“No, you can’t wear your Power Rangers suit to kindergarten,” I reasoned with our five-year-old son. “I know it makes you a samurai but your teacher just won’t allow it,” I shouted behind him as he stomped toward his room.
A parents’ struggle between needs and wants this time of year is real. The kids need new shoes, a few pairs of (old looking) new jeans and a handful of crisp shirts as they head back to school. What they want, however, is something totally different. Yes, Gucci belts and Big Baller Brand shoes would be nice to have, but are completely unnecessary. And sure, your Power Rangers suit is super cool, but it’s wholly impractical. It’s as if back to school shopping perfectly encapsulates the barest fundamentals of a parent/child relationship—they want the world, and we give them all we can.
Inversely, we, as parents, want to give our children more than they need. We need to give them food, shelter and the occasional pair of (old looking) new jeans. But we want to give them the moon and stars. We want to make their dreams come true. We want them to believe in Santa Claus and we want them to have heroes.
And it is that last point that makes recent events, for me as a parent of three children, all the more disappointing. Our children want to believe in the idea of America. They want to believe that we, as a country, are fundamentally good. From a very early age they look for that—children from Seattle to St. Petersburg look for that.
Amidst the fireworks and patriotic bunting of early summer; amidst the small American flag they’ll soon stand and pledge their allegiance to in a stuffy, late-August classroom; they want a leader that embodies that spirit. They want a national leader to be proud of. But, as the aftermath of Charlottesville has sadly shown, right now there is no one there. And worse yet, it might be a long time before anyone with the heroic courage to stand up for what is right, to stand against a Nazi murdering a young woman—even if it angers his base—occupies the White House again.
President Trump’s immediate response to the tragedy in Charlottesville was a disgrace. And his Tuesday afternoon rage-filled impromptu infrastructure/tacitly supporting racism press conference was shameful. But that is who he is. That man, bereft of moral compass pointing him toward the light is who my children—our children—are looking to as the leader of the free world. And it sickens me.
Of course in this tinder-box environment everyone must choose a side. Every opinion, every word spoken and written, is sucked into a political vortex, shredded before crashing into the rails on one side of the spectrum or the other. You, as the reader, are at this precise moment deciding whether I am merely a concerned father or a Never-Trumping cuck, whining that the state isn’t doing enough to raise my kids for me. “Turn off the TV!” you’ll yell at your computer screen, convinced that I’m putting way too much thought into who my kids view as heroes. “You should be their damn hero!” I can almost hear you say.
But that’s where the sadness is. My kids don’t need a hero, they want one. They want to be proud of their president. My wife and I can raise our kids devoid of any mention of politics, or current events, or what insult the president of their country tweeted this morning. But that’s not America. That’s not the idea that we all so inherently believe in.
Look around Washington D.C. at all of the monuments constructed in remembrance of great men. That’s who we are. Individually, we are responsible for our own destiny. But collectively, we share the same idea.
The Christian author C.S. Lewis once wrote “Since it is so likely that children will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker.”
I want to tell my children of brave American knights, I really do. But then I look around and am reminded why that’s not something I need to do today.