Monday, June 13, 2016

Parenthood: Week 156 - Lessons Of Fatherhood From President Obama

I’m really glad that Ollie is 3 years-old right now. I don’t have to explain to him why rape happens and why some people don’t get punished as much as other people for this crime. I don’t have to explain why people in our country are willing to support a candidate for president who regularly states racist, sexist, misogynistic, and xenophobic comments. And I don’t have to help him make sense of why a sad and angry individual would buy a gun and kill a bunch of people who came together to share the joys of life.

I’ve done this as a teacher. I talked to kids after Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, I taught the day after the Boston Marathon bombing and kids asked me about the video of Laquan McDonald being fatally shot by Chicago policemen. These are tough conversations, but it’s part of gig. I don’t always have the answers but as an adult talking to kids in these tough times, the answers are often not the most important thing that you provide children. More than anything, they need to feel heard and know that they are not alone in their feelings.

I know it’s going to be different with Ollie. And while I’m hopeful that our world will make strides towards a more just and peaceful society, bad things will keep happening and tragedies will touch us all. We are going to have difficult conversations with Ollie about the world around us and while I feel that being a teacher has prepared me to a point, I’m currently finding relief in that fact that my job as a parent right now is not to expose Ollie to the darkness of humanity.  It’s my job to surround him with love and help him expand his sense of who is in his tribe by showing him the beauty and diversity of love.

We make sure that there are people of color in Ollie’s books. We expose him to different cultures through music, food and art and Ollie attends a school that priorities diversity and inclusion. I think this is enough for now, I hope this is enough, but sometimes I feel lost and unsure how to move forward.

In these moments, the person that has given me inspiration over and over is President Barack Obama. He modeled the evolution of viewpoints of Gay marriage, validated the crisis of police violence in African-American communities and recognized in his speech at APAICS stating that Asian-Americans “are part of the lifeblood of this nation.” Each one of these moments along with many more have helped me understand what I need to be for my son.  Along with my wife, my parents, and Mister Rogers, President Barack Obama has been one of the most important influences on me on how to be a father.

After Ollie woke up from his nap today, I asked him if I could come into his crib and read a book to him. He agreed and I grabbed Of Thee I Sing: A Letter To My Daughters, President Obama’s picture book illustrated by Loren Long. As Ollie and I explored the wonderful diversity of people who have made up our world, I felt that I was giving Ollie exactly what he needed to understand at this difficult time in our country. Ollie traced the picture of Goergia O’Keeffe, and wanted to pause at Jackie Robinson. He asked questions about Helen Keller and gazed at Maya Lin’s reflection in her Vietnam Veterans Memorial. He touched Martin Luther King’s face and he wanted to know more about Cesar Chavez.

As I read the final question of the book, I felt proud and thankful to our President for providing the words that we both needed:
Have I told you that America is made up of people of every kind?
People of all races, religions, and beliefs.
People from the coastlines and the mountains.
People who have made bright lights shine
by sharing their unique gifts
and giving us the courage to lift one another up,
to keep up the fight,
to work and build upon all that is good
in our nation.

Have I told you that they are all a part of you?
Have I told you that you are one of them,
And that you are the future?
And have I told you that I love you?
A year into President Obama’s term, someone sarcastically asked me “so how’s that ‘hope’ stuff working out for you?” Now seven years later as I felt back then, that whole “hope” thing is continuing to inspire me as an American and now as a father.

Thank you Mr. President.

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