There was only one of those I genuinely enjoyed and relished—campaigning. Don't get me wrong, my parents didn't force us to campaign, but it was expected. And my brothers loved it as well. But with all the expectations placed on us to campaign, there were not concurrent expectations for us to enter politics. My parents would have been as pleased or satisfied if any of us had elected to become a doctor, a teacher, a journalist, a scientist, a cop, or a lawyer—wherever our desires and abilities led us, they would have been fine with. Having said that, I don't remember a time when politics, public service, and campaigns didn't excite and drive me. Even after my parents moved us to Washington in 1979 during my dad's third term in Congress, I very much looked forward to returning to Memphis in the summers, especially election summers, to join the campaign. The work for me was primarily grassroots—bumper stickering cars at shopping centers, putting up yard signs, and handing out campaign literature. The older I got, the more responsibility I was given. Eventually, I managed my dad's campaigns and was responsible for more of the organizational aspects of the campaigns. I wrote the text of the literature, spoke on my dad's behalf, organized fund-raising, and planned big events. But the grassroots work for me never stopped—even after he'd served ten terms in the Congress, my dad's commitment to grass-roots campaigning never waned. We would always start and finish the day shaking hands, slapping on bumper stickers, and taking pictures with constituents at shopping centers, grocery stores, malls, and busy intersections. My passion for and comfort with retail politics developed honestly. It might even be genetic.
Every Sunday morning we had a ritual in the house. The arrangement was very straightforward—if you ate breakfast, you went to church. I ate every Sunday morning. My mother would fry chicken, boil rice, and bake biscuits almost every Sunday. Even my Jewish friends who would sleep over would be required to go to church with us in Washington if they had breakfast. Although my family never disavowed our membership at our home church in Memphis (Mt. Moriah-East Baptist Church, which is where my brothers and I were baptized by Reverend Melvin Charles Smith), we were visiting members at two churches in Washington: New Bethel Baptist, pastured by Reverend Walter Fauntroy, who was also Washington, D.C.'s delegate to Congress, and Metropolitan Baptist, pastured by Reverend H. Beecher Hicks. Initially, I was more comfortable in church in Memphis, but as we attended more and more services in D.C., I grew to love New Bethel and Metropolitan. Reverend Fauntroy was as good a gospel singer in the pulpit as he was a pastor.
On the campaign trail in 1996 during my first run for Congress, I'd often ask young parents where they attended church. I was often surprised by their answers, which can be best paraphrased as "I go to New Salem, but I can't get my kids to go." Or, "I attend Olive Grove Baptist, but I can't get my kids to go." I was surprised, if not shocked, to hear this because when I was growing up, kids didn't have decision-making authority like that in any home that I knew of. Although eating breakfast was what triggered the requirement to go to church in my house, I always knew that even if I didn't eat breakfast, I was still going to church. In short, there was no opt-out provision in the Ford household.