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The Reason for the Season

The Reason for the Season

I loathe the culture war centered around “putting the ‘Christ’ back into ‘Christmas'”. However, I want my children to know the reason behind every season. Despite them rolling their eyes, I always discuss with my kids the significance of cultural events and holidays.

It’s worth the eye rolls for my kids to understand why of cultural markers and holidays.

This applies most especially to holidays as “abstract” as Veteran’s Day. Yesterday, my older kid jumped with joy as she celebrated having THREE DAYS OF MORNING TELEVISION this weekend. Uncharacteristically, I held my tongue so as not to deflate her joy. I’ll save the posturing about Veteran’s Day for the actual day.

I’ve always been (morbidly) fascinated by WWI, which came to an end 101 years ago, today, at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918. This was the first war in which men were able to massacre acres of men without catching sight of each other. The wide-scale use of machine guns, tanks, airplanes and trench warfare that wasted a generation rooted in agreements and misunderstandings between insecure, rich white men trying to keep their place in the upper-class mastering the universe.

Talk about toxic masculinity.

WWI was the end of an era (for the Western, Caucasian paradigm) in which impersonal savagery replaced, well…personal savagery.

In contrast to WWII which created the greatest generation of stoic, productive veterans, the survivors of WWI fostered a culture of tremendous self-reflection. Poets, artists and writers emerged from the trench horror facing a world without meaning. Battlefield savagery created direct artistic movements of nihilism, abstraction and darkness; because after all they had expereinced, how could artistic expression ever again just be “beauty and expression for escapist enjoyment” anymore? WWI created modernism, and everything changed.

Today, Veteran’s Day is known as Remembrance Day in Canada and Armistice Day in Europe. Poppies are worn on the lapel as a symbol of remembrance (“lest we forget”) to commemorate the vast fields of poppies that sprung up across the mass graves in Belgium and France. The poppies were the inspiration for John McCrae’s poem, “Fields of Flanders.”

Last year, in France, French President Emmanuel Macron declared at the ceremony marking the end of WWI, “Patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism. Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism. In saying ‘Our interests first, whatever happens to the others,’ you erase the most precious thing a nation can have, that which makes it live, that which causes it to be great and that which is most important: Its moral values.”

I couldn’t agree more – patriotism is the opposite of nationalism. And nationalism led to WWI.

Because nationalism (setting national gain over international citizenship) is what caused WWI. And nationalism could easily cause another unimaginable world conflagration. This is what most scares me about Trump and what most scares me about my kids’ generation not having a grasp of history. I pray neither of my children ever has to endure a generational war (although let’s not forget that American forces are waging battles around the world, today).

In order to raise “good” kids, I’m constantly preoccupied with their sense of gratitude and appreciation. So, yeah: I’ll always lecture them on history and teach the significance of world citizenship. They’ll be good kids if they grasp “world citizenship” and that patriotism means NOT allowing insecure, rich men to repeat history and take us down the path of selfish nationalism, again.

We’re all in this together…the entire world.

I don’t exactly know how to talk with my kids about such disturbing issues as massive loss of life in the name of freedom (and on behalf of European royals and leaders). But I’ll lecture my kids and will embrace the eye rolls in the interest of world citizenship and patriotism. I’ll recite “In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae, even though it’ll mean nothing to my kids.

For now.

And I’ll keep doing so…to protect them and their future.

The Reason for Presidents Day

The Reason for Presidents Day

All of you 17 readers of this blog know that I highly prioritize understanding the “reason for the season“. That’s not a Christmas allusion, although Christmas is definitely one of those seasons for which I insist on forcing the kids into seasonal Biblicality, much to their dismay.

But our 3-day holidays merit reflection and comprehension in my book, too. My kids don’t JUST get to have a day off for Veteran’s Day or Labor Day or Martin Luther King Day or Presidents Day. No matter how abstract or morbid the holidays might be, we WILL be talking about them.

As a slight departure, recently, my kid streamed Newsies (the Broadway musical) at school. And she told me at dinner, “The kids were struck.”

Though I never saw it, I’m pretty sure Newsies is an admirably socialist story (cue McCarthyism)- especially for Disney – in which newspaper boys at the turn of the 20th century go on strike; presumably to dance with higher kicks on the streets of New York, given my quick glance at the video below.

So anyway.

My kid say, “The newspaper sellers were struck.”

