Tuesday, September 20, 2005


When you have a child, the future is always on your mind.

For me the future echoes in the hallway where my daughter's new hard-sole shoes clack against the wooden floor. At eighteen months her hair is full, and thick. Everyday she expresses things for the first time. Perhaps her exasperation at the depleted cookie jar or her light-footed exuberance during our evening promenade are glimpses of her future personality. I'm in awe.

Her future, her future, her future. It's always on the horizon, like a tireless, unrelenting sunrise. Childhood is dawn; its bright, enchanting mystery is coupled with a father's heft of responsibility. It's both the burden and the joy.

It is the future that obsesses this parent who is nagged by the present, since his one year old has yet to imagine a future for herself. My daughter keeps her mother and I in the here and now, through which we must parse the big questions on her behalf: Does her future glow? Does it sparkle? Might it be a black hole, a place to avoid? Is it merely a knot of trails through forests and deserts? Do we delude ourselves as parents in thinking that we have influence on that glow over the horizon?

I look at the war. I look at what's left of post-modernity, such as it is, and our culture's inability to believe in itself. I look at the promise of smart people wielding smart drugs, and smarter technology that goes far beyond human influence, to a scarier exaltation. And I wonder: does the future include us? Not so much us in terms of living beings, which I have to assume we will stick around for; but us in terms of who and what we are today. Will what we stand for, believe in, feel, celebrate and vex over survive the future? Will it earn preservation? Does our culture have the mettle to carry my daughter to what lies ahead? Will I pass down to her that which endures?

Of course, I am talking about values and their transference to my little girl. Values are the nooks and crannies that we steady and lift ourselves upon on the side of a steep, difficult climb. "There's the mountain before you, daughter. Let me show you how to climb it. See? Here. And here. And there." Those are values -- dependable, strong toeholds to keep you from falling, passed down through the generations. For her, they'll be all that's left of me someday.

I look at my daughter in the hallway, pure and unchastened. As her papa, I'm supposed to imagine her destiny while she practices walking on her tippy-toes. A child is the lens through which parents gaze into a future that we want them have. And so in turn, we imagine a future for ourselves.

So I will tell you here of my dreams for her, while she is busy sucking her toes.

I dream that my daughter will live in a world where there's a place for all us -- not just some of us. As time goes by, I hear less and less about inclusion, and more about what divides us. Walls are rising. But I have an exception to this dream: I dream that my daughter's future has no intolerant people in it -- that no culture can accommodate intolerance, or survive it.

I dream that my daughter's future will be free from manipulation by the powerful, whoever they are, whatever they want. Listening to the political discourse of our times, we seem to be splitting hairs over whether or not we're better off being ruled by government bureaucrats, branded corporate commercial interests or transnational mega-institutional apparatchiks. I dream that her future will be unimpeded by those who wield power with impunity -- free of someone else's designs on who she should be, and what she can do. Free.

I dream that my daughter's future should be free from human perfection. There is no real perfection; its pursuit is our greatest vice. Betterment is not finding perfection -- it's refining an acceptance of imperfection, and nurturing the will to overcome disadvantage. Character builds on imperfection. I dream that no government, institution or ideology idealizes the perfection of race, sex, class or creed.

I dream that my daughter's future will be a place where tradition binds, but does not blind. How many bone-headed things do people commit on behalf of their forefathers and heritage? And how many insensate things do we do in the name of cold, hard progress? Tradition connects us to our past, but it cannot be an excuse for holding my daughter back. Keeping a balance between nurturing tradition and progressive enlightenment will be a real trick in the future.

I dream that my daughter's future will allow for her happiness to come from within, not without. Nothing at the mall can compete. Or from the pharmacy. Or the Internet. No thing will fulfill her. No brand will define her. I dream that our culture evolves to accept our capacity to create from within, not consume from without. Infinity is deep within us.

I dream of a world where science and technology will pull mankind up to soaring heights, and not demand that we serve and emulate mediocrity, to be counted as mere bits. If all the innovations of the present time have value, they will evolve to a freer, unshackled humanity in my daughter's time. Technology must exalt her humanity, not reduce it.

I dream that my daughter's future will be free from the grip of cynicism. I dream that human sincerity and virtue will again nourish the soul, and keep her eyes bright, inquisitive and open. There's a growing chorus of eyes that are dulled by powerful, relentless media, mountains of things and the slow burn of narcissism. May people's eyes again grow bright and curious in the times to come. I dream that my daughter will keep her wonderment.

I dream that my daughter's future will be a time where the sacred is reaffirmed, centering around life. Today's world teeters on destruction. All political parties have a hand in promoting death. Giving and nourishing life does not add to the destruction of the world; it reaffirms the possibilities and provides hope. I know many wonderful people who have empathetic, sincere hearts; but they have intellects that cannot accept human existence as positive for the world. They are wrong. I dream that the future will disprove their intellectual despair and reward the warmth of their hearts.

I dream that my daughter should live in a future that has a culture with a soul. I think we have misplaced our soul -- to the clutches of commercial values; to politicized religions of inquest that reprimand but do not heal; to the unrealistic expectations we place on institutions that we are far too dependent upon for nourishment. Martin Luther King was a man of faith, as were the Abolitionists, Suffragettes and many of the enlightened marchers for progress and freedom. They had soul, and a divine spark. May our bereft, dispirited culture recapture its jazz. I dream that my daughter will live in a future that lets her be part of something far, far greater than herself. Her confidence in herself and her culture will inspire others to do great things.

These are my dreams. Where once we came boldly, the future now daunts. To have a child means that their dawn must be dreamed brightly, no matter the costs, no matter the odds. This is what I owe my daughter, the girl with the clacking shoes.