My father has been a Mason for my entire life and longer. Actually, he’s a Shriner, which I guess is sort of like the Eagle Scout of freemasonry. The Masons are a fraternal and charitable folk. They have strange customs and odd accoutrements but they mean well. I think I’ve always understood that, but as a young kid, the best thing about my father being a Mason was that his lodge meetings were Wednesday nights, and since he didn’t like fast food, that became the night that my mother would take us out to McDonald’s.
It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I actually went to one of these meetings. Now, the first thing you need to know is that my grandfather was a Mason, then my father became one. As my father’s only son, I knew that there was an expectation for me to become a Mason as well. In spite of the good works that Masons do, it wasn’t a club that I wanted to have me as a member. Maybe it was the aprons and white gloves they wore. Maybe it was the Monty Python skit about secret Masonic handshakes. Maybe it was just because I didn’t want to fraternize with my father. My saving grace was the fact that according to their rules, a prospective initiate must proactively and independently express interest in joining—in other words, the Masons are not evangelical, so my father couldn’t force me to join.
Anyway, my father was being inducted as master of his lodge for his third or fourth time. I have no recollection of attending his other inductions, but perhaps because I was now of age to join the organization he wanted me to see what it was all about. So I went. It was easily the most bizarre thing I’d ever witnessed. I watched wide-eyed as they marched and knelt and carried things and performed strange rituals, and my only thought was, “Oh my God! My father is in a cult!”
Needless to say, from that day forward there has never been a microsecond when I’ve considered joining the Masons. I have nothing at all against them, or the Shriners; it’s just not for me. But back to teenagerhood: One thing that is typical of Masonic lodges is that from time to time they host blood drives. My father was always proud of how often he gave blood. I easily understood the importance, the mitzvah, of giving blood but, again, it wasn’t something I was eager to do. Worst of all, however, was the fact that these blood drives were always on Sunday mornings.
The problem with Sunday mornings was what I was doing on Saturday nights: namely, drinking and smoking pot. When my father would wake me up early on on a Sunday morning and ask if I wanted to go with him to the lodge and give blood, I had two reasons for saying no. First was that I was completely hungover and in need of several more hours of sleep. The second was less valid: I was afraid they would test my blood, find out what had I put into it the night before, and tell my father. It turns out that it doesn’t actually work that way, and even though the Red Cross asks innumerable questions to ascertain if you are an acceptable donor, what you smoked or drank the night before are not among them.
So it was many years later that I began to donate blood. At first, I did it for the juice and cookies; but after a while it became something I truly believed in and became a staunch advocate for. I believe that everyone who is eligible should give blood. Your body makes more; you’ll never run out. Frankly, it’s the easiest way a regular person can save another human life.
To date, I’ve given eight gallons of blood; that’s 64 individual pint donations. And don’t think it doesn’t matter to me that my father is proud of this. To his great credit, he never made an issue out of me not wanting to become a mason. But in a subtle way, he influenced me to become a blood donor and for that I (along with 64 others) have to thank him. Additionally, when he dies I’m getting his fez so that will be pretty cool.