Raising a child in any environment under any circumstance is never easy. The classic cliché is that it’s the most difficult but most rewarding job one can have in life. That’s something I believe is true.
I also believe specific events and environments can shape how a parent must choose to bring up their child, and how they will adapt their strategy to the goals and hopes they carry for that child.
The election of Donald Trump as President has led to the rise of a different American environment than the one I was raised in. Now, that’s not all Trump. He may be the figurehead or the spark that ignited the powder keg, but the temperament he now exudes over the nation has always existed and now is just out in full force.
This was the first election in which I wasn’t just voting for myself. I was also voting for a dead person still registered in my county.
This was my first election as a father. The first time I had to take into account what kind of tone our next President would set for the country that my son will grow up in. What they’ll do for his future and what kind of example they’d be.
I didn’t vote for Donald Trump. I didn’t vote for his message, his temperament, or a validation of his base of followers. But like every American, I’m now stuck with the thin-skinned Cheeto and subsequent fallout from his election. That includes my son, and the goals I have for the kind of person he can be.
Trump’s victory caused me to take stock in the kind of qualities I find important in a person and how to best teach them. The temperament shift in America’s leadership has led to a drastically different social and political landscape than what was present previously.
Far different than simply a liberal to conservative ideologies transition; the upheaval of social norms and tolerated behavior has given me reason to ponder how best to raise my son in Trump’s America. Goals and standards I’d always wanted to hold myself to as a father now seem more imperative than ever.
I’ll Teach Him To Value And Seek The Truth
There’s perhaps been no development as scary for me in the past year and a half than the continued recession of the importance of truth in society. In an election cycle that was driven by cable news and social media memes, somehow some in this country have labeled “fact-checking” as a dirty phrase.
The White House is supposed to the pillar of moral example for our nation and the face we can look toward for guidance. The first President my son will likely remember is a man who screams, “Fake News!” at factual reporting and whose business résumé is littered with bankruptcies and fraud. He topped his life’s work off with a political career built on propaganda and falsehoods.
With the plentiful resources afforded to the world today there is no good excuse for not knowing the factual answer to anything; only ignorance and complacency. Witnessing what dire straits false information and legitimately fake news (such as the article recently shared by our President on his Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/DonaldTrump/) have led to for our nation, it’s my duty as a father to teach my son to always look for what is factual and true. Not just what fits his narrative.
I want to be able to raise a young man who asks questions and looks for insight. Not one who takes words at face value and can find satisfaction at remaining uninformed. It’d be my failure as a father to allow him to be gullible by choice. At the same time, one who values finding the truth should also respect speaking and conveying it, something I hope would go hand in hand with those lessons. A society where 2 +2 = 5 is destined to fail, and I owe it to my son to instill a sense of thirst for authenticity.
My son, just like any child, deserves a factual explanation behind anything. In these days especially, it is important to instill the message that one person or source simply saying something so doesn’t render it true. When he comes home wanting the answer to something I owe it to him to take the time to research with him and explain the importance of knowing the true factual reason behind it. When he’s young it might just be why the sky is blue, but hopefully it’s a behavior that leads him searching for more serious truths as an adult.
Just Because A Problem Doesn’t Affect Him Doesn’t Mean It Isn’t Important
I’m a born U.S. citizen. Outwardly white. Christian-ish. Straight. Male.
Many of the fears felt by so many across America in the post-Trump era will never apply to me. I don’t fear one day that Richard Spencer and his band of alt-right Nazis will be able to show up at my door unless they start hunting for white dudes with Hispanic names. My marriage rights or reproductive rights aren’t in jeopardy either. I’m not sitting staring at the ceiling every night worried that despite being a legal resident of this country that me or my family might get deported.
But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter.
My hope for my son is that he won’t ever chastise or scorn the scared and oppressed. My goal is that his first instinct is compassion, understanding, and empathetic fear for their struggle. In a country being headed by a narcissist whose strings are being pulled by a white nationalist, there has been a disturbing lack of empathy for those who don’t fit a certain mold.
It’s sometimes easy to pay less attention or apply less importance to the strife of others when it doesn’t directly affect you. Disturbing as it’s been to witness Americans declare their lives more important than those of refugee children, it’s reinforced to me how important it is to pass on empathy and understanding for the situation of all human beings, not just yourself. I’d rather he and I be labeled “snowflakes” than to go through life not caring about other people’s problems.
