Most children aren’t that into politics, at least not on the national level. There is just too much emotional weight of the politics going on with the kids at school to be worried about the politics going on beyond that sphere.
But even though most kids aren’t into politics, who happens to be president during a person’s formative years does have an impact on them. I’m not talking about the impact of a president’s policies. I’m talking about the impact of children watching what kind of person we elect as a president. Children learn how to be people not just from their parents, but from all the other leaders they are exposed to. And the president of the United States is the leader in chief.
As parents we want to lead our children by teaching them a certain set of values. But when we teach our children certain things at home, and then elect people to have power over us who, with their character, stand in direct opposition to the values we say we hold, we send our children a mixed message.
Mixed messages, known as double binds in the psychology world, leave children in a precarious place. A double bind makes you feel kind of crazy because you are left with two irreconcilable ideas, demands or choices. When children are taught by their parents to have scruples, but those same parents support, send money to and vote for people who have none, children are left confused. What do the parents actually stand for?
In a therapy session a client described the experience of being in a double bind as a “total mind f**k.” Mixed messages leave you feeling completely off kilter because they leave you not knowing what to believe. And when you can’t believe your parents, it makes it very hard for you to trust them. Being in a double bind makes you feel like you’re not rooted in reality.
Parents putting their children in a double bind through their voting choices is a fairly new phenomenon. The general public didn’t have nearly as much access to a president’s personal life as they do now. And even if the general public learned of personal indiscretions, in the past they weren’t splattered all over the 24 hour news cycle stations and social media like they are today.
When president Clinton was elected, it was pretty apparent that he was a philanderer. But at that point in history the majority of the voters felt that a president’s personal life was his own business and had nothing to do with what he did in office. But Clinton’s personal life and his professional life eventually converged, and as a result he ended up leading a whole generation of youngsters to believe in a new definition of sex.
It was quite shocking as a licensed psychotherapist focused on working with adolescents to observe the consequences of President Clinton’s actions on those who were adolescents during his presidency. It seemed like overnight oral sex, was no longer sex. It became a first base kind of thing.
Clinton’s attempt to manipulate the truth and justify his actions caused the truth about sex in our country to be manipulated. In the minds of adolescents everywhere a girl kissing a guy’s penis became more synonymous with a quick peck on the lips than it was with actual sex. Skin is skin. It doesn’t really matter where that skin is located, does it? Nothing’s being inserted anywhere.
A tongue being in a mouth isn’t really any different than a penis being in a mouth. Is it? A full on blow job wasn’t sex, it was just…like…second base. Instead of being felt up, a girls mouth could also now be filled up with sperm, without any actual sex happening. It was second base. No big deal.
Was swallowing that sperm any different than swallowing another person’s saliva with the left over taste of lunch still on it? It’s all just body fluid. Same thing. Whatever the reality of sperm on or inside a woman’s body is, it’s not sex if that sperm doesn’t end up specifically injected into the vagina. The President said so.
“I did not have sex with that woman!” Children of the 90’s who knew nothing about politics, were all aware of this new definition of sex. The problem with this new definition is that whether or not we call oral sex sex, it still leaves the emotional repercussions of having had sex, as well as the possibility of getting STDs. Junior high age kids barely in their teens, who previously would have stuck to traditional first base things at the beginning of their sexual exploration, were now hitting home runs without even realizing it. But sex isn’t a game like baseball. A sexual home run isn’t just another point on the board for the team.
I also saw a very distinct impact of President Obama on adolescents in my work. When I was just starting out in my therapy career I had a job working in South Central Los Angeles working for the LA Child Guidance Clinic. When doing child therapy it’s important to have a variety of toys. Families of dolls are especially important. Many children have trouble verbally discussing issues, but are great at acting out those problems through play.
South Central Los Angeles is very diverse, so I started hunting for dolls from a variety of ethnicities. It was easy to find white doll families. Tons of choices there. Not as many choices with Latino families, but still easy to find one. Finding a black family however, turned out to be an impossible feat.
I was looking for a black dad doll before Amazon sold anything but books, and I went to three toy stores in communities where lots of black people shopped. I found black child dolls, black mom dolls, and black grandma dolls. But no stores had black dad dolls. I was so frustrated by this that at the third store I asked to speak to the manager. I naively assumed they were just out of them.
When I asked the black manager why there were no black dad dolls available in any of the stores, he told me there wasn’t a market for them. Nobody bought black dad dolls. There were lots of black villains, and lots of black sports stars, and I thought about getting one and calling it dad. But that just didn’t feel right and I eventually ended up returning my other toy families and buying just one little animal family to use with all my young clients.
