When the children were at that delicate cusp between eighth grade and high school we had a conversation about freedom. There wasn’t anything particularly new or innovative about my ideas. In fact what I told them was as old as grandpa.
I explained that as they entered high school and then college they would be wanting a considerable amount of freedom. They would have the chance to drive a car and go on a date. They would have the chance to be out of the house without Mom and Dad looking over their shoulder. They would have the choice to do well in school, get a job, earn some money, plan a future and have a good bit of fun. In fact, with a roof over their head and no bills to pay, they had the prospect of enjoying some of the most free and happy years of their lives.
All this freedom was barreling down upon them and my job as father was to prepare them for the adventure of freedom. Just as their body was changing, their mind, their outlook, their spirit was also changing. It would be natural for them to question things, challenge authority and find out for themselves. Because of this, my parenting and that of their mother would also be changing. No longer were we there to give them orders and expect obedience. Instead we would be engaging them in the discussion, inviting their co operation and pointing the way if they chose to take it. The whole point of the high school years is to prepare for the total freedom of adult life, and I aimed to assist them in that undertaking. Together we would take some risks, but we would also take some responsibility.
For the key to the whole adventure was responsibility. Personal responsibility is the flip side of the freedom coin, I explained. “The more you step up to the plate and take responsibility the more freedom you will be entitled to and the more you will enjoy that freedom.” I explained that, as parents, we were the monitors of the freedom/responsibility relationship. “We’ll observe how responsible you are and that will determine how much freedom you receive.” They seemed to get it.
The homely illustration from family life applies also to national life. The stars and stripes are a kind of symbol of the freedom and responsibility balance. The stars, if you like, representing the aspiration to noble freedom. The sensible stripes, the bars of discipline and responsibility we bear.
We call the Fourth of July “Independence Day” for we not only celebrate independence from the colonial power, but we celebrate that particular hallmark of the American people–an independent, inventive, entrepreneurial, hard working, positive and pro active attitude. It is in our red, white and blue bloodstream. Our independent spirit is marked by a love of personal freedom. “Don’t tread on me!” we cry as we happily do our own thing, worship the way we want, build the lives we dream and go on being as eccentric, unpredictable and ornery as can be.
The problem in the country today is that we desperately need the eighth grade lecture from the paterfamilias. Continue Reading