Archives for the month of: August, 2007
This column originally appeared in Pajamas Media.

As luck would have it, we have a late-summer camp-gap as we get ready for school to start. In our household, both my wife and I work at home. So, day-in, day-out, parents and children are spending a lot of time together.

I was reading what looked like an interesting blog post on some of the differences between the Western and Islamic worlds when it comes to women. The point was that women in fundamental Islamic cultures, who may only go out in public when fully covered from head to toe, may actually have more anxiety over their bodies and weight than do women in more permissive Western cultures. At least according to one report. Fair enough.

It so happened that my middle school age daughter wandered into the room at about this time. Just then, I clicked on a link that looked like it was a humorous aside to a Wikipedia entry. Oops. It opened up a Google image search page of paparazzi photos of celebrity nether regions. None of them were X-rated but they were all very, very R-rated.

There my daughter was, eyeing my computer screen. Of course, I panicked. I fumblingly tried to close the window. It seemed to stay open for hours before disappearing. My daughter asked me the question she wanted to ask, and wandered back out of my office.

It’s things like this that make me and other parents feel besieged by a culture around us of non-stop porn. In my gym there is a flyer advertising an “Urban Striptease” class right next to the flyer for a kids’ ballroom dancing class. In one of the most popular stores for middle- and high-school age clothing, Hollister, the images are all of bikini-clad beach babes and dudes with jam shorts down below their devil’s horns, a faint sense of making out in the rec room wafting through it all. Oh, and in our mall, this store is right across from a Victoria’s Secret.

None of it is explicit. Yet it all skirts the line. None of it is appropriate.

This is not an indictment of the Internet, nor is it a call for censorship. It’s a plea for us all to show some decency and remember how easy it is to pollute the environment around us.

I recall an incident from my past that shames me to this day. I was in my mid-twenties, attending a baseball game with friends. I was a nihilistic little punk, filled with bile for everything. Goodness knows how I ended up at an Angels game. Regardless, I amused myself with running, sarcastic, bitter commentary. I was on a roll. Recalling that I was in a public place, I was not profane and avoided George Carlin’s Seven Words. But, even without swearing, I was as graphic as a sailor. If you know me, you know my voice carries.

Finally, maybe around the fifth inning, a man behind me spoke up. He yelled at me to shut up. I turned and saw he had a young boy with him, maybe nine or ten years old, with a summer buzz cut and a baseball cap. Angry young man that I was, I laughed it off.

But I toned it down and felt inward remorse. It haunts me still, now that I am a father with children of about that age. I didn’t just ruin that man’s baseball game, I polluted his day with vitriol. He, no doubt, had to explain to his son why that man was behaving like he was, talking like he was. Or maybe he didn’t — maybe he just fumed on his way home, hoping his son would forget it.

I benefited from being taken down a peg, there in the moment. In today’s culture, there’s no one for me to take down, no single offender. Everywhere I turn tells my daughter to be sexy, my son to be violent, and both of them to disrespect authority simply on principle.

What is a parent to do? I really am at a loss. Some of my friends say the key is education and fostering an open relationship with our children. Others say there’s nothing wrong with sheltering our offspring longer than they would like. There are tools that help parents band together and make recommendations about appropriate movies to one another.

Sure, it’s all true. None of it is a real answer; none of it gets to the root of the problem which, from a parents’ perspective, is this: Our culture has run amok.

I feebly went to my daughter and asked her if she had seen the page on my screen. Yes, she said. I told her that I had gotten there by accident, that she ought to be careful too. She nodded, yes dad. It was all very lame. The horse was out of the barn, had left long ago.

Some days, it really does feel as if we live in Rome just before its fall.

obamaDear Sen. Obama:

Just a few days ago, on one of many Debate Days, I saw that photograph of you and your daughter, Sasha, in the bumper cars at the Iowa State Fair. You are both so happy, sharing the simple joys of the lurch and heave and jolt. Looking at the photo, I imagine you to be running in a large circle around a knot of cars, preparing to swoop down onto an unsuspecting driver. You know the move I mean.

Looking at the photo, the thought came to me unbidden: Please don’t run. It was both an expression of hope for you, as a man, and also for our country.

I want, as a fellow human being and fellow father, to see you stay just the way you are: able to experience the joy of parenthood and the simple thrill of the state fair midway.

As a fellow citizen of the greatest nation on the globe, I want you just as you are, right now. Though it is long past time that there be an African American in the White House, you yourself are too important to lose to the Presidency.

Your candidacy has galvanized many and given them hope. You speak a language that has long been out of favor among the professionals in public life. How can you let down the people who look so longingly toward you? For whom your very existence as a viable candidate gives them hope that, maybe, something can change?

But, how can you not let these same people down? I fear you won’t be able to keep up your humanity, stuck there in the West Wing. It seems to suck the soul out of those who work there for any length of time. I think of how old Jimmy Carter seemed as he left, of how tired President Bush seemed, of how tired President Bush now seems. Your approach to public life takes energy — energy to work against the status quo. Day in, day out, I worry the apparatus of the Oval Office will grind you down.

From your seat in the United States Senate, you have the clout to be heard and the safety that gives you room to maneuver. You do not have to calculate every statement against a global backdrop of ill will. You are free to speak truths that a president might not be able to say, but that must be said. You do not have to carry on your shoulders the burden of what our erstwhile allies and friends have begun to think of us, the burden of repairing broken relationships and strained friendships.

Were I a Democrat, you might say I was in the pocket of some other candidate angling for the nomination that will come months too soon. Were I a Republican, you might say I was trying to stall the candidacy of one of the freshest figures to come along in a long while. But that’s all just static. I do not know whether you are the most viable candidate, I do not know whether you really have a snowball’s chance, I do not know whether others, right or left, would do a better job. None of that is my point.

My point is this. Senator Obama, you’ve said that people seem to project their hopes onto you. That’s your burden to bear, no matter what. My hope for you is that you can remain the man you are now, the man who inspires a new hope.

Maybe it seems unfair to say such things openly. The time to make such a statement is long past. The die is cast.

But it was that photo, Senator, that moved me to write. That smile, on you and on Sasha. I want to see it again.

Thank you for your service, now and in the future.

Sincerely yours,

Brad Rourke

Photo: Scott Olson/Getty, by way of Andrew Sullivan