“Close enough,” I thought.

That she even had the vaguest concept of the word, “strike” impressed me. Love it when Broadway introduces complexities into our kids’ lives without us having to step on our lecturing soap boxes.

Anyway – filing that away for Labor Day when I get to say “worker’s rights – you know – like in Newsies!”

So, anyway: back to asking my kids “What’s the reason for Presidents Day?”

This one is pretty straight-forward: honor our national leaders who bring us freedom, leadership, respectability, honor, progress, and protection.

Except at a time in life when we all question our leaders, look back on the dichotomy of goodness in our revered forefathers who were tyrants (Andrew Jackson) slave-owners (two-thirds of of them before 1865), philanderers (a vast majority, no doubt), and liars (all of them except Obama.)

Just the other day, my older kid said to me, “You know Donald Trump wasn’t the first President to be impeached, right?”

I responded (completely missing the point of her proclamation), “I didn’t even know you knew that word.”

“Bill Clinton was also impeached,” she said.

“I didn’t even know you knew who Bill Clinton was,” I responded, again: completely missing the point of her thoughts.

At a time when the presidency has been besmirched and degraded by unfathomable measures, I wonder if it might be time to alter the meaning (and name) of this holiday.

President’s Day began as a celebration of Washington’s birthday and was made an official national holiday in 1879. By the late 1960’s, congress changed the holiday (and Labor Day and Memorial Day and Martin Luther King Jr Day) to a “Uniform Monday holiday” providing for predictable Monday holidays. This law, signed by Nixon in 1971, served multiple purposes:

  1. Codified a 3-day holiday weekend for American workers.
  2. Spread these Monday holidays throughout the year to lower worker absenteeism.
  3. Conveniently provided a sure-fire way to increase in retail sales (so rich business types would be down for it, too.
  4. Included a provision to officially celebrate another February Presidential birthday, Abraham Lincoln’s, alongside Washington’s.

But given our current lack of Presidential nobility, along with endless re-discovery of our leaders, perhaps it’s time we made President’s Day about “Great American Leaders” day?

We don’t need birthday anniversary holidays for every single American of note, be they white, male, indigenous, female, of color or whatever. What if we had a holiday devoted to a value? (I know. I’m sounding dangerously conservative, here.) But like – a “Values Day” – a day where we think about things like the Scout’s Law or basic tenets of honesty, loyalty, or kindness.

Or hell, to be thoroughly American, maybe it’s “Liberty Day”. (Although, how would that differ from the 4th of July?)

I’d even be more inclined to have “Founding Fathers’ Day”. Aside from that itsy-bitsy awkward historical factoid of slavery (and their wealth, position, misogyny and snobbery) at least they didn’t start wars, assassinate Latin American leaders, or exploit foreign workers.

Scratch that. We’d be splicing hairs. Of course they did all that.

But at LEAST they happened to be in the right place at the right time to construct the world’s first democratic constitution.

Which was, objectively, a good thing.

At any rate, we currently have a holiday that most people think of as an extra day of skiing that’s devoted to 230 years of men who frequently did horrible things.

Maybe it’s time to update? What’s the point and not just the reason for Presidents Day?

Regardless, given all the mental gymnastics it takes me to discuss (with myself) the meaning behind President’s Day, we can all recognize there’s a lot to ponder and question around a dinner table on a Monday night with our children.

No matter which way you look at it (or which political side of the aisle from whence you hail) any discussion of context, history, ideas and values means parenting for good.

Raising My Kids as Activists: Brainwash ‘Em Young

Raising My Kids as Activists: Brainwash ‘Em Young

I’m raising my kids as activists because I’m petrified of raising children without gratitude…just…entitled little shits who expect gifts, holidays and rights without appreciation for the significance of, well…anything.

And I annoy myself when I feel my feet step onto my own insufferable soap box to preach in response to my kids exhibiting selfishness:

“I don’t WANT to write thank you notes.”

“I don’t WANT to go see Papa walk in the Veteran’s Day Parade!”

“I don’t WANT to do another march.”

 “It’s gonna be boring.”

Pic of a kid sitting and watching a Veteran speak after a Memorial Day march.
One of my kids watching his papa (a Veteran) speak on Memorial Day

And you know what? I’d prefer binging Netflix and eating Lucky Charms straight from the box instead of recognizing historic achievements or trying to change the world, too.