As I continued on in my career in South Central I gained a greater comprehension of the ways in which black dads were still struggling to be part of reality in America. There really was no such thing as a black dad in the days of slavery. Most slave owners had no interest in owning couples. There is strength in couplehood that slave owners didn’t want their slaves to have. If black families existed at all during slavery, it usually only consisted of mothers and children. One of the many residual affects of slavery is that, even hundreds of years later, the idea that black families include consistent father figures was still failing to take hold, in both the white collective mind, as well as the black collective mind.
But then President Obama came along. Obama did all kinds of great, albeit sometimes embarrassing dad things. He wore dad jeans that were slightly out of date for the time. He complimented his daughters in public, when his daughters probably would have preferred that he didn’t. He sang at funerals when he really can’t sing, because even though he can’t sing, the moment most definitely required some “Amazing Grace”, and he did the best he could to provide it. He danced flirtatiously and lovingly with his wife, although he really has no rhythm whatsoever. Although I didn’t always agree with him politically, I always agreed with his values. He is a truly good man.
Obama is the kind of nerdy, embarrassing, loving and vulnerable, yet strong dad that every child deserves to have. I believe he created an archetypal reality in The United States as a whole that didn’t exist before he was president. People mention the Cosby show, but we all know now (more than we ever wanted to) that The Cosby show was pure fantasy. It was not reality at all. Cosby didn’t leave the world with black dad dolls. But with Obama, I quickly saw black dad dolls become a thing. The idea of the black dad had finally rooted itself in the collective reality in our country. You know people believe in something when it sells, and black dad dolls were finally selling.
My most recent full time job was running a preventative mental health program for adolescents with offices based in Compton that spanned across thirty of Compton’s surrounding cities. I can’t even begin to describe the positive impact that the presence of a black dad doll makes in everyone’s lives. A black dad doll means that a black dad is not only a thing, but it’s a popular thing. Something people want to have. Something people want to be. It weird to wrap your brain around the concept that a good dad wasn’t something that all black children desired, or that many black biological fathers wanted to be. But when you don’t know what an iPhone is, you don’t desire one. And many black children and black fathers that I encountered in my work in South Central Los Angeles had no idea there was such a thing as a good black dad.
Good black dads are better for everybody. That doesn’t seem like something that needs to be said. Most people would nod their heads in agreement to that. But there are not many of those people sitting back and nodding that will actually do something to help nurture the reality of the good black dad along…or absorb the fact the black dad’s struggle is, in fact, their people’s fault in any way. Taking responsibility means making amends. The percentages of black males either incarcerated or shot by police compared to white men displaying the same behaviors is indication that amends have most definitely not been made, and that oppression is still occurring. And the reality of this, is that the world is more dangerous for everyone.
I believe we are evolving beyond the point where a President’s personal life, and President’s professional life cannot be separated out. Clinton redefining what sex is, and Obama creating a market for a black dad doll both have had tremendous impact on our world. Who these two men were in their personal lives changed the world in very meaningful ways. Being the President of The United States is not a for profit business, It’s not strickly about policy or supreme court justice appointments. Part of being the president of the united states is being a role model to our youth, whether or not that is listed in the job description. Whether or not we like it or want it to be so, it simply is the reality today.
We as the collective United States are one of the most dysfunctional groups of people on the planet. We are a living, breathing mixed message. Our doubled blindedness is beginning to cripple us. People don’t believe each other at all. We don’t believe or trust each other at within our own country, and other countries don’t believe and trust us as a whole. Those living inside The United States right now are living inside a “total mind f**k”. It’s very hard to tell what is actually the truth any more because there are so many people work so hard to manipulate it so often.
As presidential candidates begin to announce themselves, I am not looking for someone that aligns with me on all my own personal politically points. I am looking for the most healthy, grounded, fully integrated person there is. Someone with scruples and integrity. Someone who values honesty. Someone capable of genuinely respecting others who disagree with them and are not out to win at all costs and with no regard for the consequences. I pray there is someone with the strength of character and the leadership skills to get us out of this dysfunctional place, because we are living in a time where the President not only impacts us by the job he does, but also by the life he leads.
This country has been led through difficulties in the past by Presidents from varying parties. Party is not the most important thing, now more so than ever before. Both parties are equally guilty of helping to create this hyper-polarized state we are in. Although people may not want to look at our country as one big family, we are, in a way, one big not so happy family. The two parties are our extremely dysfunctional mom and dad screaming and yelling at each other all the time.
Our children are watching and absorbing this. The craziness of what we are doing right now will most definitely have an impact on them. When doing couples therapy, there was one thing I always looked for right off the bat that would clue me in as to whether or not there was a chance for the couple to make it, and that was humility. The humility to admit one’s mistakes. The humility to not just say sorry, but to complete the whole process of authentic apology by also making amends and changing one’s behavior. The humility to let go of anger and truly forgive. Healthy functioning never occurs without humility, and I pray we all move toward the next presidential election with a greater dose of it.