Lessons from my father: Standing up for what is right

Jim Cosgrove and his daughters
Jim Cosgrove and his daughters

The more stories I recall about my father, the cooler he gets. Maybe that’s because as I gain more experience as a parent, I’m growing to appreciate all that he did for us.

He was a man of faith, integrity and action. And I know where he stood on the issues of his time.

In 1955, he and 15 other white lawyers formed a committee to lobby for the inclusion of African-American and female attorneys into the Kansas City Bar Association. They crafted and signed a letter to all members urging them to vote for a change that was right and just.

Because his name was attached to that letter, my father received many notes of support and several nasty ones containing ugly epithets. Some of those hateful letters came from lawyers he knew well.

Years later my father admitted to shredding those nasty letters because he knew those men would later regret that they’d ever sent them. He didn’t want there to be any evidence that might embarrass them. That was my dad. He wasn’t vengeful or a grudge-holder.

Following the riots that rocked American cities in the spring of 1968, my mother and father became active in Kansas City Crisis, a group organized to create dialogue and seek peaceful solutions to the racial tensions. When the group met at our house, the little kids would gather and play games in an upstairs bedroom while the adults engaged in intense discussions in the living room or around the dining room table.

When fire damaged the home of some family friends, my parents insisted that they move into the house we had just bought in another neighborhood. We had not yet moved in, so it made perfect sense for our friends to stay in the vacant house until they could rebuild. The fact that our friends were black did not sit well with many of our new neighbors. By the time our family moved in several weeks later, there were neighbors who would not speak to us.

Perhaps the most indelible image I have of my father was after the outbreak of the first Gulf War. There, on a street corner on the Plaza, dressed in his overcoat and woolen Irish cap, stood my father. He was a proud World War II veteran who had served as an Army officer in an artillery unit in North Africa and Italy. Because of his front-row seat to the brutality and inhumanity of war, he held a sign that read, “Honk for peace!”

My father didn’t have to preach the lessons he taught me — he just lived them. I can only hope that our daughters never have to ask my wife and me where we stand on the issues of our time. I trust that they will instinctively know the importance of a life guided by compassion, tolerance and inclusion, and that they will always pursue the common good.

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