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Because I Said So

Why do all those parenting books devote page after page to "negotiating with your child," but not even a footnote to "building character"?


Nearly 15 years ago, my wife brought me the news that I would no longer be king of my castle due to the fact that we had a new roommate on the way, and he would not be contributing to the rent. We were to be parents, and a lot of things were fixing to change. So we bought all the latest parenting books that taught us all the different ways we could screw up a baby, and how this was a beautiful moment in our lives. We spent this beautiful moment discussing how we would rear our child in a positive, non-judging environment and encourage the little person to think for himself, and to not color his developing worldview. In other words, we decided to be bad parents.

If we had continued down this road, we would join the ranks of other faux-hippie parents that believe in "empowering" their child, and "respecting" their rights as they "dialogue" their problems through "conflict resolution." Instead, we quickly realized that children rarely conceptualize any situation that doesn't involve instant gratification or benefit for themselves, be it in the form of French fries, animated television programs, or flushing kitty down the toilet. (I was okay with that last particular endeavor, but my wife had objections, as did the kitty.)

Now, as a crusty old heartless right-winger, I wanted to shield my offspring from overly influencing political and social dogma, including my own, so I did my best to keep my tutelage to areas of behavior modification. After all, I used to experiment with liberalism, and I think it's important that people do that sort of thing when they're young. Teenage girls think it's cool to save the whales and fret about the welfare of the Cambodians, so it's a good party trick in high school. Besides, nobody really becomes a conservative until they start paying taxes, so I wasn't going to color the kids' worldview unnecessarily.


For years, I would pick up my son and, later, also my daughter at day care (a strange building that always smelled of aging milk, vomit and baby powder) and buckle them into their respective child-containment devices in the Suburban. Nearly every day, we would wait for the light at a busy nearby intersection where a homeless man proudly displayed his cardboard, and the kids would ask things like, "What's he doing there, daddy?" I would have to carefully choose my words, and explain that the man didn't have a home or job, and would like some money.

"Why don't we give him some money, daddy?" my son would ask, poking the tail of his plastic dinosaur through the seat fabric.

"Because I don't have any to give him," I would lie, put in an awkward situation between my parenting and my politics.

After what seemed like the 925th consecutive day of this situation, and being asked yet again why I didn't give money to the urban camper, I had an epiphany: It is my job as a parent to instill values. To teach between right and wrong, good and bad, and left foot-right foot. I was doing my children a disservice by raising them in a milquetoast environment where everything is beyond reproach, blameless and without responsibility. After 925 times, I finally gave my true answer when I said, "He doesn't have money because he chooses not to work for a living!"

What followed afterwards only confirms left-wing America's worst fears of red-state citizens: I conducted a brief but intense class on conservative values, holding a little Republican training camp right there in the cavernous Suburban. Children absorb everything around them, and I saturated my little sponges with a long diatribe on capitalism, work ethics and the precise nature of the social responsibilities placed on me by the welfare state. It was cleansing, and when I finished, I panted heavily, spent from the effort of getting so many words out in such a short time. My children sat back in pie-eyed wonder, their youthful innocence forever lacquered under a thick, glossy coat of reality. I felt strangely satisfied.


Being a parent is a wild ride, and there are no touchy-feely paperbacks that are ever going to cover every variable and parental challenge. Teaching your rugrat to tell the truth and respect elders is a no-brainer, although fewer parents seem to grasp the basics these days. (Kids should stay in their seats at the movies. Kids shouldn't interrupt grown-ups. Kids should read more books and watch less TV. And kids should never, ever be allowed to choose the music in the car.)

It is our genetic responsibility to explain our values to our children, and to give them the guidance they are asking for, whether they are vocalizing that need or not. They may heed your advice or reject it by wearing a Che Guevara T-shirt and referring to you by your first name, but at least they know where you stand, and don't have to form their beliefs based on Rolling Stone magazine and Bill O'Reilly sound bites.

I am fairly proud of the job my wife and I have done thus far with our children, and I have great hope for their futures. No matter which path they select from here, we at least know we did our best, and tried to pass on the things that are important to us.

The funny thing is, in all the new age, fuzzy-wuzzy literature we bought all those years ago, I never found a chapter titled "Building Character," but there were 12 pages devoted to "Negotiating with Your Child." I think I will need that information only if either of my children chooses to sell cars for a living, and they are being hard-nosed about the price. In which case, I'll take away their TV privileges.


Please don't let your kids run amok at the movies in Las Cruces, because the guy sitting in the next row just might be Henry Lightcap.


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