The other day, my 7-year-old son was lost in a children’s novel about the American patriots preparing to fight the English Redcoats. Naturally, the Redcoats were the bad guys.
To add balance, I said: “You remember me telling you that Daddy grew up in England? Well, the Redcoats were English.”
My son thought about this for a moment, then said, “What did you do in the battle, Daddy?”
It was a sweet moment. It also was a reminder that trickier conversations lie ahead — on politics, war, racism and more.
When Donald Trump was elected president, my son came home from school parroting the words of some of his classmates: “Trump is a bad guy.”
He’s too young for long discussions about politics. So I told him, “We give everyone a chance.” And left it at that. It seemed to satisfy his young, curious mind.
Thankfully, he hasn’t followed up with: “Daddy, you’re a reporter. Why are you the enemy of the people?”
When the latest carnage blares from the radio, I burst into song to muffle the news. When suicide came up in an otherwise kid-friendly book on CD, I frantically hit fast-forward — infuriating my son.
He knows that all people die. But he has, I hope, little sense yet of the extent of human creativity in ending one another’s lives. He knows, for example, that Jesus Christ no longer roams among us — at least not physically. He doesn’t know that he spent his final hours with nails pounded into his hands and feet.
Like many parents of young children, I’m not ready for the harder conversations. Particularly now, when I’m struggling myself to make sense of a world in which shrill voices at either end of the political spectrum compete to drown each other out.
At times, I worry that things I’ve said will seep into my son’s brain.
I admit I might grouse on occasion about the homeless people in my neighborhood — say, when I see a scattering of empty beer cans in my alley. But I’d be horrified if my son, spotting someone riffling through one of our Dumpsters, yelled from his plush car seat: “Beat it, you bum! We don’t need your kind here.”
Or when someone cuts us off in a vehicle originally intended for a mountainside farm or an African safari, and I blurt out: “Ass— SUV drivers!”
What I hope is that when my children start to really care about things beyond the toy box and the playground that we’ve progressed beyond the sneering and the mocking of each other’s beliefs.
If I had more faith in the future of my own industry, I’d encourage my kids to become reporters. I’ve interviewed people living in lakefront penthouses, folks who call a soggy cardboard box home, a man with a date to die by lethal injection.
Reporting has made me shut up and listen to them all. It’s forced me to see each person I meet as exactly that — a person, not a member of a tribe to which I might not belong.
And that’s what I’ll tell my sons. The next time my older boy reads about the evil Red Coats, maybe for just a moment he’ll see a weary, hungry soldier, dreaming only of home.
• Why my boys will learn their grandfather’s native language
• Dancing on the Riverwalk: the ‘Papa’ I want my boys, his grandkids, to remember
• A dangerous question: ‘Daddy, what kind of music did you listen to as a kid?’
• What I’ll tell my kids some day about the drug-addicted uncle they never knew
• Learning to be a father at the knee of an expert: my grandfather
• A father’s gift to his young sons: a letter a month to read when they’re older
FATHERHOOD: AN OCCASIONAL SERIES
This is one of an occasional series on fatherhood by Sun-Times staff reporter Stefano Esposito, the dad of two young sons.