If I could press “rewind” and stop the tape of my life halfway through 1990 when the Good Wife and I were leaving the International Community School in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to begin my Ph.D. program at the University of Denver, we may have taken second international teaching gigs somewhere else in the world. And then a third. And then a fourth. And then a fifth just like some of my Addis Ababa teaching friends did.
If I was younger and there was more demand for C-list bloggers, I’d move to Canada. Or some other less violent, less divided country. Where the quality of life is noticeably better.
To which the deluded “Greatest Country on Earth” people reply, “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”
I concede, pessimism is a downer, but I think of it more as realism. The “Greatest Country” contingent is living in the past, unwilling or unable to rationally assess the numerous ways our quality of life is declining.
And yet there’s at least one thing that gives me genuine hope for a decent future. Loving parenting of small children.
I see it most often in the YMCA locker room. Sometimes at Vic’s (Wildwood) Pizza. I’m constantly seeking it out because I can’t get enough of it. It’s damn near the only balm that does anything for my chronic cynicism.
Since it’s the male locker room, it’s almost always dads, sometimes granddad’s. Sometimes white dads, often dads of different ethnicities. Sometimes middle class dads, other times working class dads. Most of the time I can’t see the father and children because we’re in different rows, so I just eavesdrop. Nothing soothes my soul like listening to a dad talk to his two, three, four year-old daughter or son as if they’re just small adults. Respecting their intelligence, knowing they will rise to the level of their expectations.
Often, that respect is coupled with a beautiful mix of patience, gentleness, and kindness, a trifecta that gives me confidence that those kids will be more than alright, and that collectively, we will too. I have no doubt the same thing is playing out in the women’s locker room.
What if we collapsed all pressing public policy questions down to this one: How can we make it easier for parents to love their children unconditionally? How can we design policies that make YMCA membership feasible for everyone so that children can take swim lessons, and families can swim together, and older kids can play team sports?
At the same time, let’s acknowledge the endless forms family life takes. No form is better than another. The only thing that matters is loving parenting. Parenting marked by respect, patience, gentleness, kindness. I suspect, if we get the parenting of young children right, like so many of my fellow YMCA members do, we’ll be alright.