Parenthood: Great Power, Great Responsibility

 Most quotes can be attributed to Oscar Wilde, Dorothy Parker or Spider-Man

Most quotes can be attributed to Oscar Wilde, Dorothy Parker or Spider-Man

One of my favorite parts of being the father of a three year old boy involves explaining the world and how it works to my son, just as my dad did for me when I was my son’s age. I think I enjoy this aspect of fatherhood in particular because, as a rule, I do not understand the world, or how it works. That’s why I became a writer: to learn more about the world and my place in it. 

But compared to Declan, I am a Wikipedia-like repository of all of the wisdom and knowledge in the world. 

I try to fill Declan’s beautiful head with good things, and truth and knowledge because I know that at this age, he’s a pure sponge who soaks up information about society constantly and from many different sources, and he’s not able to think critically or judge for himself whether the information he’s getting is true or not.

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As a three year old who pretty much loves everything other than going to sleep and not consuming chocolate, Declan is just about the least skeptical, cynical person imaginable. His curious is bottomless and rapacious, his urge to discover more about the world insatiable. He may eventually become jaded and world-weary, like his old man, but right now he’s in something close to a state of pure innocence. 

That is a wonderful thing but it also makes me realize just how much power parents, or parental figures, possess when it comes to molding and shaping their progeny’s supremely suggestible young minds. In the right hands, this power can be a potent force for good but it can also be easily abused. 

This is particularly odious when it comes to passing racism, sexism and homophobia from one generation to another. It’s so, so easy to pollute a naive child’s imagination with off-handed comments about how Mexican people are lazy, and black people violent and women unqualified for important positions of leadership. 

Parents who fill their children’s heads with these lies aren’t necessarily doing so out of malice. They were probably told the same things when they were three years old and pure sponges and never quite got around to un-learning the awful social conditioning they experienced as tots. They aren’t telling their children these awful things to make them terrible people: they’re telling them that because they genuinely believe them to be true. 

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My wife and I will of course teach our son of our own values, because we consider them to be true, just as everyone essentially does. I remember when I was a kid my die-hard Democrat of a dad told me that the difference between the Democrats and the Republicans was that Republicans were just for white people and rich people and Democrats were for everyone else. 

It would be more accurate to say that Republicans are only for rich people and white people, and that Democrats are overwhelmingly for rich people and white people, but they at least do a better job of pretending to care about other people than the Republicans, but this sledgehammer-simple, reductive take on the American two-party system went a long way towards establishing how I viewed American politics as a child. 

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It’s damn near impossible to avoid projecting your own politics and morality onto your children. The trick, I suppose, is establishing with your child that your take on the world is just that—someone’s subjective perspective—and  that you also have a whole lot to learn about the world and how it works. We all do, only some of us are willing to admit it. 

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The Big WhoopNathan Rabin