Another Perspective

Fathers and Sons

A inter-generational exchange over who still possesses "moral authority."

By 4.8.09

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It must have been around 3 a.m. the other night when I woke up with a severe case of heartburn. Staggering to the bathroom in search of some Tums, I noticed that the light was on in my teen-aged son's room. It turned out he was playing something called World of Warcraft on his computer.

"Turn off the computer and go to bed," I ordered him sternly.

"Dad, you can't tell me what to do," my son replied. "You lack the moral authority."

"The what?" I asked, unable to believe my ears.

"The moral authority," he replied. "President Obama said in Strasbourg that the United States didn't have the moral authority to tell nations like Iran and North Korea to stop building nukes until we reduced our own stockpiles. Well, you don't have the moral authority to tell me to stop using the Internet until you give up the Internet yourself."

"The situations are entirely different," I replied stiffly. "When I go on the Internet it's not to play games -- it's to learn something."

"I already know all I need to know," said my son defiantly. "I'm part of the Obama generation, and as the President said in Strasbourg, 'Each time we find ourselves at a crossroads, paralyzed by worn debates and stale thinking, a new generation rises up and shows the way forward.'"

"My dear son," I replied, struggling to keep my voice even, "how can you presume to show anyone the way forward when all you do is play games on the Internet?"

"Easily," my son replied. "As President Obama pointed out in Strasbourg, because we young people are 'unburdened by the prejudices and biases of the past,' we bring a fresh perspective to all the world's problems. Think of me as an agent of 'transformational change.'"

"Son," I warned, "if you don't turn off your computer and go to bed this instant, I'm going to start some transformational changes here and now that you're not going to like."

My son lifted his eyes to the heavens and said, in a voice filled with condescension, "That's so typical of you, Dad. Like the Bush Administration, you're arrogant, you're dismissive, and you're even derisive."

"Did President Obama say that?"

"He sure did!"

"Well, I've got a message for you and for President Obama. It comes from Lincoln, who said, 'Important principles may and must be inflexible.' In world affairs, that means that real leaders don't pander to their audiences. And in this house, it means that you're going to bed right now."

And with that, I yanked the plug on my son's computer, turned off the lights in his room, and ended the conversation.

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About the Author

Joseph Shattan is the author of Architects of Victory: Six Heroes of the Cold War.