I was in the
kitchen working on my computer and the kids were playing loudly in the other
room. I heard them practicing a
show. This one was about a kitten
and a volcano. Don't ask. Eliza is always the
director. Her younger brother,
Jonah, the talent. The shows never
really have much of a narrative - no big dance numbers and - OK, I'll say it,
they're pretty bad. But cute. Until suddenly I heard Jonah yell "stop it!" and then burst
into tears. I hoped they would
work it out themselves and did my usual count to 10 before rushing in. I got to seven, eight -- and both kids
bounded into the kitchen, Jonah still crying. Eliza was the first to speak:
"Jonah hit me,"
she declared to the court. I gave
her my best: "Really?-This-is-how- you're-gonna-play-it?" look. She glared back defiantly as if to be
saying "What? That's my story and
I'm sticking to it."
I tried to
reason: "If Jonah hit you
then why is he crying?" Eliza took a second to process the
logic. She wouldn't say a word.
asked, "what happened? Tell me the
"Well. Clearly something happened or Jonah wouldn't be crying."
catching his breath between sobs. "Eliza
punched me," he panted, "It very hurts."
I looked back at
her: "Did you punch him? Be honest. It's important."
She didn't want
to answer. I have to admit, I
empathized with her predicament.
If she told me the truth, she may have gotten into trouble. If she kept her mouth shut, she ran the
risk of me punishing her for non-disclosure - or worse, having me jump to wrong
conclusions, which could've led to unfair consequences. My impulse was to overlook the
whole incident, given the lack of reliable witnesses, and chalk it all up to
rough-housing. I continued to look
expectantly at my daughter, knowing full well she wouldn't say a word but I
needed the time to stall and think about my next move.
Look. Of course I want my kids to always feel
like they can be honest. But I
also have the responsibility to teach them that violence has consequences. That's why Eliza knew if she admitted
to hitting her brother, she'd probably face some punishment. Unless I rewarded her for her honesty
by letting the aggressive act slide.
But then she could continue to hit her brother whenever she wanted and
just run right in to tell me what she did -- drunk with confidence that I'd
praise the honesty and ignore the crime.
This is the crux
of my dilemma. It's the proverbial
rock and hard place. Which is why
I decided to turn the whole thing into a more general teaching moment,
encouraging them both to get along; not to hit each other; not to tattle; to
always be honest; and to read more.
Oh, and use Vaseline on their teeth if they ever found themselves
contestants in a pageant. And to
vote Democrat. And always remember
to wipe. And floss.
In the end, I
never found out what really happened and I didn't want to know. It dawned on me I'd inadvertently instituted
my very own "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Not that I'd ever trivialize the military policy which was
far more damaging and shaming and hateful than I'd ever be with my own kids -- unless,
you know, they took Sharpies to the leather interior of the car I was trying to
sell (Jonah). But even still - the
U.S. government was asking its gay service men and women to keep their mouths
shut because of who they were,
not because they bit, or pinched or pulled the hair of another person. (Unless
of course it was foreplay with a person of the same sex.)
always had respect for our men and women in the armed services who sacrifice so
much for this country, I never really connected with that particular
vocation. I know intellectually
the importance of defending the United States, especially now when more and
more of the world thinks we have cooties.
But on a practical level -- I hate violence. I never liked guns.
And fatigues make me look fat.
That being said,
I never imagined I'd be living in a country built on the concept of "life,
liberty and the pursuit of happiness" where citizens could be denied the
inalienable right to serve our country if they so chose. The fact we ever had a debate about
whether or not to let "The Gays" into the military is despicable. Granted, I can't imagine why they'd
want to... when they could be -- I don't know -- in show business? But there's no question they should be
allowed if that's their passion.
It was as
recently as 1950 when President Eisenhower instituted a firm policy banning any
"self-proclaimed" homosexuals from serving not just in the military, but in
civilian agencies as well.
And then, years later, for Clinton to offer the compromise of "don't ask, don't tell" as the giant
consolation prize it feels like the butter-cream icing on the wedding cake we
still haven't been given full freedom to enjoy in most states. OK -- a shout out to New York and Massachusetts
and the other states that have legalized gay marriage. And to Obama for repealing "don't ask,
don't tell." But it's worth
noting how many supporters there still are for a policy with incredible power
to discriminate and shame through silence.
Gay men and
women have been punished for disclosing the truth about who they really are
since the beginning of time.
Whether discrimination comes in the form of bullying in school, at work,
or in the military -- the message is always the same: who we are is not OK for a lot of people and they'd prefer
it if we kept our mouths shut.
Back to the closet we should go -- if we knew what was good for us.
I've always felt
that "don't ask, don't tell" was far more damaging than even blatant
homophobia. At least when a person
expressed their intolerance openly, nobody was left making wrong assumptions or
living under false pretenses. Don't
imply that the act of being open and honest and proud of who we are is -- in and
of itself -- a provocation of some consequence. It's not
the same as being a child who gets away with a kick to his sister's
forehead. Being who we are is not a crime. It's not
an "unacceptable risk to the high standards of ... good order and discipline." You know what is? Hate. It's as though the government were saying: "Don't make me
come in there and separate you two -- you two cadets who love each other and in
doing so make me want to bash your heads in." Don't ask me to hide the truth about who I am, so that you
can hide the truth about how much you hate me ...
Eliza and Jonah
presented their "show" starring Eliza and her pet kitten, Jonah, who she
stuffed into a volcano (a Rubbermaid box) along with some Honey Nut Cheerios so
the kitten wouldn't get hungry. It
was all in feline fun. But Jonah kept eyeing this infuriating toy broom I wish
had never found its way onto a Christmas list. I feared he'd hit her with it. And I'd be forced to encourage them to work it out
themselves. But if they couldn't,
I'd want them to come clean to me and tell the truth. And I'd have to figure out a way to reward the honesty while
deterring future violence.
Somehow. I'd figure it
out. I guess that's what they
call, um, "being a parent." This
country could use one of those too.
Bucatinsky is a writer/actor/producer known for writing and starring in the
indie film All Over The
Guy. With producing partner Lisa Kudrow, he runs Is Or Isn't
Entertainment, behind the groundbreaking, cult comedy The Comeback, and is now in production
for the third season of acclaimed docu-series Who Do You Think You Are for NBC.
Their current project Web
Therapy, is a new half-hour version of the award winning web-series exclusively
on Showtime (finale 9/21). His upcoming book Does This Baby Make Me Look Straight? from
Touchstone Books is due out in 2012 and you can follow Dan on WhoSay and on