So raising my kids as activists is integral to my parenting because it cultivates appreciation and gratitude.

If nothing more, it’ll help my kids be grateful for the days I DON’T pull their lazy asses out of their routines and force them to stop and think about the world beyond themselves.

In 2019 America, we live in a world of comfort and walk paths of least resistance. Furthermore, my kids are white and middle class, giving them all the more carefree existence.

We don’t come from a long line of money. Our ancestral tree includes two salesmen, three teachers, a labor attorney, three factory workers, a coal miner and several farmers.

Thanks to activism of the last hundred years leading to labor reform, a minimum wage, union protections and education (especially for women), my family is no longer one of subsistence farmers or coal miners. (With all due respect to this demographic, as well. Activism helps them, too!)

Not to mention the fact that I’m a gay father and decades of activism made it possible for me to be a father.

So, yeah – I get preachy about the meaning behind Veterans Day, and Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Even Thanksgiving sees me harassing my children about their bounty.

So I drag them to marches.

Pic of author looking stoic and activist-y? Or just annoyed?
The face of pussy hat determination? Or just really annoyed w the kids?

“OMG, what friggin’ things to I need to pack in my bag to keep them tolerable?”

“They’re going to complain the entire time.”

“My shoulders are going to be killing me with these extra water bottles.”

“How big a flask should I bring?”

“Is it wrong for me to make a march a drinking moment?”

“KIDS! YOU MUST POOP, NOW! THERE’LL BE NO PLACE TO POOP ON THE MARCH!”

(That’s a way to sell your kids on activism.)

I began raising my kids as activists by dragging them to the Women’s March in 2017. I knew they would NOT be thrilled. But I prepped their expectations, and went through a familiar refrain: “This is not going to be the most fun day. It might be a bit boring. But this is an important experience in which you’re going to learn. And it’s important you understand we are here because bad things are happening to other people. In this case: women.”

Picture of the author with kids at the Women's March, NYC, 2017
Women’s March 2017, NYC

As for the march, most of the time I was the only one suffering.

Them: “Daddy? When will this be over?”

Me: “You think Gandhi whined about twenty four days it took to march to the sea?”

Them: “Daddy? I’m thirsty.”

Me: “Welp, lucky for you, I have an extra water bottle and tons of snacks. No, wait. Not that water bottle. That’s a flask. Gimme that.”

Them: “Daddy? My feet are tired.”

Me: “Isn’t that too bad? Kids marched on Selma without a stroller.”

Them: “Daddy? This is boring!”

Me: “Tell that to the graves of child laborers who burned to death in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory.”

* Takes a deep swig from flask.*

I know. I really inspire with fun and humor, don’t I?

This summer, we stood around for five hours waiting to carry the 1,000 foot “River of Rainbow” flag.  Was it insufferably boring to wait five hour before we actually started walking? Indubitably.

Author posing in front of the "River of Rainbow" Pride flag during Pride, 2019, NYC
Hour 2 of 5 waiting to march with the Pride Parade’s “River of Rainbow”

But I’d rather wait five hours and tell my kids to stop whining instead of being persecuted for loving my partner of fifteen years.

My kids remember these marches – not as having been hell, but that they were there.

(Scratch that – they TOTALLY remember it being endless hell.)

So be it.

One day, I hope they’ll remember they were there, they witnessed, they won’t forget their day-out-of-the-ordinary, their…sacrifice (of not being the masters of their own domains for a mere four hours.)

My kids are so lucky – to have been born with money, light skin, to an educated family and in the United States. I will gather them to march for injustice and force-feed their gratitude for not having been born in 1910, or slums in developing nations, or with a skin color making them the target of deplorable, institutional, societal bigotry.

Pic of kids protesting the stupidity of politicians
Protesting stupid politicians

Without activism, powerful, rich white men get all the comforts of life and leave the rest of us to fend for ourselves because the man will always keep the people down; the needs of the rich will always come before the needs of the rest of us and this all needs to change.

So I will raise my kids as activists who understand gratitude – from sacrifices made by veterans giving us national holidays to birthday thank you notes.

I will raise children who maintain their sense of justice – because fairness is a concept children understand better than most adults…and mine will maintain that concept.

Picture of kids with protest posters.
Posing with our “I’m not a Whiner, I’m a PATRIOT!” signs

I will raise my kids as activists because this world needs more gratitude and the fight for justice goes on and on.

