David Pisarra

Right about this time of the year, 245 years ago, a gaggle of mature white men were in the final stages of preparation to sign their death warrant. It was a hot summer in Philadelphia and some forward thinkers at the time decided they’d had enough of their current overlord, King George of England, and they thought they’d break away and start something new.

It was a brave move at the time. Think about it in context. This small group of men, a bunch of merchants, a few lawyers, some plantation owners and a newspaper guy (Benjamin Franklin) gathered up the courage to take on the herculean task of motivating, coordinating and training a ragtag group of individuals to fight arguably the largest military machine in the history of the world, the British Army and Navy.

I visited Colonial Williamsburg a few decades back, and the thought of what life was like in Colonial times was shocking. The lack of technology, no communications systems really, manufacturing was not systematized, everything was pretty much a custom job, makes the enormity of what they undertook that much more impressive.

These days it’s in vogue to write off the accomplishments of our Founding Fathers. They were “just a bunch of old white men” who built a country on the backs of the women and blacks they devalued after all. And while I am not an apologist for the horrors of slavery, or the maltreatment of women throughout history, I do think that context matters.

Yes our country was founded by men, all white, at least those we recognize. But remember they were being devalued by their King. They were being abused, overtaxed, burdened with rules and obligations they didn’t sign up for.

It’s a common phrase in recovery rooms that ‘hurt people, hurt people.’ We should put in context how wrong it was to take men and women from Africa against their will and enslave them, no doubt. And we should put in context that the founding fathers were fighting against their oppressors as well as being oppressors.

We live in a time when it is easy to “cancel” someone. You can “dox” people on the internet with impunity. Today a career is destroyed in the blink of an eye by an errant word, an ill-formed thought, a change in what is considered humorous or flirty. To be offended is to assert your value at the expense of someone else – or so it seems.

Personally I get a fair amount of criticism. Some justified, some from people who are just angry and I’m a good lightning rod for their pain. I’ve learned to take most comments with an eye towards “why is this being said?” Last week I misquoted someone. I attributed a quote to David Ogilvy when in fact it was John Wanamaker and I was promptly corrected – that’s a fair criticism and I was wrong. I’ve also been called many names, and usually when I engage with the authors, what I find is they have unresolved issues that are leading them to vent on me.

After years of therapy I’ve come to the conclusion that yes, hurt people hurt people, and I’ve learned to be more understanding of others. I try to be more forgiving, to see their benefits, their good attributes, the things they have done for others.

As we approach the Fourth of July weekend, I’d like to suggest that if you choose to think about the founding fathers this weekend between cheeseburgers and beers, recognize them for both the good and the bad they did. They stood up to oppression and set up a country where we can do the same. We have freedoms to speak our truth, to live our lives as we choose, within proximity of others. We get to choose a religion or none at all, without it being dictated to us by a government. We can start a business, or move to another state, and we don’t have ask permission of anyone but a spouse.

Should we remember that the Founding Fathers were elitist, slave owners (some not all), who were bigots and racists and sexists? Yes. But they should be viewed in context, not judged by today’s standards, for they made today’s standards possible.

Do they deserve to be revered? Partly. They were brave and took action. Do they deserve to be reviled? Partly. They were human and acting according to the times they lived in.

In sum, we celebrate the Fourth of July because we can, and we can, because the Founding Fathers took action and we are the beneficiaries of their efforts. How should we best pay that forward? By taking action. By fighting oppression where we can. But that doesn’t mean we forget those who got us here.

It’s a cardinal rule of life, “you gotta dance with the one that brung ya.”

Happy Fourth of July! Be safe, and enjoy the weekend.

David Pisarra is a Los Angeles Divorce and Child Custody Lawyer specializing in Father’s and Men’s Rights with the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist. He welcomes your questions and comments. He can be reached at dpisarra@pisarra.com or 310/664-9969. You can follow him on Twitter @davidpisarra