Open Letter to My Boys: Capitol Riot

WASHINGTON, DC – JANUARY 06: Protesters gather outside the U.S. Capitol Building on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC. Pro-Trump protesters entered the U.S. Capitol building after mass demonstrations in the nation’s capital during a joint session Congress to ratify President-elect Joe Biden’s 306-232 Electoral College win over President Donald Trump. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

January 13, 2021

On January 6th, Trump supporters stormed the United States Capitol building. A week has passed. It feels like a month. That fleeting feeling of time isn’t new, especially in the Trump era. The past four years have been one controversy after another. Each new atrocity washing away its predecessor. Trump’s defining attribute is desensitizing and exhausting those who repudiate him. His relentless onslaught of tweets, egotism, slander, lies, and attacks on social/professional norms are draining. Above all else, they’re dangerous.

January 6th’s attempted coup was no unforeseen side-effect. It resulted from years of attacking truth. Incessant lying and spouting his own reality, Donald Trump created a world where opinions can now be facts. A world where if one shouts loud enough, and for long enough, their own perceived reality becomes their absolute truth. Donald Trump lost the election. There is no disputing the facts, the numbers. The state governments proved it. The courts proved it. But, what does a toddler do when they are told something other than what they want to hear? They tantrum. They blame others. The key difference is, they don’t command an army of conspiracy theorists. A toddler cannot attack the foundations of an entire country. A toddler cannot threaten democracy.

Words have power. There are no excuses to be made for what happened at the Capitol. Donald Trump whipped his base into a frenzy and sent them marching to the Capitol. Facts are facts. History cannot be allowed to wash over this betrayal of our country by our own President. Do we blame the flame or the man holding the gasoline and lighter? I suppose in this case, it’s both, isn’t it?

We are all taught there are consequences to our actions. As a parent, how can I look my boys in the eye and tell them that is true for all of us? Or, do I tell them the current truth — There are only consequences to your actions if you lack the requisite power to avoid them? You are only punished if you don’t have the right skin color, connections, money or power? Sure, some of the insurrectionists face steep prison sentences for their attempted coup. As they should. What about those who pushed them? Those who encouraged them and fed them misinformation for so many years: Particular media outlets willingly spreading lies about the truth of the election results. Members of Congress not only unwilling to stand against Trump’s rhetoric, but indulging him. Trump himself for calling his loyalists to the Capitol and then holding a rally ultimately leading to the coup itself. If we don’t hold those in power accountable, what does it say about our nation as a whole? The world is watching.

Every day I drop my boys off at preschool and daycare. Every day I make them repeat Dad’s Rules: Be Good. Listen to people. Have fun.

Shouldn’t it be that simple?

Be Good. Do the right thing. If something feels wrong, then it probably is. It’s a blanket statement, but I explain to each of them that being good means treating others with respect and living within the confines of the rules when possible. It means being an example to others. It means being a leader, even when things seem murky or the right choice isn’t clear. It’s not always black and white, but doing your best is sometimes enough.

Listen to others. Oof. If only, right? I tell my boys their own opinions and what they want isn’t always how others think or feel. It’s important to listen to different ideas and to read others’ emotions. Listening is different than hearing. It feels like no one listens anymore. ‘I’m right and you’re wrong,’ and ‘if I shout the loudest then I obviously have to be right,’ have become the new norm. This is all trickier than it used to be. How do we listen to those of us who are spreading dangerous misinformation and blatant lies? Lies that led to January 6th’s dangerous display of misplaced anger. Hopefully our next generation can figure out this delicate balance. I reside in the belief most of us are reasonable and in the middle ground, we just get drowned out by the loud and angry. We need to change that.

Have fun. Remember what fun feels like? 2020 made finding joy in things more difficult, but not impossible. I always end ‘dad’s rules’ by letting the boys know, above all else, have fun. Life is heavy, but the weight doesn’t have to rob us of all joy. Perhaps we all need to close our computers, power off our phones, and step outside our front door more. Find the thing that melts the world around us away again. We have more in common than separates us. Perhaps it’s time we ALL find that ground again.

I’m not perfect. I’ve made (tons) mistakes. I have so many things I regret. Things I’m embarrassed about. Some were funny, some make me cringe. I suppose it’s all part of what Griff calls being a humanoid. But, I try every day to be better than I was the day before. I don’t want my boys to inherit the attributes I don’t like about myself. I want them to be infinitely better than me. I want them to be leaders. I want them to guide us to a better future, together.

If January 6th teaches us all anything, it’s that we need to stand up together against misinformation and dangerous behavior. Those responsible need to be held accountable, regardless of power, status, or political affiliation. Common ground has to be found. Extremist ideology, as well as attacks on democracy and facts, cannot be that ground. Let this be our collective mistake as a country that moves us forward to being a better nation. We owe it to ourselves, our children, our country and we owe it to the world. Let this be the moment we remember how to be good, listen to people, and have fun again.

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