We got my father a tall flagpole for his birthday a decade or more ago, shortly after he and my mother moved into a new house.
He mounted the pole in concrete in the center of his front yard. It proudly displays the American flag every year as I pull into his driveway on July 4.
My father has always taken the flag seriously.
He is going to be 78 this month. He was born during the Great Depression. As a boy, he was immersed in patriotism as our country rallied to defeat mighty foes during World War II.
He was drafted at the tail end of the Korean War and served for two years. When he returned home, America was an optimistic place.
He and my mother would marry and have six children. He would work very hard and watch his country, and his family, blossom -- blossom in a manner beyond his wildest dreams.
His country flourished so well that he, a "phone-company" employee, was able to retire at 59. He's enjoyed retirement for nearly 20 years now.
Inherent in the affection and seriousness my father holds for the American flag is the sense that our country has been like no other.
It truly has been a place where any man can make of himself almost anything.
It took only a few hundred years for our principles of individual liberty and free enterprise to produce the most prosperous and successful country in history.
Our freedoms have unleashed massive creativity and innovation that have made our daily lives so much better and easier.
So successful has our exceptional country been that many have had the luxury of taking for granted the origin of our wealth and success -- liberty.
That is what the Fourth of July is all about. Some truly enlightened people risked everything they had to fight for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Liberty sure has worked out well for us -- maybe too well?
Have we become so wealthy, our current economic mess notwithstanding, that millions have no sense at all of how exceptional our country has been or how hard it is to maintain the freedoms that are essential to our continued prosperity?
At baseball games when my father was young, most everybody stood at attention when the national anthem was played. Hats came off and right hands covered hearts as every person in the stadium turned with gratitude and respect toward the American flag.
What do you see now?
Way too many people giggling and yapping on their cell phones. The serious affection that my father, and so many of his generation, hold for the flag and for the national anthem has been waning for a long time.
Is this not a reflection of too many lacking serious affection for their country?
The Declaration of Independence says: "Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed ..."
If the governed are lazy and sloppy and unserious, won't they produce a government that is lazy and sloppy and unserious?
Isn't that the government we have right now?
How on Earth we are going to get our spending under control and stave off a real catastrophe is keeping me up nights. It is worrying my father, too -- he wonders what kind of country his kids and grandkids will be left with.
It consoles me to know that his flag will be hanging majestically above his front yard as I pull into his driveway on the Fourth every year.
It fills me with hope that, despite our challenges, we will find our way forward yet again.
Tom Purcell, a freelance writer, is also a humor columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and is nationally syndicated exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate. E-mail Tom at Purcell@caglecartoons.com.