On Facing the News

Here’s an excerpt of a column I wrote for The Kitchener Post on August 14, 2017:

Being reminded of my children’s tenacity

OPINION Aug 14, 2017 by James Bow Kitchener Post

When Daughter the Elder was one year old, we cut cable television out of our home. There was too much violence on television, and we were wary of the way the shows lulled us onto the couch.

We downloaded the programs we cared about, and took control over what we watched. But I wondered if we were sheltering our daughter too much. I hadn’t counted on other families.

I was shocked to find Daughter the Elder singing Disney songs when we hadn’t shown her a Disney movie. But there are currents of culture and information flowing past our children from the moment we send them to preschool. They really do pick it up through osmosis.

In our naiveté, we think our children don’t pick up on the news of the world, and for a while I think that’s true. Think back on the earliest major news story you remember; how old were you at the time? How did you find out about it? Chances are, your parents had the radio and television on and didn’t realize you were listening.

We didn’t try to hide things from our kids. We answered questions when asked, and they seemed to accept our take. Recently, however, Daughter the Elder and her friends’ attitudes have changed. They can look beyond our take on the news and draw their own conclusions.

My daughter has become politically aware at a bad time. The news today is full of the awful incompetence of Trump and his nuclear sabre-rattling with the insane leader of North Korea. She fears nuclear war.

I could tell her that I was in Grade 5 when The Day After debuted. I could tell her that her mother lived in Omaha in the 1980s and regularly saw the Looking Glass flying overhead — the secret plane that would command the war effort after all ground control had been destroyed.

I could tell her that her grandparents performed duck and cover drills, and that my father was listed with the Canadian Reserves during the Cuban Missile Crisis. I could tell her that we’ve known these fears and lived through them, and likely she will live through them too.

But I get angry when I think this. We’ve betrayed the promise of the fall of the Berlin Wall. I remember the awe and joy of that day when the threat of nuclear annihilation rolled back.

Yes, there were other perils to face, but we’d moved back from the brink, and the promise of that was that our children wouldn’t have to fear as we feared.

However, talking about this with Erin, she pointed out that this promise that our children will never grow up in fear has been largely illusionary.

Today, African-American parents sit their kids down and give them a different talk about the facts of life. They tell them how to stay safe when they are stopped by police. They tell them that a lot of people hate them simply because of the colour of their skin. This was in evidence long before the events of Charlottesville this past weekend.

They don’t have a choice, and neither do parents in other ethnic and religious groups. And, I don’t have a choice, either.

The world has dangers that our children have to face and overcome eventually. We blanch because we remember our own childhoods, and how terrified we were.

But, we forget how we lived through them, and we underestimate our children’s tenacity as they live through that fear as well.


Since writing this, I think the tide turned in some key ways. Ordinary people were incensed at what they saw in Charlottesville, and they joined those who have been working long and hard organizing. The Boston Neo-Nazi rally was swamped by anti-racist protestors. I see people who are more engaged now than before. I’m keeping my fingers crossed, but a part of me hopes that we may have crossed the watershed. We’ll see.

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