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Two weeks ago, my family and I went to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. I grew up there, so I’ve been to about 30 years’ worth of parades, but my wife and kids had never experienced it. It was the strangest thing, briefing the kids on parade etiquette, and it was both weird and wonderful to hold them up to the floats. Suddenly, after years of being one of the Mardi Gras kids, I was the Mardi Gras dad. Talk about a mindfreak!

Anyway, the whole trip got me thinking—about my transition from son to father and about both my families (the one I grew up with and the one I have now). My parents set the bar quite high for my sisters and me, in terms of commitment to work and family and social issues. We grew up in ’60s and ’70s New Orleans, where the issues of civil rights and equal rights were clear dividing lines. I spent my childhood in a very black-and-white world, and I find it interesting that my sons are spending theirs in an African American and Caucasian one (not to mention Asian, Native American, Hispanic, and on and on).

Rights issues were of great import in my childhood home. Both my parents fought for civil rights and, later, women’s rights. My mother worked for decades, first as a volunteer for social agencies, then as a social work professional. Her own mother worked, as well. The example they set was (and remains) extraordinary and influential—both my sisters work, and so does my wife. Clearly, the working mother concept is one that has passed, in my family, through three generations, and I am sure that when my boys find wives of their own, they will find women who remind them of their mother, just as I found one who reminds me of mine.

My own parents showed me how powerful commitment can be, how it can help pave the road carved by society’s struggles. As my wife and I work to guide our boys, I wonder if today’s struggles are so different from the ones my parents fought. The players may have changed (and maybe they haven’t), but aren’t we still fighting for equal rights, for civil rights?

And aren’t we, as parents, engaged in the most basic struggle of all, to raise children of power and intellect, aware of their world and aware of possibility? My wife and I know that the lessons ae learned not from what we say to our kids but by what we show them.

My parents imprinted this on me, to be sure. I can only hope my wife and I imprint it on our kids, and that all of us can—with our commitment to safety issues, environmental issues, political issues, rights issues of every kind (including the one we’re all at momsrising to fight for).

And that in the end, that we all get somewhere we can point to and proudly say: “We did that.”

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