Ruben Navarrette: A father's job is to shepherd his kids through difficult times — like these
Summary: My children need to know right from wrong, and it's my job to teach them the difference — by highlighting, at every opportunity, the bright line that separates the two. That's what a Dad does.
SAN DIEGO — I'm staring down the barrel of my 15th Father's Day.
And, given everything that happened so far this year — from a global pandemic and the blowing up of the U.S. economy to the killing of George Floyd to riots in the streets to a national debate over police reform — I can't escape the feeling that this is the most important Father's Day of my life.
I've often said over the years that fatherhood is undoubtedly my toughest job. For one thing, this gig doesn't get any easier with time; as my kids age, old fears and challenges are replaced by new ones. The "terrible two's" were a piece of cake compared to teenage tantrums. Practice does not make perfect. Because, in parenting, there is no perfect.
I don't get paid for this job, but the stakes are higher than with all my paying jobs put together; years from now, no one will care about an essay, speech or podcast. But they'll instantly know, upon meeting my children, what kind of parent I was. If I do something today that messes up their upbringing, my kids could pay the bill for the rest of their lives.
I'm on a constant quest for balance. I don't want to be too tough or too lenient. I want my kids to have high self-esteem but not to the point where they look down on others. I want them to think they deserve the best out of life without feeling entitled. I want to support them in all they do, but not make excuses for their failings, shortcomings and mistakes.
I stress over this job because I'm not in it for the belts, ties, and greeting cards. I take seriously my responsibility to instill the right values. I'm trying to build better humans.
It's a family tradition. My dad never tried to be my best friend, and I'm grateful. Friends, I had. I needed a dad. The same went for my grandfather — the old man from Mexico — who told my dad that he had "three fathers" who were worthy of respect: him, the teacher, and the police officer. Disobey any of them, and you call down the thunder.
No doubt, fatherhood is grueling work under the best conditions. And 2020 is not the best conditions. It's a dumpster fire.
Just over the last four months — no more than 120 days, incredibly — my kids (ages 15, 13, and 10) have seen a lot. In fact, they've seen too much. They have been witnesses to compassion, callousness, calamity, courage, chaos and cowardice
They have seen America at its very best, and at its very worst. They've seen fellow human beings come together against a virus as a common enemy, and come apart over the plague of police violence against our most vulnerable citizens. They've seen good police officers push for reforms, and bad ones — who apparently don't watch the news — add to the body count.
They have seen some people deal with a global health crisis by being kind, selfless and generous, while others are selfish, cavalier and irresponsible. They've watched some folks volunteer at shelters or give food to the needy, and others hoard toilet paper and refuse to wear a mask.
They've seen some people handle the loss of a job by hustling for new opportunities, while others hang back and collect unemployment checks. They've seen peaceful marchers who take a stand and demonstrate for something they believe in, but also opportunists who shamelessly take advantage of racial strife to riot, steal and vandalize.
As Mexican Americans, they know about white privilege. They know their lives will not be as easy as others', but also that it's their responsibility not to make the kinds of bad choices that make life more difficult.
And as the grandchildren of a retired cop, they also know that police are here to protect, serve and help us when we're in trouble — and that, while they are to be respected and obeyed, they need not be feared.
With each crisis, my kids could learn the wrong lessons. I'm teaching them to care for others, fight injustice, treat people with dignity, count their blessings, don't play the victim, make their own opportunity, and defer to authority figures who are often trying their best to do an impossible job.
My children need to know right from wrong, and it's my job to teach them the difference — by highlighting, at every opportunity, the bright line that separates the two. That's what a Dad does.
Ruben Navarrette can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.