On the first night of the Dad 2.0 Summit last week, one of the men came to my table to meet our group. We quickly recognized each other from the 2013 Summit. As we shared about our children, I kind of laughed and said, “My girls have teenagers!” He said, “No way!” then said he wanted to hang around with me since we were obviously the “old guys” at the summit. We were different from the rest.
There is a lot of talk today about our reaction to differences and the need for diversity in our world. We are debating the morality of a wall or barrier to mark our country from those who aren’t from our country. We use inclusive language to speak of everything from gender to religion. While we draw the line at whether it is acceptable to wear our favorite team’s logo and make fun of a fan from a competing franchise, we all want to bring more understanding and tolerance to the table as we notice our differences.
As my girls were growing up, one of the things we wanted to instill in them was permission to be different. My dad used to say, “If everybody is jumping off a cliff, would you follow?” Sometimes we actually wanted our children to be different from the crowd. We encouraged them to follow their own interests and ignore anyone who suggested something was out of bounds or out of reach to them. I was proud to buck the trend back in those days.
Other times, we talked about not wanting them to stand out too much. After all, the ones who are different are the ones who have to deal with bullies. Wear something different and people make fun of you. Wear your hair a little too different or cut it in some unique way and everyone will have an opinion. Getting school clothes was always a discussion about what everyone else was wearing and that standard alone seemed to guide taste and style preferences. It doesn’t change as we get older. We all have clothing that has lots of wear left in it but won’t be worn because it has clearly gone out of style. It is just too different.
When it comes to noticing differences in other people, let’s face it. Racism and all the other “isms” begin at home. Listen as the television shows someone who is different. Do you hear criticisms of hair or skin color or piercings or tats? Does someone feel compelled to say, “Wonder where they got THAT outfit to wear,” followed by laughter or scornful sounds like, “Ewww?” How about a walk in the park? Do we have to point out someone who looks different from us? Does every news story have to be about something we don’t like about a politician or celebrity? All the Us and Them in the world begins where we find it necessary to point out differences and judge whether those differences separate us or not.
Isn’t the line really where acceptance or rejection enter the picture? Every dad has been asked, “Daddy, why do they look different from us?” We claim that children don’t notice differences. That’s not my experience; they notice them, alright. They just don’t care. Put a group of children from different races on a playground. It won’t be the children who find a reason to leave suddenly. It will be a parent who can’t handle their children mixing with other children who are different. The kids were fine until the parents stepped in.
As we navigate through a barrage of differences today with our children, why not determine to forego passing down our judgments and instead, help them see the value in every human being around them? After all, it begins at home.