How do I talk to my children about America?
I remember feeling in awe of the USA while growing up in a village just outside Bath, England. When Diane, a friend of my parents from Boston, visited our home, I invited all the kids from the street to meet “a real American.”
My dad would play Bruce Springsteen all day. In my early teens, breakdancing and rap reached the U.K. I was obsessed with this heart-racing music from across the ocean.
On my first trip to the U.S., I felt like I was walking through a movie set. Almost every film I’d watched was American. To 14-year-old me America meant energy, romance and endless optimism. And I’d never tasted pancakes like that before.
Now I am a British guy broadcasting to America — a job I could not do if I didn’t have a deep sense of patriotism toward a place that has never actually been my home. After a recent trip to the U.S., I brought my twin daughters two small clocks, with the Statue of Liberty, Mount Rushmore and the Liberty Bell.
I know America isn’t perfect. Its approach to the world has often been deeply flawed. And as a British guy I know what it is to come from a country that is frequently the target of criticism. I also know that Americans cannot be expected to always watch out for the world, that there are times when the country needs to figure out its own story, that when Americans are hurting that’s what comes first. But please also know that my children, aged only 5, are already learning and admiring American values.
What do I tell my daughters about America now? These two beautiful little girls have brought more optimism to my life than I ever thought possible. Maybe I’ll tell them that a lot of people in America have been left behind. That they are hurting and deserve better. That just like many of us, they want a piece of the American dream.
That American dream can mean different things to different folks. For my 5-year-olds right now it’s the movie “Frozen,” where heroes with American accents save the world from an icy apocalypse. Many of my girls’ heroes have American accents.
Arianna and Ilia’s favourite food? Chicken nuggets, fries and hamburgers. Thankfully so far we’ve kept them from drinking Coke. But Heinz ketchup is poured on everything. My children literally eat American almost every day.
One of America’s great strengths is that it's the focus of the whole world. It’s also a weakness. All of the division and vitriol is playing out on a international stage, and American optimism is being usurped by American anger. It breaks my heart.
How do I tell my 5-year-olds that children like them have been taken from their parents? That it is because their families are so desperate to get to what Ronald Reagan, quoting John Winthrop, called “the shining city on a hill” and they enter illegally? I don’t have the words to explain. They wouldn’t understand.
I want my kids to love America the way I do. To know that all of these battles right now, while perhaps unavoidable, do not diminish what so many of us see in its culture: the hope of a better life.
Perhaps when we first visit as a family I will take them to Boston, where my parents' friend came from so many decades ago. That would be a good place to talk to them about freedom, democracy and opportunity for all. If we teach our kids these values, they will endure. And I hear Boston has some great pancakes.