(Fred Weinberg/The Penny Press) – It occurred to me while I was watching the speeches during the Republican Convention that there was probably one thing running through the life’s experience of the vast majority of the speakers.
I’d be willing to bet that very few if any of those speakers had a parent ever tell them that they would never amount to much. Or that something was simply out of their reach.
Condoleezza Rice said it best, “a little girl grows up in Jim Crow Birmingham. The segregated city of the south where her parents cannot take her to a movie theater or to restaurants, but they have convinced her that even if she cannot have a hamburger at Woolworths, she can be the President of the United States if she wanted to be, and she becomes the Secretary of State.”
Now, I cannot imagine what it must have been like to grow up black in Birmingham in that era because I grew up the son of very white, Jewish middle class educators in Peoria, Illinois.
But, like Ms. Rice’s parents, mine were fond of telling my sisters and I that this is, indeed, the United States of America and in the USA, any little boy or girl (and this was during the 50s) could grow up to be President.
I never heard my parents—even in anger—tell me that I wouldn’t ever amount to much and I never told them that I was going to do anything where they told me that I couldn’t accomplish what I set out to do.
I want to be clear here.
This is being written before the Democratic Convention convened and I am sure that I will hear equally impressive speeches from equally impressive individuals. This isn’t an editorial about politics. It’s an editorial about parents.
It occurred to me that there are two kinds of successful people.
Some people are successful because of their parents. Others are successful in spite of their parents. One or both.
To have a mother teach you how to read before you are four, to have a father explain to you a little about how our government works when you are five and then tell you that some day, you may want to run that government (and, yes, I am talking about my own parents) puts you on a path that has a much higher probability of success.
This is not to say that it is the only path to success. But it can’t hurt.
Here’s the problem.
My upbringing and that of the speakers at the various conventions and probably yours are not even the norm these days.
According to 2011 U.S. Census Bureau data, over 24 million children live apart from their biological fathers. That is 1 out of every 3 (33%) children in America. Nearly 2 in 3 (64%) Black children live in father-absent homes. One in three (34%) Hispanic children, and 1 in 4 (25%) white children live in father-absent homes. In 1960, only 11% of children lived in father-absent homes.
I think I am on relatively safe ground suggesting that those statistics infer that many kids today need to take the route to success which runs around their upbringing instead of through it. That many of them can rely on their parents only as cautionary tales as opposed to role models.
That, in my humble opinion, is largely the fault of my own self-indulgent generation which had a tendency to view children as an inconvenience on the road to yuppiedom. And, by the way, that transcends politics, party and economics.
Instead of merely giving up and longing for the good old days, here’s an idea. Let’s encourage mentoring. Big Brothers and Sisters, Junior Achievement, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Civil Air Patrol, foster parenting, anything which brings responsible role models into frequent contact with kids whose lives can maybe be put on a path to success. Perhaps, collectively having screwed up our own children’s generation, we can redeem ourselves by seeing the errors of our ways and acting responsibly as we come to the end of our working careers and have the time and resources to do so.
Of course going forward, convincing the current child bearing generation to not have kids unless they intend to stay married or even to not have kids unless they are married is also a start, although that’s a different editorial.
I don’t know that one generation can solve the problem, but I do know that if we don’t do something, we will be leaving a much bigger problem than the national debt to our grandchildren.