If World War III is going to break out tomorrow, I honestly don’t want to know about it. As a busy father and husband, I have too much to think about already.
To be clear, It’s not that I don’t care about the slow decay of the international system — I do — but I’m also tired, worried about bills, concerned that the snow in the driveway is going to freeze, and not in a position to save the world for free markets or human rights. In fact, firmly believe a degree of stoicism is part of the job of any good parent. Countless studies make it clear that a sense of security is paramount for children. I can’t deliver that while in a cold sweat. So I read the news and I move on. Performative panic ain’t my thing.
I know it sounds callous to the hyper-political to suggest that we might be overreacting to the threat of conflict. It might be. But there’s something to be said for affecting change where one can. In the future, I can imagine joining a protest, but right now I’m trying to keep my family in socks. And I believe in the people working hard to ensure that’s possible.
The truth is that there’s no weakness or shame in relying on others. And by others, I specifically mean the Pentagon. I am constantly delegating basic food and shelter stuff to third parties. I rely on the grocery store to be open at 8:00 am after a blizzard. I expect the power company to fix my electricity when it goes out — or better yet, prevent it from going out in the first place. I expect my bank to let me pull out green pieces of paper when I punch in certain numbers to a computer that I’m allowed to use while my car is idling. These are goods and services I pay for and rely upon. I pay taxes. I support my troops. I like them. I don’t like Donald Trump, but I haven’t stopped paying taxes because I don’t like Donald Trump.
I’m operating on the premise that my family will not die or, worse, survive only to inherit a cursed landscape. I’m up to date on the news, but I try not to use the phone too much in front of my daughter. When she’s old enough to talk about these things, I’ll tell her the truth: She’s insulated by the happenstance of her birth. There’s a lot to be said for honesty and I think it’s dishonest to pretend that you, a civilian and not the National Security Advisor (if we still have one), can do anything to stave off nuclear confrontation.
The American assassination of an Iranian official and the Iranian attack on military bases in Iraq are both newsworthy events. I don’t begrudge CNN the coverage. But I don’t need to read 30 articles confirming my opinion on the issue. That doesn’t make things better and it won’t save the lives of the Iranian civilians and American servicepeople the dissolution of Iran-American relations put at risk. Global thinking is good, but not always a priority. My priority is my daughter. I’m happy to be raising her in a nation with a free press but I don’t confuse content creation or consumption with thoughtful action.
Most people proceed on the basic assumption that won’t they don’t know won’t hurt them. In America, which has been at war for the better part of the last few decades, this has been largely true for the middle class, my class, since the end of the draft. Perhaps because everybody feels guilty about this situation or America’s colonial adventures in the Middle East, many parents — and this is perhaps doubly true of liberal parents — seem to be pretending that unrest abroad puts their families at existential risk. That’s unlikely if they don’t have a winter place in Qeshm.
And what of that risk? I’ve had a variety of conversations with fellow fathers and with, frankly, my wife about disaster preparedness. Do I need a bomb shelter to be a good father? Do I need a go-bag? Maybe? But also, maybe not. But I think the real problem is that we all dug A Quiet Place a little too much. The fantasy that we will outlast each other — you know, like John Krasinski — is bizarre and regrettable. We are a community. We’re in it together. I’m not equipped to protect my daughter from apocalyptic threats on my own. No one is (except, you know, John Krasinski).
Here’s all you can do: look after the kid. You can make sure that he or she feels secure. You can shovel the walk. Sure, you can talk politics over a beer or two, but maybe keep it a little more local. Maybe think about what you can do to help the non-military personnel who keep your kid safe and happy every day. And if a soldier comes into the bar, you pay that person’s beer.
The most responsible thing parents can do, relative to the looming threat of war and pretty much everything else, is not freak out. You cannot control the world but you can control yourself. Stoicism works. If you act like you’re unsafe, your kids are going to feel that. So vote and protest, but also put down the phone. You have a bomb shelter to build.