Scene: A San Francisco restaurant. Liko is two years old and he’s eating pasta.
Me: Liko, do you want to go to the antiwar protest tomorrow?
Liko (mouth full): Whats an antiwar?
Me: In an antiwar protest, people get together and they ask war to stop.
(He swallows) Liko: Why?
Me: Remember what we talked about yesterday? War is really terrible. Mommies and daddies and little kids like you get hurt really bad, sometimes they get killed.
Liko: Where is the war?
Me: Tomorrow we are going to protest the war in Iraq.
Liko: Where is Iraq?
Me: I showed you yesterday on the globe. Its very far from here. The people there don’t speak our language or dress like us, but theyre people just like us and they don’t like to get hurt.
Liko: Are we going to get dessert?
Me: I don’t think so.
Me: Because you already had ice cream today. Do you want to go to the antiwar protest?
Liko: I want to be a war-guy and hurt people!
Me (flustered): What? We dont want to hurt people, Liko. We want to help them.
Liko (bashes table with his hand): I want a war-stick! [Meaning, a gun.]
Me: Liko, please don’t hit the table.
Me: Because we’re in a restaurant and we don’t hit tables.
Me: Because it bothers the people around us.
Liko (looking around): Are those people going to the antiwar protest?
Me (glancing around and feeling slightly defeated): Some of them might, sure.
Liko: What do people do at an antiwar protest?
Me: We march and sing songs and hold signs.
Liko: What do the signs say?
Me: They say things like Stop the war or War is bad for children.
Liko: I want to make a sign.
Me: OK. What should it say?
Liko: No hitting!
Are you finished laughing at me? Obviously, I had a lot to learn about how to talk to children about serious issues like the war in Iraq. But I did take Liko on that anti-war march, and its something he still remembers today, three years later. Hes come along on more peace marches, and hes brought the No hitting sign that he made for that first outing.
At the same time, he loves to play fighting games, and hell turn anything into a war stickif there are no sticks available, hell transform his forefinger into a gun barrel. Will my son end up as a soldier or a peacenik? Thats not up to me; its up to him. As a father, all I can do is tryhowever awkwardly, however stupidlyto share my values with him and let him know that its our responsibility to speak out against violence and injustice.
A different version of this piece was originally published in Mothering magazine. You might also check out “Boys, Toys, and Militarism,” by redoubtable daddy blogger Chip, over at my other (group) blog, Daddy Dialectic.