Recently, I was a guest at the lovely Ft. Lauderdale Yacht Club for their Independence Day celebration. It was especially picturesque–complete with happy children splashing in the pools, an enormous cookout, and open bar. Under the poolside high-ceiling cabana, slowly revolving fans bathed friends, parents, and grandparents below in a soft post-meal tropical breeze as they sat chatting.

Situated along Ft. Lauderdale’s scenic Intracoastal, growing numbers of boats — from small-cabined family cruisers and pontoon boats to anchored floating palaces — positioned for the big July 4th fireworks show. Unlike inland celebrations, along Florida’s waterways fireworks launch from pyrotechnics-packed platforms tethered to navigation buoys.

An exuberant 4-year child ran up to his grandfather waving a small American Flag on a stick that had been part of a nearby Independence Day table decoration.

“Look Granddad!” he beamed and excitedly waved the flag. “It’s the fireworks flag!” Then he handed the miniature flag to his grandfather and dashed away to play with the other sugar-buzzed yuppie larva.

Gradually, the July sunshine gave way to clear darkening skies. Large yachts tied to the docks (I like big boats, and I can’t deny it) outlined a grassy peninsula adjacent to the cabana. Families, including the grandfather and grandkid, now moved to the grassy area of the small promontory where they positioned themselves on blankets. Anticipation was high. It was “showtime.”

“Granddad!” the child pointed to several other American flags flying from the nearby boats, “more fireworks flags!”

This time the grandfather asked, “Why do you call it the “fireworks flag?”

“Because” he answered immediately, “the flag means there are fireworks coming!”

BOOM! The first fireworks volley began. The 4-year old instinctively burrowed into his grandfather’s embrace.

BOOM, BOOM-BOOM! Being this close to the fireworks platform, I could feel the blasts from the nearby floating barge. It was similar to being in a thunderstorm and experiencing the “flash-bang” of lightning and its immediate thunder clap. Whoa! In a few seconds, the grandchild cautiously peeked into the sky marveling at the loud, colorful spectacle above him. Soon, he happily joined the chorus of “Ooooohs” and “Ahhhhs” from others in the blanketed area.

By now, I’m sure you’ve figured out the grandchild is mine. And, that evening the precocious 4-year old taught his youthful, virile and ahem, studly grandfather a lesson in perception. I never saw “the fireworks flag” coming.

As depicted in the movie Truman, at 4-years of age, you frame your world and form perception from a circular combination of behavior, negative reinforcement, observation, and positive reinforcement. In my grandboy’s world, if he spotted several American flags, a fireworks show would soon follow. How adorable.


In a few years though, he will learn “the why” behind the 4th of July celebration and the sweeping, world-changing effects of that pivotal event.

He will discover our fight for independence was a horrific, brutal and savage clash. He’ll read about that struggle for individual freedoms; freedom of speech, press, the right to bear arms, assembly, and religion. He will understand this was a period of such suffering that history books today cannot accurately describe it.

He will develop a sense of awe for those Revolutionary War-era Americans and the enormous obstacles overcome by a group of not-nearly-united people. They were also poorly equipped and poorly trained (if trained at all). But, they took on the world’s best military; the best trained, best equipped, the best experienced, and won.


But, as he will learn, winning the war was only step one. Completing the next step would take another eleven years. That happened in Philadelphia when the Constitutional Delegates forever fused together a pronoun, an article, and a noun. Three words that forged a nation and changed the world.

“We The People” defined America; a sweeping expression of the American mind that today, is an American Cultural touchstone.

These facts will drive a growing awareness in him that this nation is like no other. He will recognize the brilliance of our Founding Fathers’ vision; that individual freedom, individual choice and the dignity placed by this culture on the individual supersede everything else — and particularly, government overreach.

He and his generation will come to see that maintaining this vision requires vigilance. They face ongoing confrontation with complacent citizens or worse, those persons who conspire to erode this unique cultural and political structure for their own personal or political gains.

Likewise, he and his fellow Americans of the future will recognize that the flame of individual freedom is targeted by violent individuals, both foreign and domestic. They fear the power of the individual unleashed in a culture that places this strength, this force, above everything.

He will marvel at the far-reaching power found in that historical three-word fusion. Most importantly though, he will understand the responsibility to protect what those three words created, now reside in him.

But for now, it’s the “Fireworks Flag” and that is just fine.

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