August 30, 2010

Shades of Gray

Sometimes the hardest part of being a father is dealing with the Shades of Gray. These are the questions that they pepper me with about topics that cannot be answered in black and white terms. They ask why it is wrong to kill people and ok to support some wars. They want to know why it is ok for dad to scream "fuck" when he bangs his head on a cabinet but it is not ok to say at other times.

They hear a story about a homeless man who stole food and ask if I would steal food for them. I tell them that we don't have to worry about it but they push for answers. I know that they won't rest so I answer them. I tell them that if there are no alternatives I will do what I have to do to make sure that they eat.

A little finger is waved in front of my nose as a six-year-old lectures me that I am only allowed to take enough to feed the family. Her older brother isn't willing to let her take the lead so he offers instruction of his own- "dad won't steal more than he has to." Suddenly sibling rivalry is in full effect and the dark haired beauty is only too happy lecture her brother and I about how I might go to jail.

Great, a simple discussion has spiraled into a silly talk about thievery. How the hell did I end up in this place where the kids are fighting about what happens if I get arrested. In a stern voice I shush them both and ask them if they ever remember a time when they didn't have enough to eat.

They agree that it hasn't happened. It leads to a great teaching moment in which we talk about a bunch of things including the homeless and why they shouldn't be invisible people to us. I have to run off to a business meeting so I hug and kiss the kids goodbye and head out the door.

Inside the car I decide that if I am going to have to fight traffic I might as well make use of my time by trying to come up with other situations besides theft and murder to discuss. I laugh at the absurdity of it- theft and murder, It sounds so harsh, but it is. We have spoken about stealing food to feed a family and why sometimes it is ok to go to war.

I could have gotten into a discussion about whether a just war means that people are killed or murdered, but they are far too young for that and it violates my parenting philosophy. If they want to know what time it is I tell them but I don't include how to build a clock as part of the discussion.  They only need to know as much as they need to know. That will change as they grow older, but that is ok with me.

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