Man Without Qualities

Monday, June 30, 2003

The Little Ones

The Man Without Qualities has two small sons - ages 9 and 4 - who have an abundance of the most enjoyable qualities I can imagine. I try to do the best job possible being their parent. So it came as a shock that while Hillary Clinton says she was raised, among other things, "to protect and defend the democratic ideals that have inspired and guided free people for more than 200 years," I have not spent any time actually, consciously teaching my boys to do that.

In fact, the truth is that I have long considered phrases such as "to protect and defend" as more naturally occurring in the likes of federal or Presidential oaths or as mottos reproduced on black-and-white police cars. Admirable sentiments, to be sure - but it is indeed difficult for me to imagine myself sending the little tykes off with the paternal minder to be certain they take every opportunity at school to "to protect and defend the democratic ideals that have inspired and guided free people for more than 200 years."

Hillary has made me feel so remiss!

I can take but slight succor in today's report that speakers of Mandarin Chinese employ more of their brains than those trafficking solely in English. Yes, each of the little guys is fluent in Mandarin and English, despite the fact that neither of their parents speaks more than a couple of words of Mandarin. And each of the little ones possesses as well a passable, age-appropriate capability in Spanish. And, yes, it is true that the elder boy has spent more than a little while listening to his father prattle on about the wonder and structure of the zeta-function and the urgent need to locate its zeros - as well certain other, more heretical and probably rather ill-considered but emphatic, opinions about how misguided the current infatuation with string theory will likely turn out to be. And then there's all that finance theory and practice that their mother brings home, the older one's uncanny ability to crack an egg neatly with just one of his tiny hands and his even more uncanny knowledge of the use of eggs in cooking. And then there is the boys' more alarming shared proficiency in matters of cartwheels and kung-fu.

But how little all that means where a commitment to our democratic ideals is so woefully lacking?!

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