“What’s Fathers’ Day got to do with climate change?”
– Grace Rachow, Volunteer Coordinator, SBWC
I’ve spent the past week in Santa Barbara at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference (SBWC), returning to a place where for twenty years I served on staff. This time my return was sparked by a keen sense of personal burnout—which staff at Community Food and Justice Coalition mirrored with clenched teeth and panic stricken eyes whenever I called for yet one more impromptu staff meeting.
Now my rehab is nearly complete and Fathers’ Day drawing close, I sit down with computer to write.
I turn to Grace, who uttered the phrase above. Good question.
The easy answer is that we leave our children a world on the brink of environmental collapse and that ain’t what a good fathers’s supposed to do.
But I don’t think scare tactics and a flippant answer is appropriate for the subtext of Grace’s question.
I’d be a poor father for certain if I didn’t leave my daughter, and countless others with a message of hope, because that is one thing of value I have to offer after nearly sixty-two years on the planet.
Climate change like cheese whiz is one of the inevitable products of humankind. Unfortunately, it is likely climate change will adversely affect more lives than cheese whiz, and for that, on behalf of all grown men and women I take responsibility.
Because that is the other thing of most value that I leave my daughter this Fathers’ Day.
Unlike the world in which I was raised, among other things my daughter is the product of a society acculturated to dodging responsibility whenever possible. In the interests of keeping this piece light-hearted, I will spare you any of the many examples that pepper my public remarks. Suffice to say that we all are aware of the mess we have created as our legacy, fathers included.
And yet, as fathers we have been afforded perhaps the greatest gift of all.
Because the children are in revolt. And that is a very good thing, indeed.
In the course of my work I travel the country and experience a very palpable sense of dis-ease in communities everywhere, and, while it is not just the children who are dissatisfied with the state of current affairs, it is young people everywhere who are speaking up, taking to the streets, and emerging in public discourse to question a lack of action to effectively address climate change.
So, what better gift this Fathers’ Day?
By their actions they give hope that there is yet time to change the course of history, and the path of destruction the adults seem paralyzed to tackle.
What I can do in response, what we as fathers, and grown ups can do in response to this wonderful gift is to give in kind.
We can listen with open hearts and minds. We can draw strength from the vision and hope of our children. And we can act.
Decades past Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. wrote the Children’s Crusade—which was actually the sub-title of a devastating novel entitled Slaughterhouse Five. With Billy Pilgrim as the protagonist Mr. Vonnegut challenged us all to find hope amidst calamity and horror.
It will take more than this piece to change the path we have taken—outrageous consumption, a culture of greed, environmental destruction—but hand in hand with the children, we can make the change.
This Fathers’ Day I gratefully and humbly accept a gift of hope from the children. And re-dedicate my life to the business of doing my utmost to meet their expectations.
Happy Fathers’ Day, to fathers and father figures across the country and around the world. There is yet time to be worthy of the love, respect and hopes of our children.
For that, I am truly blessed.
Y. Armando Nieto is Executive Director of Community Food and Justice Coalition, a Project of the Public Health Institute.