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Parenting Lessons "Caught" in D.C.

Updated: Dec 6, 2023

Most blog posts pour out like warm wassail after a thought swirls around in my mind for a few days. Once in a while they are like squeezing cold toothpaste through a pin-needle aperture.

This one has been brewing for a month, and I suppose I’m using the process of writing it to let the thoughts fully form. It feels like pulling old fishing line from a muddy creek, and the weight on the other end suggests something of it’s content, but there’s really no way of knowing what will come up until it surfaces.

Addie and I exploring Washington, D.C.

At the beginning of November, I went to Washington, D.C., to visit my college freshman daughter in her new home. I expected proud parenting moments, and was not disappointed, but my fishing net was cast. I guess it’s always cast, but I find myself often unaware of how deep it drags or how wide it spreads. As I’ve spent some time reeling it in, I find myself surprised at what it’s pulled up.

Proud Dad

Watching my 19-year old daughter thrive in our nation’s capital was more fulfilling than I imagined. I love that she gets to be in a place polar opposite to Utah. There’s a city that’s predominantly African American, she attends Gallaudet University, a school for the deaf where sign language is the official language. The smell of legalized pot and big city sights and sounds replace the normal scenery of Mormon-influenced Salt Lake City.

Coolest College Student in the world.

Watching my daughter thrive in dorm life, friend circles, college studies, and her fluidity in a language that she really only became immersed in at the middle end of high school offered huge surges of pride. She even came to pick me up from the airport on the metro at 10 PM, which requires a 10 minute walk through a “sketchy” section of DC streets. I was most impressed by her adaptability, her openness, and her distinct absence of fear despite her keen awareness to possible threats. Feeling like my “baby” was so grown up didn’t begin to summarize my feelings of watching a human that I’d known so intimately at birth develop into this strong, independent young woman that was taking on the world and a big city like a seasoned matador toys with a young bull.

Conflicted American

Our Nation’s capital is a stunning place. The accessible, museums and archives (many which are free of admission charge) are a spectacular offering to the country, and the world. The architecture and history are a beautiful offering representative of a proud country. The layout of the National Mall, and my own awareness of how many great humans have touched the same steps, walked through the same halls, and witnessed the same Reflection Pool, or fading documents was humbling and invigorating all at once.

I even got to witness the largest gathering of protesting Muslims on American soil at the Rally for Palestine just a block away from the White House. The fact that voices unpopular to the majority still have the right to be heard was a special moment in time to witness. I got to even relive some of my former military moments when I went for a run around the National Mall on a Monday behind some young Marines running in formation to the World War II Memorial.

These proud moments were heavily contrasted by some of the history on display at the Holocaust Museum and National Museum of African American Culture and History. On one hand I was pleased that some of this history is on display, yet disgusted at what the history showed.

Images taken from a Jewish town. Holocaust Museum, Washington, D.C.

At the Holocaust Museum I was surprised at the United States reluctancy during Word War II; not so much in staying out of foreign affairs, having just emerged from the worst of the Great Depression, but in the reluctancy to standup for Jews and stand against a growing world terror in Nazi Germans. It became clearer that this wasn’t an act of ignorance, but of conscious ignoring. When I learned of the denial of a boat filled with refugee Jews fleeing Europe, I felt a mixed sense of disappointment and outrage. More of these feelings grew at the African American History Museum.

Jefferson exhibit, The Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington, D.C.

The very first exhibit one experiences at the start of the Museum exhibit is of Thomas Jefferson and 607 bricks. The man who penned the Declaration of Independence and the words “All Men Created Equal” was also responsible for owning 607 slaves, including some of his children and the slave women he impregnated. It brings a stark and problematic context for the beginning of a country. On one hand Jefferson condemns the King of England for his promotion of slave usage during the building of the colonies, and yet his actions don’t reflect the condemnation. Just days earlier, I was impressed and humbled at the Library Jefferson had helped built with his generous donation to the National Archive. By the mid point of the African American History Museum exhibit’s long tour through time, I got to the point in the mid 1900s where African Americans have been free from slavery for nearly 100 years and still struggle for equality, it’s clear to see how dependent America’s success was on the backs and hands of slaves. Instead of well-deserved acknowledgement of this fact, it took over 5 generations to see the thought of equal membership into this country really begin to even out.

