follow divine requests that couldn't have made a whole lot of sense. He was a model of masculine faith. While all men are not called to act as a father to the most important man in human history, Christian manhood involves providing, protecting and obeying, not just when it comes to family life, but also in the Church. What would any religion be without a few good men?
Even if you're not a believer, St. Joseph was a carpenter who protected the reputation of the woman he loved and provided for his family -- including going so far as to take his family to Egypt to save his son's life. In the bible, James describes him as a "doer."
And it's not just "The Decider" that seems to channel a little bit of Joseph. The moving and shaking of St. Joseph brings to mind so many men I've encountered over this past year. I know some of them as fathers of a less-traditional sort, united in purpose with St. Joseph. I think of the founder of the conservative movement -- and the magazine where I work -- who fought the Cold War and built a freedom revolution. He was a man who was deeply in love with his wife, even after she left this world. I think of his current successor, who works daily to protect the legacy with which he has been entrusted. And I think of a talk-show phenom who never forgets to invest in human capital, fathering the movement by teaching for three hours a day and supporting his fellow happy warriors, no matter where they are on the totem pole.
And it's a bipartisan thing. St. Joseph can be seen, too, in a president-elect who could use the opportunity that the American people have given him to renew the face of fatherhood in America -- and in the inner city, a place he is no stranger to. We can't afford not to teach our sons the way of St. Joseph. There's no time like Christmas to start doing so.