Ignite the Mandela in us all

Celebrating International Human Rights Day 

My younger son has been fuelling a recent obsession of creating elastic bracelets using a loom. “Everyone’s doing it at school,” he tells me. A couple of weekends ago his teacher encouraged the students in his class to disconnect from all electronic devices – TVs, tablets, computers, iPods. My son managed to stay disconnected the whole time and indulge his new passion of bracelet-making.

Late last week he came up to me after school. “Daddy, I want to make bracelets and sell them at school for a dollar each. I want to raise money for the people who are victims of the typhoon in the Philippines.”

I wasn’t quite sure how to respond. “Uh, well OK. Did somebody ask you to do this?”

He shook his head. “No,” he replied. It’s my own idea.” He told me he’d ask a good friend to see if he could help too. His friend agreed, and my son wrote a letter to his principal asking permission to sell the bracelets.

His principal has yet to get back to him, but after telling his story to a couple of my friends, the friends have already pledged to purchase a few bracelets. Each bracelet he makes takes anywhere upwards of 15 minutes depending on its complexity. His enthusiasm at getting up well before sunrise or staying up late to create these bracelets is admirable, and I’m not just saying that because I’m his father. I didn’t give him this idea of raising funds, neither did his mother, and I’ll be the first to admit that an act like this was never an idea I would have thought of at his age. Like, ever.

The Mandela bracelet.

So whatever amount raised by December 23 will be donated to UNICEF Canada, with the Canadian government matching the donation. With the news of Nelson Mandela’s passing last week, and having learned a little more about his life over the past few days, my son’s been working on “The Mandela,” a bracelet with the six colours of South Africa’s flag. As we mourn such a tremendous loss, the impact of Mandela’s legacy for generations to follow will only be strengthened if we demonstrate a selfless kindness and willingness to help others, commit to treat everyone with the respect and dignity they deserve, and unhesitatingly attempt to brighten anyone’s day. As we celebrate International Human Rights Day December 10, I can’t think of any better way to hope that our collective future holds much promise if we all put a little Mandela in our words, our actions, and our hearts.

Happy International Human Rights Day to one and all.

The unavoidance of new bad words – a parent’s perspective

I’m driving my younger son home and I ask him how his day went. He hesitates for a moment and tells me, “Why do they keep inventing more bad words, Daddy?”
Crap I know where this is going.

“What do you mean?” I ask him.

“You know,” he says, “the people who make up bad words. They keep coming up with new ones I’ve never heard of before.”

“So you heard a new one today at school?” He nods and says yes. Two kids were calling each other a name during recess and laughing about it. I know he doesn’t like saying bad words out loud, so I ask him to spell it out for me. He misspells it.

“That’s the name of a country in Africa,” I tell him. “But I know the word you’re talking about. It’s an old word that we shouldn’t be using anymore. It was used long ago to make people feel inferior and it was really bad.” I told him a little about the book on slavery I’d finished reading the week before.

“So it didn’t exist when you were young?” he asks me.

I told him it did. It’s the kind of discussion that catches me off-guard as a parent but I know I have to face these kinds of conversations whether I want to or not. As much as I want to protect my children from a world around them that is insulting, uncaring, rude, arrogant, stupid, shameful, discriminatory, racist, and sexist, there will be more and more times when I’m not around to shield them from any of it. My mother’s approach was one of avoidance: we never talked about kids swearing, doing drugs, drinking or having sex. None of that existed once I entered my home. She didn’t want to talk about it and neither did I. So when I have my son come up to me and tell me a swear word that’s new to him, I can’t fall back on my own experience to guide me on a proper response.

But despite this I’m glad he’s comfortable enough to talk to me about it, and however uncomfortable it is for me to answer him, I have to respond. As my children mature and learn more about the world around them, I realize they’re exposed to a lot more crap than I want them to be, but at the same time I need to realize that they are capable of making decisions about what to say or not say, how to be kind and respectful rather than mean-spirited, and how to speak up for what’s right. And talking to them about the stuff that was taboo when I was a kid is one way I hope will help.

“When the kids during recess were using that word, did you say anything to them?” I ask him.

He tells me no. “Maybe next time you hear that word you can tell them it’s not nice to say it. Like, ever.” He nods. I know he’s a good kid.

I drive down our street and pull into the driveway.

“There was another word I heard today, Daddy.”

Oh crap.

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November 20 is Universal Children’s Day. This year UNICEF is focusing on putting hidden violence and abuse of children in the spotlight. Let’s talk about it end violence against children in all its forms.