There’s a case to be made that a principal job of parents is to help our children toward an understanding of what is and is not possible.
Typically, the practical application of this notion sounds like this: “Sure, it’s possible your iPod will still work after spending three months in a snowbank.”
Or, “Make it onto ‘American Idol’ at 16? Um … sure … why not? Anything’s possible.”
I’m not one to crush a child’s hopes with something as unreliable as mere reality.
Eventually, as they grow, children learn that possibilities can be manufactured with imagination, effort, planning and perseverance. In all four of our children, we’ve seen the spectrum of what is possible blossom into life goals that we secretly wonder how they’ll ever accomplish.
Sexist as this will sound (read: please don’t e-mail me to say I am sexist, because obviously I already know), when it comes to raising our only son, we think it’s especially important to create two avenues of possibility for his future consideration: ministry and the military. We don’t know if either one is right for him — only Jimmy can decide. We’re only proposing that he evaluate whether he might be called to a life of service to God or to his country.
Both options require self-sacrifice, commitment and devotion to purposes beyond one’s self-interest. They’re not career paths so much as callings. But a boy isn’t born knowing how to listen for God’s call to ministry or for his country’s call to arms.
Instead, boys are born knowing the sound of a crowd going wild at a sporting event, and this, they reckon, calls them to the Yankees or the Lakers or the Olympic team.
On Friday, to feed the fires of possibility, we’re taking Jimmy to visit the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.
Steeped in tradition and dedicated to “develop midshipmen morally, mentally and physically and to imbue them with the highest ideals of duty, honor and loyalty,” there’s no worthier purpose for any young man, military or civilian.
But the point of visiting the academy isn’t just to introduce the idea of military service as an option. It’s also to connect our son with the mission of safeguarding the liberty and way of life established for us 234 years ago this Sunday.
Military service might not be his calling, but protecting our freedom ought to be the duty of every American.
On the night before the Declaration of Independence was enacted, John Adams wrote to his beloved wife, Abigail, that the following day “ought to be commemorated, as the day of deliverance by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade … bells, bonfires and Illuminations from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward, forever more. … I am well aware of the toil and blood and treasure, that it will cost us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. Yet through all the gloom I can see the rays of ravishing light and glory. I can see that the end is more than worth all the means. And that posterity will triumph in that day’s transaction, even altho we should rue it, which I trust in God we shall not.”
As one of the architects of America’s freedom, Adams knew too well the sacrifice it would take to see the Declaration of Independence to its ultimate conclusion: a new nation where liberty, not tyranny, would prevail.
But Adams also knew that posterity could not inherit a benefit it didn’t understand. That’s why he also said, “Children should be educated and instructed in the principles of freedom.”
If we promote in our nation’s children the dignity and honor inherent in the service of our great country, we might stave off the unthinkable possibility that the freedom won for us by Adams and company could slip away and be forever lost.
This weekend, as we’re celebrating our independence in the manner Adams envisioned, with pomp and fireworks and parades, I’m grateful for the men and women throughout our history, right up to this day, who answered the call to protect and defend our freedom.
Thanks to them, we’re able to imagine that in the United States of America, anything is possible.