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Giving Joy to Our Children Is the One Thing We Can Control

My father was a long-haul truck driver. He piloted one of those eighteen-wheelers that had a horn that could raise the dead. As a kid I longed to join him on his journeys and discover something of the world beyond Huntsville, Ala., where we lived.

Despite his numerous promises, he never took me along. That failure, and the addictions of his that defined much of my childhood, gave me an education of a different sort. I learned that the world could be cruel and disappointing.

Now that I am a father, I struggle with how much of that hard world to reveal to my sons and daughters. I recognize the privilege in even considering this. Parents of children in Gaza and Ukraine do not have the luxury of deciding whether to tell their young ones of evils done and all the good left undone. Bombs descending from above indifferent to the innocence of youth have become their instructors.

I believe that we all have a moral duty not to turn away from such suffering. During dinner my family and I have talked and prayed about war, poverty, racism and injustice. My hope is that if we instill a sense of empathy in our children, they might create a better world than the one we have made.

It is not just the global upheaval that gives me pause. It is my own mistakes. Not one of us escapes those high-pressure early years of parenthood unscathed. There are always words that we wish that we could unsay, decisions made that we would reconsider if time ran backward. What unfulfilled promise will haunt my children? What will they have to forgive?

Childhood memories rush upon us awakened by a smell or a song or certain times of year. The scent of fried chicken takes me back to my grandmother’s house. I can almost hear the crunch it made when I took a bite. Every time I pass an eighteen-wheeler on the Interstate, I remember my father. Fall reminds me of the anxiety I felt when I knew that I had to go back to school without any new outfits or shoes, hoping I wouldn’t be mocked. I am 44 years old, and I still remember the hard thumps in my chest.

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