It does no long term good for my son to be shielded from the plight of others or to be unaware of what is happening in other parts of the country and world. Obviously one shouldn’t show a toddler footage from Aleppo, but as he ages it’s important to instill a strong sense of care and humanity. He will grow up in an era where certain human groups will be fighting to keep and improve their basic rights standing in the eyes of their government.
These protests and outcries will be splashed across the news and social media. Instead of brushing it off as “not us buddy,” I’ll explain to my son in whatever age appropriate version I have to of what’s going on and why those people care. If I can do a good job of explaining their emotions and their feelings, hopefully I can instill the kind of empathy in my son that is unfortunately being shunned by the incoming administration.
When something happens that he sees on TV, or hears kids talking about on the playground, I’ll make sure to always do my best to explain the viewpoint and perspective of people who’ve become the oppressed or misfortunate. Sometimes it’s easy even for adults to say “not our problem,” and that disappointing mindset seems to be widespread of late. My duty is to use every opportunity to teach my son compassion and to acknowledge the problems of others. While this I knew from the beginning was an important goal of my parenting, having a “me first” President and administration has shown me that it’s as imperative as ever.
I’ll Teach Him To Have Discussions; Not Arguments.
Nothing seems to have taken as big a hit in our society in the Trump renaissance than the art of debate. The cliché of simply having a “calm discussion” that invokes opinions backed up with facts and mild banter has deteriorated to angry viral comment sections and insult mentality.
While it’s disheartening to see disagreeing parties from both sides stray from factual points and instead try to win arguments by blatantly screaming “libtard” or “racist,” the source of this de-evolution comes right from the top. President Trump turned away from facts and calm demeanor during his debates, as both concepts are foreign to him, and instead turned to screaming, bullying, and insulting his way through the debate circuit. This angry demeanor of yelling your way through a disagreement also made its way through the viral social media rounds via the enraged rants of Tomi Lahren as well as anyone willing to set up a phone camera on their dash and scream out a driver’s seat manifesto.
I want my son to spend his whole life knowing it is never right to attempt to insult your way through a discussion and that nothing positive can ever be gained when facts and reason aren’t present. The influence of the presidential debate failure to accomplish constructive policy comparisons is directly present in every dysfunctional Facebook comment section by individuals who place fury over facts. I owe it to my son to be an example of how to calmly and rationally make a point, and more important, how to be tranquil when on the receiving end of a counterpoint.
The art of debate and discussion is a lifelong skill, something not just reserved for politicians or social media commenters. Here in his toddler years we already butt heads with potty training and clothing choices before school. While eventually I expect his counterpoint skills to eventually surpass the phrase “No, I don’t want to,” I want him to grow into someone who presents his side based on reason.
There will be millions of opportunities throughout his life to teach him how to verbally vouch for something he wants. As his father, I’ll be competing to influence him with our insulting and alternative-fact spewing president. While I would’ve gladly let him watch President Obama’s speeches or debates as something to study and admire, when it comes to President Trump I’ll be sure to explain to my offspring why his demeanor doesn’t work in the real world.
Unless you’re blessed with a massive inheritance from your father, shouting your way to victory in an argument isn’t true victory. Whether he’s making his case to do his homework after watching TV or disagreeing with his curfew, he will be held to a standard of having to present calm facts. I’ll make sure that I hold myself to that same standard with him.
Nothing I’ve discussed wanting to instill in my son is anything that I would’ve simply ignored in a pre-Trump landscape. They’re qualities I respect in others and would want my son to reflect them. What the rise of this movement that uses Trump as a catalyst has shown me is how important it is for me to make a conscious effort to create an environment that cultivates these positive characteristics.
For the first time that I can remember it’s not simply a debate between a liberal or conservative agenda. No, there now seems to be a dispute over what constitutes common sense and human decency. My kid has given me the most amazing gift in letting me be his father. I need to repay him by giving him the tools to succeed in this new era.
The best way long-term to move society past a place that accepts a lack of these essential traits from a President is to nurture the roots of society. The values that are currently being displayed in the Oval Office have left me disheartened and embarrassed for the sake of our country. Children in America are our greatest hope to eradicate the lack of etiquette, reason, and compassion that seems to have eluded this new administration. I’ve laid out plenty of goals for myself as a parent, but one that’s become a high priority is doing whatever I can to inspire my son to display the character that I’d hope to see in a President.