You know those days when you look at your kid with love and think: Where on earth did you come from? In a recent interview on CNN, Jay Phillips looks like he's having that kind of a day.
His son Will, a ten-year-old from Arkansas, has made national news by refusing to take the Pledge of Allegiance with the rest of his class until "liberty and justice for all" rings true for gays across the country.
"There really isn't liberty and justice for all. Gays and lesbians can't marry," says the boy, who goes on to describe what happened four days later, when the substitute teacher in charge of the class demanded that he participate. "I eventually very solemnly with a little bit of malice in my voice, said, 'M'am, you can go jump off a bridge."
Now, I'm sure people have opinions on this, and I'm sure many of them will differ from mine. (I think what he's doing is amazing and brave, especially when his actions have led to harassment from teachers and fellow students.) But along with Will's strange, wonderful, articulate nature, what I'm truly amazed to see is the reaction of his father. Jay Phillips handles the situation with clarity and a sense of humor I'd be hard pressed to find.
"My initial response was…he's dead. That's it. He's doomed," Jay says, when asked about his reaction to his son's protest. "However, when I got home and I talked to him, the more I heard from him, the more I realized that this was not a typical act of juvenile delinquency, but an atypical act of juvenile delinquency."
In other words, after talking to his son about his motives, Jay Phillips decided to support him.
In my fantasy, the one where I get the Mother of the Year award and am flown to the Greek islands for a summer vacation (replete with a small staff of cooking/ laundry folding/ back massaging furies), I am just this kind of parent. I take the time to understand the situation before deciding that an authority--any authority--should be heeded immediately. I make my son apologize for telling anyone to jump off a bridge, but ultimately support his right to stand firm in his beliefs.
In reality, I doubt I'd have the presence of mind to do this. Call it cowardice, or fear, or just run-of-the-mill American-born-daughter-of-immigrants jitters, but I have an unfortunate tendency to try to please authority figures in these situations. My husband has spent a good deal of time talking to me about understanding my rights as an American-rights which include holding opinions others would find insulting, as long as I am doing them no physical harm. It's a great talk. He gives it with a lot of passion. I'm still a chicken.
As parents, we're so often riding the line between coddling and over-disciplining our kids--with negative consequences on either side. Those in the authority-is-always-right camp say the rest of us are raising brats. Those in the always-listen-to-your-child camp say the rest of us are raising future psychopaths.
Watching Will and Jay Phillips' interview on CNN makes me feel like I have better choices available to me. I'm proud of a boy who can hold his own opinions so forthrightly, and I'm happy for the baffled, excited father who stands next to him. Maybe there's hope for us parents yet!