• Dad, what ...

  • I've been doing my level best to be as honest as possible with my son ever since he's been around...
    Dad, what ...
    While this may seem an obvious thing for the average parent of average intelligence and average (whatever "average" is...) moral standing to do, allow me to explain a bit.
    Dad, what ...
    My son Cai - much to the chagrin of my father-in-law - knows for instance, that just because someone has reached adult height, they aren't automatically expert in all things. We've let him in on the little secret that wisdom and cluelessness are the best of friends. He understands that good science and spirituality are not mutually exclusive. We're teaching him that people aren't to be feared because they believe differently than we do, or because they love differently than we do. We're teaching him that, in the best tradition of the founders of our country, patriotism isn't about blindly and unquestionably following; rather it is about thinking freely and following your heart. We're teaching him that just because someone wears a suit and tie on national TV and can yell "shut up!" to his guests doesn't make him an authority, and that men and women who sit in high office are just that - flesh and blood men and women - whether they claim to have a direct line to heaven or not...
    Dad, what ...
    This may all sound like we're raising up a good little knee-jerk liberal, (I do so prefer the "progressive" moniker...) and with little hesitation, I would happily and proudly plead "guilty as charged." I, for one, think the family is far more threatened by out of control health-care costs and ill-planned and wasteful wars than by the dim spectre of gay marriage. I don't see any call-to-arms around a health-care amendment... but all that's a political rant for another time...
    Dad, what ...
    Like other children his age, Cai is a curious little guy. One minute he's feeding ants to the ant lions in the garden, the next he's saving wayward spiders from the slide on his swing-set. Sacrificial ants and biting mosquitoes aside, he's fascinated by just about every living thing he comes in contact with, and wants, at all costs, to "save nature." (He came upon the notion of "saving nature," as he calls it, on his own and very, very early in the game...) In kindergarten Cai refused to let the rest of his class go through a doorway when he discovered a few ladybugs in their path. His classmates were permitted to proceed only after he had moved all the insects to safety. A couple of weeks ago he arrived home heartbroken and angry when he wasn't able to move fast enough to save a spider from the crushing foot of another kid at school...
    Dad, what ...
    We've been watching him deal with the failing health of Danielle's father, (Continued prayers are appreciated...) and we've done our best to keep Cai informed about what's happening, to answer his questions and to speak frankly with him about a man whom we all love dearly who just happens to be dying...
    Dad, what ...

    He also knows, to a certain extent, the power of language: "If we keep saying Grandpa Ray is going to die, then he's going to die," Cai admonished us a few weeks ago. "So we should all just say that he's healthy and that he's getting better... Then he will..."
    Dad, what ...
    We didn't go into philosophical discussions about death and suffering. We didn't belabor the mechanics of the progress of ALS. We didn't sugar-coat the truth of the situation, either.
    Dad, what ...
    As an only child, Cai doesn't have the benefit of other kids in the house. The upside is that he gets more attention from us. (More of our focused neuroses, too...) The downside is that he isn't used to the teasing, name-calling and other subtle cruelties of childhood. Those cruelties seem to have a concentrated effect on him which is often painful to witness. He hasn't developed the social calluses that are a natural part of life in a larger family. By the same token, he doesn't have siblings feeding him their best new information or challenging him to take risks along the lines of "Go tell little Freddy he's a..."
    Dad, what ...
    Since kids will often toss around language - the stuff that can "never hurt me," though is often more troublesome than sticks or stones - it's not unusual for Cai to come home with the occasional, "Daddy, what does so-and-so mean..?"
    Dad, what ...
    I have some pretty vivid recollections of "teaching" new and different words to my younger sister. It seemed like good sport at the time. (Being the creative genius that I am, I even made up a few words that I promised to explain to her when she got older...)
    Dad, what ...
    Karma being what it is, some form of payback has made its way into our happy home...
    Dad, what ...
    As Cai was getting ready for bed the other evening, he gave me a quizzical look and said, "What does 'gay' mean?"
    Dad, what ...
    "Hmmm... Why do you ask?" I countered, knowing full well why he was asking...
    Dad, what ...
    "Johnny" (name changed to protect youthful protagonists) "said I was gay."
    Dad, what ...
    "It begins," I thought to myself, sighing...
    Dad, what ...
    Then I explained, in as simple language as possible, the different meanings that have come to be assigned to the word, "gay."
    Dad, what ...
    After explaining the older meaning of the word, meaning "merry or exuberant," I told Cai, "Some men like to marry other men, and some women like to marry other women, so some people think that calling people 'gay' is insulting." Then I threw in, "Some people just love each other differently..." (I didn't jump off on an editorial tirade about constitutional amendments, as tempting as that would have been. After all, kids don't need to know where all the money that was pulled from the "No Child Left Behind" program is being spent...)
    Dad, what ...
    Without an ounce of irony, Cai tilted his fire-red head, twisted up his face quizzically, and said, "That's silly... I don't want to marry a man. Johnny must have thought it meant something worse. I'm not insulted."
    Dad, what ...
    Then his curiosity jumped a notch or two, and he asked if we had "any gay people in our family, like cousins or great grandparents or great, great grandparents or anyone else..?"
    Dad, what ...
    I assured him that, in addition to many friends, there are indeed a few gay folk in our family. I pretty much made it the "water's wet, rocks are hard, sky is blue" variety of reporting, and we moved on to story and bed-time with no complications.
    Dad, what ...
    I'm well aware of the many directions people would be tempted - or committed - to take such a conversation: the lessons they would want to teach, the fear of other they would, consciously or unconsciously, feed to their child. I'm also keenly aware that teaching a child tolerance, acceptance and non-judgment is a difficult thing to do when one is a judging being (read: "human") living in a judgmental world. Living in a society that's becoming increasingly intolerant - on institutional levels and often in the name of God - doesn't make the job any easier.
    Dad, what ...
    Fact is, some people do love differently. They also eat differently, pray differently and raise their children differently...
    Dad, what ...
    I'll do my best to teach my son to find the beauty in things and people that are different than we are. Not in a Pollyanna sort of way, but with eyes open and curiosity and a willingness to get hurt in the process of seeking to understand...
    Dad, what ...
    Of one thing I'm sure: there will be more name calling. Good chance also that I've not heard the last of, "Daddy, what does...?"
    Dad, what ...

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Ken Mossman PCC, CPCC, is a business and personal coach who specializes working with fathers and creative cliff-jumpers, men and women with creative dreams that just wont quit. Ken's coaching style is lively, fun, challenging, full of humor and shamelessly irreverent. To contact Ken or learn more, visit: http://www.cirruscoaching.com
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