Over the last several days, I’ve seen a bunch of different quotes and sayings about how children are not born knowing how to hate. My favorite is from Denis Leary (who I think is an underrated actor and a remarkably funny man).
When I watch coverage of all those young men carrying torches and acting foolishly in Virginia, it angers and saddens me. However, it also forces me to think about the things I can do to make sure we see less and less of this kind of bigoted garbage. I am driven to the hope that my daughters’ generation will look back on history with a sense of wonder and say “can you believe people ever thought that way?”. I want the concept of human inequality to be such a foreign idea to them that they cannot comprehend that bigots actually existed at one time. I want racial strife to be something they only read about in bygone era histories. I want them, and all their peers, to know freedom and to cherish it.
But, I am aware of the uphill climb this will be. Especially without specific action, these quixotic hopes seem like dreaming the impossible dream. There is unreasonable hate in our country and racial hate is the most unreasonable. It simply does not make sense. And yet, Charlottesville happened. So, now, a father is confronted with the reality of this evil and he must do all he can to stamp it out in the longshot hopes of providing his daughters a world free of it. My desire, as a loving dad, is to foster continuous opportunities to turn my daughters’ hearts away from bigotry toward grace and peace. Our little family has undertaken this in a few simple ways and I would invite every dad I know to come along and expand on these.
We highlight our history and exalt those heroes who fought for equality and peace long before us. A fundamental weakness I see among my dad brethren is that we shy away from explaining things to our young children, especially if those things require sensitivity in our cultural setting. But, as my dear wife reminds me, this is the first time my kids have lived on this planet and they won’t know things unless we teach them. They do not come prepackaged with a set of understood skills. So, we talk about our history. We explain slavery. On our most recent vacation to Charleston (phenomenal city, by the way), we visited a plantation and we had a few long talks while standing in the slave quarters. Conceptually, there are things my daughters cannot yet understand and the idea of someone owning another person still doesn’t compute in their brains. But, we discussed the evils of slavery as well as emancipation and the fight for civil rights. All of my daughters know, without question, that President Lincoln is daddy’s personal hero. We tell about the abolition of slavery and I’ve read the Emancipation Proclamation to them multiple times. We’ve talked about Dr. King and Medgar Evers and William Wilberforce and Jackie Robinson and Harriet Tubman. They know that there have been men and women in this country who have perpetrated evil against other men and women simply for their skin tone. Now, there are times when they ask offensive and embarrassing questions when trying to process these things but that should never suppress our willingness to teach to our kids the true history of racial strife in America. We’ll just have to ask for grace and forgiveness while our kids learn love and respect from our past instead of hate and bigotry. Dad, our children need to know our history, the beauty or our triumphs, and the ugliness of our failures.
We identify bigotry and racism before their eyes and we highlight how ugly and unattractive those things are. One of the things I relish most about this time is how much influence I still have on my daughters’ thinking. As they continue to grow and develop, I am aware of the truth that they are looking to me for cues on what is and is not attractive. From a very early age, daughters learn from their fathers what to look for in a future mate. This is just the way they are. As a matter of practice, I refuse to waste this time. When footage of the tiki torch vigil in Charlottesville appears on our television, we show it to the girls and we characterize it as ugly. We explain that boys who think and act like that are ugly and not worth our time and attention. To the one who would argue that this is akin to “brainwashing”, I would say, “Brother, refusing to influence your kid means you are the only person not telling your kid what to think”. I will not abdicate my rightful throne of fatherly influence for anything. My aim is to ensure that any young man taking an interest in one of the She-Gables better have a habit of treating all people with respect. The behavior and worldview of those supremacists in Charlottesville is rancid and it will turn their stomachs as it turns mine.
With an eye toward peace, these are the foundational parenting steps we are taking to bring about the extermination of bigotry in the world our daughters will inherit. These are just the beginning and there is, of course, much more to be done. Dads, we can continue to push racism out of this world in a thousand different ways. You’ve been great. You can be great again tomorrow.