This is my first Father’s Day. I’m one of those “older” parents: having spent most of my time in my 20s and 30s engaged in social activism and not enough time nurturing deep relationships, I ended up pushing off fatherhood until my early 40s.
Now here I am, with a beautiful, energetic 4-month-old son (we named him Justice) and an amazing life partner who has shown herself to be an incredibly attentive, deeply loving mother. Although we come from differing religious traditions — I’m a former Catholic turned spiritual agnostic, she’s a former Buddhist turned Baha’i — we both share a deep and abiding concern for the fate of our world.
This concern is fused inextricably with our love for our son. We expose him to a diverse circle of friends and caretakers so he’ll learn early on the common humanity in us all. We take him on forest hikes, let him gaze curiously at the sky, and help him cuddle with our cats so he’ll have appreciation for this planet we call home. And we babble, giggle, tickle, cradle, and sing to him as much as we can so he’ll know viscerally how precious and joyful life truly is. Of course, we know this is only the beginning. He’ll need far more than this.
For we live in profoundly perilous times, to say the least. Justice is inheriting a planet wracked by environmental decline, marred by violent conflict, and increasingly divided between the super-rich and increasingly super-poor. Oh yes, and all of these crises just happen to be converging just now in new and disturbing ways.
You might ask: then why have children? It’s a fair question.
My answer: because in the midst of it all, one of the most responsible things we can do is nurture our young to become caretakers and shepherds of a better future.
Having witnessed Justice’s fierce yearnings since birth — his adorable smiles, coos, rollovers, kicks, and yes, even his drools — I feel all the more committed to helping him prepare for the wrenching, and potentially glorious years ahead.
As the American Empire fades, forcing us to learn to make and do things we’ve off-shored to others, he’ll need a can-do attitude, an adaptive mindset, and a willingness to learn new skills (and some old ones too). As his friends and neighbors face economic difficulties in greater numbers, he’ll need to create and seize new opportunities in partnership with those around him. As our food, energy, and water become all the more taxed, he’ll need to help restore our land, air, and sea. And as stresses mount and conflicts arise, he’ll need the power of loving persuasion to bring people together in the spirit of sharing and unity.
Okay, perhaps I’m putting a bit too much on our “Little Man,” as we’re so fond of calling him. He’s not even a toddler yet!
Still, I have reason for hope for my son, his generation, and those yet born who will one day usher in a new era.
My first place of solace is nature’s resilience. Despite being clear-cut, over-harvested, polluted, mined, and abused in countless ways, our planet is still marvelously abundant, mostly functioning, and teeming with life. Its life-giving processes are, to be sure, being pushed to the brink, and our global climate has been shaken off balance in irrevocable ways. Still, our planet will survive, with or without us — and will almost certainly be granted a reprieve once fossil fuel-powered civilization begins to wind down in the decades to come. Justice will bear witness to incredible loss, but can take comfort in the fact that nature’s resilience, with the healing hands of millions, will restore, rehabilitate, and recalibrate life’s presence here on Earth.
My second reason for hope is history’s promise. While war, injustice, and hatred have scarred our existence for millennia, peacemakers, social justice advocates, and, dare I say, love-makers of all kinds have consistently sprung into action, reminding us of our humanity and changing history for the better, time and time again. From the early challenges to Roman imperial excess to the popular overthrow of dictators and tyrants, from courageous resistance in the Nazi-occupied Warsaw Ghetto to the peaceful Indian revolution over British occupation, from the American anti-slavery movement to the Civil Rights movement — all of these and many more point to our species’ thirst for justice, and a willingness to make deep sacrifices to ensure dignity for us all.
Such passion and determination show no signs of letting up in the present day: less than one year ago, millions of people the world over took part in the “Occupy” movement to challenge Wall Street “banksters” and global financiers’ rigging of our economies. Right now, widespread demonstrations for freedom and justice are underway throughout Turkey, often in the face of violent government repression. Such determined action will be sorely needed in our own neck of the woods, at least if we hope to push our society from corporate domination to democratic community. Given the resurgence of the youth, permaculture, economic justice, food sovereignty, and climate protection movements, I remain hopeful for a more equitable, humane future.
Lastly, I have faith in the human heart. I don’t for a minute believe that humanity is bad or “evil” by nature. We’re all prone to selfishness, dishonesty, and misdeeds. But we also have an innate capacity for empathy, fellowship, and deeply felt love. This love, despite its failings, transcends space, time, race, gender, religion, nation, and species.
When I see Justice laugh or smile with joy, I nearly melt. His innocence has a due date, it’s true. But his heart need never shy away from love for his brothers and sisters, whose destiny we must all help guide toward brilliant tomorrows.