As parents, we are our children’s primary role models.
But I would certainly hope we’re not their only role models.
In a perfect world — or even in a reasonably good world — our children would be exposed to a plethora of people, in person and on screen, who are worth admiring. Or even worth emulating. We should be able to find these role models in roles that range from teachers all the way to government leaders, especially since the latter figures are directly chosen by us.
I’m old enough to remember when the U.S. president was considered a central role model for the children (and the adults) of the country s/he leads. And I’m old-fashioned enough to believe that this trait should not be considered an occasional luxury, but a central and non-negotiable job requirement.
No matter what you thought about their politics and their policies, it would be hard to argue that in their private lives the following presidents were anything but good, honorable men: Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama. The five of them comprise the better part of my lifetime in terms of presidential leadership in this country. They all made mistakes in the execution of their official duties, and some of those mistakes were considerable ones. But each of these men possessed numerous personal qualities worth admiring. Each of them had moral fiber.
The two men I omitted from this list did not have numerous personal qualities worth admiring. They did not have moral fiber. They were not people who could be held up as role models for our children. They brought disgrace in various forms to the White House. They perjured and perverted themselves, and in doing so they perturbed the nation with scandal.
I remember my teenage disgust (mirroring my parents’ 50-something disgust) when Bill Clinton’s sordid affairs came to light in 1998. I vividly remember the general feeling in my Baptist world — Baptist school, Baptist church, Baptist friends — of us all being disgusted by the lies and the lechery that had permeated the office of the president for the first time since Nixon. The contempt we had for a man who had sullied the White House with his lack of honor, and his inability to even come clean about it.
It’s been a long time since I was a Baptist, but I still find Bill Clinton’s moral rot to be abhorrent. And I still think his lies were rightly impeachable.
That whole ugly Clintonian saga helped deliver the “family values” vote — an influential voting bloc — to the Republican Party for a decade. It’s not surprising to me that George Bush was elected twice in the next 6 years.
Bill Clinton also did as much to usher in the bankrupt mentality of political nihilism (“Who cares what the president is like behind closed doors as long as the economy is good!”) as anyone else in the 20th century. In 1998, that nihilism afflicted die-hard Democrats who couldn’t bring themselves to rebuke their beloved president.
But beyond partisan politics, that scandal was simply a blight on our national conscience. To have a president show contempt for honor, decency, and integrity was devastating for our collective ability to believe in our own leaders. Fortunately, we would gain back some of that belief (at least in terms of personal honor) during the 4 presidential terms after Clinton left the White House.
But now we’ve reverted back again, with a vengeance. And this time, the scandal has even more layers. Now it’s a corrosive combination of personal moral bankruptcy, a sprawling web of criminal associations, ultra-divisive rhetoric, and a callous dereliction of many presidential duties we used to consider sacrosanct.
For anyone with a clear eye, the corruption and moral rot currently on display in the White House is hard to stomach. And the unwavering defense of a rotten president by a huge, formerly morals-driven group of voters is even harder to comprehend. It has shaken my faith in humanity, especially in many of those humans who claim they have faith. It has revealed political power as their golden calf.
But beyond that, it makes me ache as a father who wants my children to grow up in a world (and a country) with plenty of role models to whom I can confidently direct their attention. Leaders who model the kind of moral fiber that my wife and I are trying to teach our kids.
We don’t have many of those leaders left in Washington, D.C. these days. In the last two years alone, we’ve lost John McCain and John Lewis, two of our finest exemplars of honor and social conscience. And our current president, the one who is still firmly supported by 40% of the country, was combative and cruel to both of those men in their later years — and to McCain even in his death.
Try to peer through your children’s eyes for a moment. Try to imagine what it must feel like to be taught right from wrong by your parents, the people you trust most in the world. And then to watch as those same people (your parents) put yard signs in the front yard of your family’s house, advertising support for a man who egregiously violates many of those moral principles on a near-daily basis. Or to overhear from the next room, with the innocent ears of a child, as those same people (your parents) craft a rationale for supporting such a man with their vote.
Try to envision what that kind of stark cognitive dissonance will bring about in a child; how witnessing that level of hypocrisy in a parent will affect a child’s formative development.
Try your dead-level hardest to imagine all that.
And then try even harder to be a role model for your children in November.
Whatever you do, just don’t forget: Their eyes see it all.
One thought on “Through Their Eyes”
I just now read this POST finally and again I say you and Dani are great parents. I love my little Gr-Daughter very much. I love her hugs.