Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Big Tom Swisher

The following is PART 1 of the first of (hopefully) three serialized life-stories of American politicians.

Thomas Jonathon Swisher was born just outside of St. Louis, on the Missouri side. His father worked for a shipping firm, working his way from loading docks to driver seats to windowed offices—where he made enough to move his family outside the city.

Thomas the senior’s ascent was due not to any innate talent (not that any such talent was on display in his business), and certainly not because of happenstance networking or hereditary title (he could hardly speak English when he started), but because of fastidiousness, loyalty, and perseverance.

Tom Swisher was proud of his father and forever fond of saying that his father had taught him everything he knew. But in truth Big Tom Swisher learned more from his mother—even if he wouldn’t admit it.

Mrs. Swisher raised Big Tom during those 48 or more hour blocks when her husband was on the road. She was able to keep Big Tom from the other second generation children whose parents she considered shallow and narrow-minded. She refused to succumb to the immigrant mindset that money provides safety, showing Big Tom instead that true safety comes from respect.

Every night before he went to bed she told him stories of figures like Jesus, Harriet Tubman, and Gandhi, showing how nothing is as strong as gentleness. She taught him how to use the biggest knife to peel potatoes without skinning too much of the good stuff, showing how nothing is as gentle as strength. And when Tom senior would leave and Tom would get sad, she would tell him how his father stayed out of the guys' controversial labor conversations, how he purposefully never laughed at the racial jokes, and how these abstentions helped give him the respect of his peers and his bosses. She would tell him his father's respect for those around him had led to another promotion.

As a result he was never drawn towards any "cool" or particular ethnic group of peers, he never hesitated to help when his mother came home with groceries, and he never responded “What?” or “Huh?” but “Yes mother” when she called for him.

The social reverberations of this reverent training were astounding. He was the class favorite from 1st grade forward and even though the other parents in his building were never too fond of the condescending Mrs. Swisher Big Tom found it impossible to pass by an open door without being offered a chocolate.

What is most interesting about the favoritism he received—not just from neighbors but also from teachers and, later, bosses as well—is the absence of jealousy in his peers which one would expect. And further, the respect he received did not come from awe towards his merits. He was not a straight A student, he was not the best athlete, and his sense of humor produced only giggles at best.

The bottom line is that other children loved him because they felt he treated them like a family member. He showed the same ornamental politeness to all his classmates, regardless of race or clique and he was able to placate even much older bullies with simple chit-chat. They appreciated his forwardness and the way he looked them in the eye when he smiled. I suppose this is the trait the media would later label “charisma” when in truth it was simply the pure outgoing respect that his mother had instilled in him.

Although his father was always nervous that his son had no particular skill—he was truly average in just about every subject—his family somehow just knew that success would find Big Tom, who in the summer before 9th grade hit a massive growth spurt and awkwardly towered above the rest of his class like a gentle giant, causing everyone around him to call him by the nickname the whole country would eventually learn to love.