Friday, December 09, 2005

Who’d Want to Be Gandhi’s Child?

Last weekend, anti-war activists in Houston were abuzz with activity. Dick Cheney was to speak at a fundraiser for Tom Delay at a luxury hotel in town on the coming Tuesday. The opportunity to create media coverage of the terrifying mélange of corruption, scandal, lies, and policies of war, economic exploitation, and torture that Cheney and Delay represent was very enticing to the activist community. Local groups that often refuse to work together converged. spurred its Houston area members to action. By most accounts, the protest was a huge success.

Miah and I, however, did not go to the protest. She could go into labor anytime and I’d had bronchitis for two weeks that was beginning to abate. It was not the time for us to stand in the cold with a sign as the police circled us on their horses. I still made a little contribution to the organizing effort by writing and designing a feature about the coming protest on a local news website.

Our parents were in town that weekend and they were a bit upset with my participation. “It’s not inconceivable that you could be locked away for this type of activity,” they said, “and now you have to think about your child.”

My response was that repression grows strongest when people are silent and that it is our duty to our child to speak out so that she does not grow up in a society that locks people up for voicing dissent. Still, I took my parents’ concern to heart. At what point does the parents’ obligation to keep their family safe outweigh everything else? I don’t know the answer to that question. I’m not sure there is a single answer. Clearly, parents in 1938 Germany faced a different set of choices than parents in 2005 Texas.

I actually don’t think safety is my biggest concern when it comes to activism and parenting. I’m more worried that the rigidity and inflexibility of belief that is required for activism – how else can people be sure enough of themselves to stand up to authority – is contrary to what is called for to parent well. Unqualified commitment to a set of ideals, whether its Evangelical Christianity or Green Anarcho-Feminism, is sure to create distance in families and rear children who are more perceptive of their family’s hypocrisies than their family’s love.

Gandhi’s eldest son, Harilal (pictured above), had an estranged relationship with his father for, what seems to me, legitimate reasons. For example, Gandhi opposed his son’s remarriage after his son’s first wife died on the grounds that he opposed marriage for the sake of sexual gratification. Though I admire Gandhi and read his writing closely, I would not have wanted him as a father. Not because I would have missed my father if he was in jail, but because I would not have wanted my childhood to be defined by my father’s uncompromising experiments with truth.

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