In Cinderella Man, one of his underrated movies, Russell Crowe plays the Depression-era boxer James J. Braddock. Hard times fall on Braddock as they did on millions, and we see in the movie a heartwarming struggle as the everyman Irish guy from New Jersey puts his family first in all things. When he gets a chance to fight the fearsome Max Baer, Braddock jumps at it with full knowledge that the boxing world figures him to be outclassed, no matter how well-liked he is.
At a chance meeting in a restaurant after the fight has been announced, Baer talks tough and essentially promises to kill Braddock in the ring, as he has done to two other fighters. Crowe’s Braddock gets close enough to whisper, and says (I’m paraphrasing), “O.K., I see what you’re trying to do, but knock it off, O.K.? You’re scarin’ my kids.” Baer does not back down, and the final showdown is properly foreshadowed.
Somewhat less dramatic, but no less on my mind, is the alarming amount of government takeover talk that reaches us these days. Some weird cauldron full of equal parts hate for the president, Glenn Beck’s hate for the United Nations and another president (Wilson), the stubborn notion that gun control means gun elimination, and general frustration with our own hard times bubbles and splashes onto news television and radio.
Which is fine, as far as it goes. I don’t believe for a second that our government, whatever its failings, is preparing to clobber us into submission to some new totalitarian order. (If it wanted to, why hasn’t it? What’s stopping it?) Still, other people are entitled to believe it, and to discuss it, and to try to prove it (good luck with that). But when I have to watch which TV stations are on when my 12-year-old son is in the room, when I have to think twice before continuing to listen to a certain story on National Public Radio (we like to do that on our way to school) because of who is quoted in it, and what they say…then I get annoyed.
Here’s why: I can see the signs in my son. I know what his facial and body languages say; I understand which of his silences are innocuous and which are impelled by worry. And when I hear people, in conversation or in media, predict a civil war in the next ten years, with all seriousness…
Stop it. You’re scaring my child. All children. Needlessly. My wife and I taught our son to respect what adults say, even if it might be wrong. He is developing, but cannot yet be expected to have perfected, a reliable bullshit meter.
Meanwhile, say what you like. But talk like an adult, and back it up with more than conjecture. And maybe pick your spots a little better.
Yes, of course it is my job to talk to my son, to plumb the depths of his worry when I can, to reassure him. And my wife and I do. But remember when you were 12? Yes, you did have a private life, places in your mind where no adult could go. And as parents, we need to admit that, and to understand the growing individuality of our children if we are to be effective. And that means I cannot always protect him from the corrosive effects of every thought he hears. He will learn to do that. He just needs time, like any kid.
It’s enough that as a father, I have to even think about my government coming to ask me for my son in about six years in the event some new foreign war is raging. I’m the father; I’m supposed to worry. But I’d like him to enjoy his childhood without the specter of civil war — and danger to himself and his family — pressing on his mind.
© 2013 Adam Barr