Father of Our Nation: A Parent's View of the Presidency

Louis Brandeis, an Associate Supreme Court Justice from 1916-1939 once said,” The only title superior to the title of president is the title of citizen.” The role of citizen is essential in making our democracy a vibrant and robust land where our government listens to the “voice of the people.” Today, “the people” are bitterly divided along political lines and our country has become polarized on social, economic, environmental, and foreign policy issues. As we embark on our civic duty this first Tuesday in November, we, as citizens, will vote for a man who will assume the title of president.

We recently witnessed our presidential candidates, President George W. Bush and Senator John Kerry, engage in three debates. We observed two men stand side by side, and we listened to them articulate their views on the issues of the day. Each man asked the citizenry to entrust him, join him in his vision to make this world a better place, and ultimately vote for him on November 2nd. At the end of the first debate in response to a question about their respective families, Senator Kerry praised President Bush and his family for their public service. In a joking reference to his two young adult daughters, President Bush quipped “I’m trying to put a leash on them.” Senator Kerry looked at the President and replied, “I’ve learned not to do that, Mr. President.”

We received a glimpse, albeit a light-hearted one, into our candidates as fathers. When George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln are referred to as ” fathers of our nation”, what do we really mean? Do we imply, at least to our children, that becoming President of the United States, you must possess the qualities of a father? Furthermore, what do we teach our children when our potential fathers of the country spar, mudsling, and attack one another in order to get a political advantage? If we expect the president to be a positive role model in our culture, then what message are we conveying to our children when the race for the presidency is riddled with cynicism, disdain, and distrust?

Choosing hope over cynicism is a fundamental value parents need to teach their children. Embracing love and kindness over disdain is a daily lesson parents must demonstrate to their children. Modeling trust versus distrust is a basic stepping-stone parents build in order to create healthy and positive relationships with their children. The president, as father of the country, must demonstrate these qualities in order to gain the confidence of the people. Not to sound pollyannaish, naive, or moralistic, these qualities are intrinsic in changing the negative atmosphere and partisan politics that has surrounded the race for the presidency for years. We need visionary leadership that transcends the trials of war and human differences and accentuates the hope of what is good in all people.

The President of the United States has immense and awesome responsibilities. It isn’t just any father or mother that can become the president! Yet, each and every adult citizen, as Supreme Court Justice Brandeis suggested, can impact the presidency by getting involved and voting. It is the non-voting citizens, the children, who truly pay the price when we choose not to be involved.

On a very primary and human level, we need a father or mother of the country who is cognizant of how his or her choices affect other people’s lives. We need a father or mother who can articulate that we are all in this together and demand that we all can do a better job at making this world safer, healthier and more equitable.