And their temporary discomfort just might help them appreciate those lazy mornings with Netflix and Lucky Charms just a bit more.

*** Force-feeding gratitude and justice to my kids is tough. Lecturing to my kids about MLK Jr’s “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” is tougher. (One helpful book series is “Ordinary People Change the World” bringing the concept of justice to young readers.)

Santa With a Side of Jesus

Santa With a Side of Jesus

I know – I’m exhausting: I just can’t abide y kids NOT undersatnding the reason behind any celebration, and so even at Christmas (even though we aren’t regular church-goers), I need my kids to have Santa with a side of Jesus. Or vice-versa. But let’s be honest: our culture focuses MUCH more on Santa than Jesus.

Like yours, my kids are obsessed with receiving presents. It always makes me nervous they’ll become unappreciative, acquisitive kids lacking any appreciation for the reason for the season. I fretted about it. So I quizzed them:

“Why do we celebrate Christmas?”

“To get presents!”

“Right, but beyond that, people believe someone named Jesus was born.”

And my innocent child blandly responded, “Jesus Fucking Christ?”

We were actually decorating the Christmas tree in this moment and my partner and I could absolutely not look at each other for fear of guffawing uncontrollably.

After we both bit the inside of our cheeks til we tasted blood, I responded, “Well, we usually don’t use his middle name.”

Anyway.

This year, we’re reading diverse books about Rudolph and Santa with a side of Jesus.

As I’ve alluded, I’m a believer in a higher power, a worldly energy, a united human spirit. But I don’t think there’s a grandfatherly figure with a white beard deciding whether or not we get into pearly gates. And Biblical stories?, word-for-word?…not so much.

Of course we embrace the spirit of Christmas, spreading joy and good tidings and all that jazz. But (as with appreciating Veterans’ sacrifices on Veteran’s Day – and that it’s not just a day off from school, and that Labor Day celebrates sacrifices made by people once working in deplorable factory conditions – and that’s it’s not just a day off from school), the birth of a baby named Jesus is the reason for Christmas – not just getting presents from Santa.

That’s the origin of this holiday; the why. I want my sons to know why we celebrate Christmas and why we give gifts in the same spirit of the wise men and kings bringing gifts to Jesus.

I won’t allow my kids to go through life not understanding the why – of pretty much everything.

No need to lump me in with people who get freaky-outy about keeping the “Christ” in Christmas. I really don’t think Jesus would (is?) insulted by secular shopping mall decorations or red Starbucks cups lacking snowflakes. If He weren’t so full of forgiveness, I’m sure he would be rolling his eyes at us…like incessantly.

The “war on Christmas” just sells more advertising on FOX. Christians are not the victims. And if you’re really that pure a religious observer, you should be able to separate your authentic & personal celebration from consumer frenzy.

Sorry. Stepping off my soap box.

Anyway.

Recently, I read an interesting tidbit in the NY Times about how Washington Irving (he of Legend of Sleepy Hollow fame) crafted a Christmas tradition for America and helped invent Santa Claus. (So much to unpack, here…not the least of which is we crafted our own consumer Christmas frenzy. How…American.)

Until the early 1800’s, there was no national Christmas holiday, like…anywhere; let alone the United States. They didn’t even have Santa with a side of Jesus. Christmas was even approached differently by Episcopalians and Unitarians and every other Christian denomination. (Some saw it as blasphemy. WTF?) But in a book parodying the history of NYC, Washington Irving made the Turkish St. Nicholas the patron saint of NYC. Then Irving’s neighbor wrote a poem for his daughters describing St. Nicholas as a “Ripe jolly old elf.”

Up to that time, Alexander Hamilton and Mayflower refugees weren’t dreaming of sugar plums or fretting over any war on Christmas.

It was a religious holiday celebrated by some, not by all.

Isn’t that fascinating? (I love our current culture of revisiting history with different lenses.)

I’m excited to pass this history on to my kids and help them understand the why, plus the crafting of traditions from mistletoe to crèches and mangers to Coca-Cola Santa Claus.

For this year, my kids still see Santa and say presents presents presents. But when I nag, “Why do we celebrate Christmas and give gifts?” they parrot, “Because Jesus was born.”

“And what do we do besides get presents?”

Give presents.”

So they regurgitate my words. I’m okay with that, for now.

Next year we will work on generosity, world peace with a side of virgin births.