On one hand, the fact that history is on full display and there for anyone to see it is admirable. On the other hand, it doesn’t excuse the fact that so many indiscretions and immoral behavior were conducted. It’s like the United States hasn’t had a decent moral compass since it’s inception. The force-fed, idealistically told narrative of how this country was born stands in contrast with the actual actions and conduct in the moment. Time has allowed these things to be glossed over, like dust fills in distinct lines and ridges over nature and man-made objects alike.

Bridging Gaps

It so happens that during my trip to D.C., and particularly in spending time with my daughter, that my role and history as a parent began to take spotlight in my life.

My relationship with my teenage son has been rocky and distant throughout 2023. My relationship with my daughter has subtly drifted into some unfamiliar waters. The shift was as imperceptible as hair growth, and only noticed in the same way, when a contrast of two different times is compared against one another. With more time to myself on the trip, the gaps and current temperature of my relationship with my kids became obvious and more unsettling. When the sadness subsided, the first thing I got to do was take a tour through my parenting experience. This ironically coincided with clearing off my extensive photo album and being reminded of so many highlights throughout my life, particularly since becoming a father. I suddenly found similar circumstances within myself that the history of the United States presented. My past was filled with moments of pride and connection every time we took a Spring Break Trip, had a family gathering, or I attended a performance. And my past is filled with regret in my shaky financial periods, and in the moments where I intentionally dissolved a marriage, or wasn't able to perfectly protect my kids. I even questioned the strictness and the emotional outbursts towards my kids that stood out to me in my life’s memory reel.

I related my experience with my kids and contrasted it with my experience with my parents who loved me fiercely and also imperfectly guided me through a messy upbringing of my own. Time certainly isn’t an excuse for imperfection or a lack of integrity, and it certainly doesn’t heal all wounds. So it brought me back to what did. All the tools of acknowledgement, accountability, honesty, and forgiveness have been through my mind as I reconcile these life monuments: My relationship with my country, my relationship with my own parents, and my relationship with my kids. These are some of the conclusions that I’ve pulled up from the murky creek. I expect them to make more sense as time goes on and the surrounding emotions have a chance to develop, unfold, and settle.

Treasures of the Murky Depths

Perfection is a dangerous illusion that carries expectations and ideals without the possibility of success. At best, Perfection is fleeting and always in context to the mind and emotions of the moment. Imperfection, it follows, must be the same.

If I accept the fact that I was doing the best that I could in the moment, with the tools, knowledge, and skills I possessed, then I have to be willing to give that allowance to others, namely, my parents, my country, and even my kids. Acknowledgement and honesty start the healing process, but they are not the only medicine a wound needs. Yet the ability to heal and restore things heavily depends on this, otherwise it’s a festering wound under a bandage that is desperate for the breath of nature.

Something also can’t be acknowledged if it’s not brought to light. Yet when that thing is brought to light, it can’t continuously be ignored without inflicting a wound within a wound within a wound within a wound.

I don’t live in a perfect country. I wasn’t part of a perfect upbringing. I’ve never been a perfect father. I can acknowledge my past, learn from it, and use it to help me show up better for my present, and point me in a more aligned future. I can require that of my country, of my parents, and of all my relationships, and can use my voice when what’s happening doesn’t match with what my evolving and carefully crafted integrity requires. I can stay open and inviting to my children’s experience of me, and surrender to the delicate balance of simultaneous unconditional self-love and unconditional love of them.

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that a trip through our nation’s history would help place some of my personal puzzle pieces, but that’s what happens when the casted net stays open and there’s diligence in sorting through what gets caught.

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06 dec. 2023
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I sure do love how you tied this all together. Your writing and your relationships continue to be one of my greatest parenting rewards.

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