Two Wonderful Girls. One Day At A Time…

Archive for September, 2009

Be The Change You Want To See In The World

Years ago, long before the kids came along, I remembered thinking about why I would even want to have kids. I thought about how I could share my experiences with them, teach them to be good individuals, and maybe, just maybe, put them in a position to make the world a better place. Now, here I am with a four-year old and a one-year old and I still believe all those things that I did years ago. But as I pass my 38th birthday and spend time on self-reflection, I am reminded of an unexpected consequence of fatherhood. No, it’s not the fact that I have learned to give myself so willingly in ways that, at times, sacrificed my career but seem so obvious. It isn’t that I no longer recoil at the thought of changing diapers (not that I ever learned to like it, of course). No, the most profound consequence is the responsibility I feel to set an example for them and how it has changed not only the way I see the world, but the way I interact. The only way I can make them good individuals is by example, which means that, to quote Jack Nicholson from As Good As It Gets, they’ve made me want to be a better person. This desire shows up in the health care debate that is sweeping the country right now.

Cherise and I have been pretty vocal about our support of health care reform. Cherise has been active in protests, information campaigns and what have you. I’ve written letters and been featured in a Philadelphia Inquirer article regarding entrepreneurs and health care. It’s an issue that bothers me more in how angry it has made the country than the actual differences of opinions that people have. It’s divisive. It has people yelling. It’s a distraction and I wish it didn’t bother me so much. As someone who has been turned down by insurance companies for standard coverage for a pre-existing condition (one that has been corrected and certified with a clean bill of health by both my cardiologist and surgeon), I am deeply affected. But that’s not what bothers me about the issue. In fact, there’s that part of me that says "just pay and let the politicians sort it out (yikes!)." But I can’t. Not as a parent and not if I expect Iris & Robyn to grow up understanding their role in this world.

The lessons we spend our days teaching Iris are rooted in this need to be respectful of other people, helping those who need it, and embracing those around you. When Iris is shy or standoffish, we implore her to keep an open mind. It’s the old concept that a stranger is a friend you haven’t met. Don’t get me wrong–we’re not asking her to go up to random people at the local Target and offer to be their friend (we like her scrutiny of others). But we do encourage her to make friends at pre-school and learn basic principles like sharing and camaraderie and being open to new ideas and experiences. After all, people who need people are the luckiest people in the world (did I just quote Barbra Striesand? That’s just wrong).

Frankly, we occasionally have a harder time at home where she’ll be quick to get upset at Robyn for things that she does simply due to her age. While we can remind Iris that Robyn can’t help it and she doesn’t mean to do those things, that’s little consolation to a four-year with a locked sense of world order. So we preach (and preach) tolerance and understanding. We remind her that the only way to make Robyn grow up right is to support her and help her through this time in her life where she is somewhat helpless. We’re not religious, but we might as well be saying "are we not our sister’s keeper?"

In some ways, I see the lessons sticking. After getting her flu shot, she starting to hint that maybe she’ll be a doctor. Obviously, I’d be thrilled if that happened and I remind her about her "Uncle Ricky" who is also a doctor. While she may be young, he wasn’t much older when he committed to that dream. When we talk about it, there’s a part of Iris that really gets me excited. It’s the one that shows tremendous empathy and openness towards people who are ill. She told me she wanted to make sick people better. Maybe she’s starting to pay attention?

So, amidst the debate around health care, I’d feel like a hypocrite to ignore people who’d deny coverage to those who need it most. And I can’t convince myself that I’ll be prepared to explain why her some of her friends can’t see a doctor because they can’t afford it. Apparently, not everyone agrees with my view, but as someone who was blindsided by a quirky health issue over which I had no control, I can’t imagine having been uninsured or underinsured and being of lesser means and having endured that. And I sure as hell can’t explain it to my daughter and then teach her about tolerance, empathy, and supporting your fellow human being. I’d gladly pay higher taxes for this. I’m not real crazy about the wars. I’d love my money back for GM. But providing better care for my fellow man? Sign us up–and years from now, make sure Iris and Robyn know that’s where their parents stood.

To be clear, this post isn’t meant to be an attack on the libertarian/neo-con approach to the issue of health care nor is it to suggest that bigger government is always better government or that government doesn’t have its issues. This is not a simple issue. I’ve spent the last three months reading from the Reagan Diaries in an effort to understand the conservative point of view and their take on the role of government. I don’t deny that the American Dream is built on hard work. I don’t deny entitlements to those who abuse the system are a bane to the system. But personally, I don’t worry about teaching my daughter learning about the difference between rights and privileges (I literally give her the lecture once a week) and that those who do the things that others won’t do will get the things that others won’t get. She understands why I go to work every morning and work late into the night. But to forgo a sympathetic approach to often uncontrollable maladies in the name of free markets? Perhaps I can get my textbook on Adam Smith and classical economics and how every person is out for themselves. That just seems ignorant and I can’t teach that to my girls. I won’t.

This weekend, I kept ducking away every couple of hours to engage in an on-line debate on the topic. I waged a thoughtful war of words and ideologies with a gentleman from Pittsburgh that I have never met. The discussion probably could’ve filled several pages. At one point, I was ready to say "forget it, I’ll never change his mind." And the fact is that I wasn’t going to change this guy’s mind. But I kept thinking about Iris and Robyn. And I kept thinking about how I want them to grow up and what I want them to think of their father. Do I stop attempting to defend the principles I work so hard to teach them because I was "tired"? The title of the blog is from a famous quote from Mahatma Gandhi. I think it’s the essence of parental responsibility. To the gentleman with whom I was engaged in this debate, his refrain of "personal responsibility" as the reason to deny universal health care is undoubtedly something he will expect to impart to his kids and I wish him luck. He is guided by a set of principles and I applaud him on that. Even if we differ in opinion, he is doing right by his kids. It all makes me think of a quote from Dante: "The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in times of great moral crises maintain their neutrality". That’s what I want them to learn more than anything else. Learn the situation, apply your values, take a stand, and fight with conviction. I know it’s early in their lives, but I never want that message to be lost on them nor do I hope they lose the values we’re working so hard to instill. In the end, it’s how I’ll judge myself as their father–even if it isn’t the easy thing to do. And if it makes me a better person, so be it.

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