Last summer I was at a barbeque.
If you’re a vegetarian like me, you know the horror of smelling charred meat and watching the endless stuffing of hotdogs into the mouths of young children. Suddenly, through the smoke of the grill the host approached me and said, “Do you think it’s right to take the innocence away from your children?” I stood there kind of stunned as she melted away back into the smoke, to throw yet another handful of meat onto the fire.
I thought to myself, “Is that what I’m doing when I take my children to a protest?”
When I was about my son’s age my father called me to the backyard. When I arrived I saw him fiddling around with the TV antenna, trying to get good reception. I was excited because when he took the TV outside it was usually a big event. But this wasn’t a big sports event, like the Superbowl, or a prize fight. I asked my father what was going on and he said to take a seat because something very important was about to happen.
Soon after I settled into my seat the picture came on and it was the President of the United States, Richard Nixon. When my father sat down next to me I asked, “Why are we watching this?” He said the President did a bad thing and got caught by the people and now had to quit being President. My first reaction was fear. I asked, “If he quits, what’s going to happen to us and the country?” He turned to me and with an uneasy look said, “Don’t worry, we’re going to be all right.” I could tell he was nervous too, because nothing like this had ever happened in our country’s history. But no matter the uncertainty of the future the people had spoken and Richard Nixon was going to resign.
Did I lose something that day? Was my innocence ripped away on that night? My father could have just kept me in the dark with no fear of the future — just childhood bliss. But instead he decided that I should learn that when the people in a democracy speak they are even more powerful than the President of the United States. Something did change in me that night; I gained the understanding of what makes a real democracy. I learned that the people are strong and when something is wrong you must speak out in order for it to be fixed. Sure, change is scary, especially for a child, but the strength that comes from knowing and understanding what is happening is the most powerful thing a parent can give his or her children.
I never responded to the woman’s question that day at the barbecue, but here is my answer: innocence is never lost when something so important and powerful is to be gained.
Rob Territo is a New York City teacher. He lives with his wife and two children in New Jersey.