By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Consider this a dispatch from the borderland between parenting and politics.
On a recent weekday morning, my wife, Rae, and our 4-year-old daughter Sophie sat at the breakfast table, playing a "Who's that?" game with pictures in The New York Times.
"Who's that?" Sophie called out in her gravelly sing-song. "That's Michael Jackson," Rae responded. "That's Nicole Kidman." "That's Siegfried and Roy." After a while, Rae turned to the front page. As is the norm in these dark days of aggression, she was greeted by the pinched and scolding glare of our prevaricator-in-chief. "Who's that?" Sophie asked. When Rae answered, "That's George Bush," our daughter did not hesitate. "Fucking asshole," Sophie said.
From the bedroom, I heard Rae's voice arc in astonishment: "Sophie. Don't use those words." As I wondered what had happened, Rae appeared in the doorway, face crumpled in laughter, eyes tearing and red. "You won't believe this," she began as she told me the story, pausing every now and then to laugh again. This is what no one tells you about parenthood, that your children are funny, especially when they're saying what kids shouldn't say. The problem, though, is once they see you laughing, any attempt at heading off their behavior is already a lost cause.
Of course, the thing about Sophie's outburst was that I wasn't sure I wanted to head off her behavior — at least not the message she had sent. It's not that I have any desire to hear my 4-year-old utter phrases like "fucking asshole," but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't proud of her just the same. Sophie, after all, had nailed it absolutely: She'd used the right language, in the proper context, with pitch-perfect timing and grace. More to the point, she was expressing something I had taught her, if not quite in so many words. I am the political ranter in our family, the parent who rails against the president, who sees the right as un-American, as the enemy. I am the parent who tells my children not to trust either major party, who talks about our patriotic duty to dissent. I am the parent who swears and curses, the one who cannot keep my mouth in check. I am, in other words, the parent responsible not just for Sophie's sentiments, but for her choice of phrasing, because that is exactlyhow I describe my political adversaries.
A few years ago, I might have regarded all this somewhat differently, through a filter of restraint. During the summer of 2000, I watched Bill Clinton address the Democratic National Convention on television with my then-6-year-old son Noah, who bubbled with excitement at the idea of actually seeing the president. That night, I held my tongue, kept my own counsel, did not reveal that I considered Clinton little better than a two-bit huckster who had sold out the left at virtually every turn. Back then, it still seemed important to preserve a veneer of idealism, of objectivity, to give my son the illusion of a better world.
These days, however, that better world has become a bizarro world, in which everything — race, class, peace, international relations — is upside down. We live in a rogue nation now, where, as William Butler Yeats once wrote, "The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity." In such an environment, what do I tell my children when they ask me what I think? It seems a lie to talk about respect when we have a president so disrespectful of our institutions that he literally hijacked an election he didn't win. It seems another lie to discuss objectivity when what currently passes for objectivity is just a thinly veiled façade of propaganda — pro-war, pro-business, anti-civil rights. Parenting is, at heart, a matter of moral responsibility, and never more so than in a morally uncertain world. Yes, you might argue, I am biasing my daughter, but when almost every cultural message seems designed to co-opt her, isn't that my job?
Ultimately, I didn't talk to Sophie about her language, although if I had, here is what I might have said: It may not be okay to call someone a fucking asshole, but it is important to talk about how you feel. For those who think a 4-year-old is too young to know her own mind . . . well, I must admit I have no real defense. Except for this: If nothing else, at least she'll never have to wage a war to get approval from her dad.
It's 3:30 p.m. on Friday afternoon and 17-year-old Andrea Garavito is surrounded by three friends at a Los Feliz coffeehouse — two pretty Latina girls and a 16-year-old with chin-length hair and glasses named Daniel Paredes.
"We call ourselves SOPA, Students Organizing for People's Alliance," says Andrea, whose brown, doll eyes are traced with liquid liner. "We are not part of any club. We are a student movement that has a cause, and that cause is No War on Iraq."