Ted Cruz wants to be a “good dad.” He said so on Thursday, when he was caught sneaking down to sunny Cancun to escape the deep freeze that’s squeezing the life out of Texas, the state he claims to represent in the U.S. Senate. Sure, abandoning millions of his constituents might look bad, but, as Cruz explained, “when you’ve got two girls who have been cold for two days and haven’t had heat or power and they’re saying ‘Hey look, we don’t have school, let’s get out of here,’ I think there are a lot of parents who’d think, ‘If I can do this, great.’” Which he said after hastily returning to the States, leaving his family behind at the Ritz Carlton.
My friend Travis is trying to be a good dad, too. That’s why, as an Austin resident, he’s been reduced to melting snow in a bathtub to wash his family’s dishes every day. He and his family didn’t fly to Cancun, instead they opened their home to a colleague who had to abandon her frozen one.
I try to be a good dad as well, that’s why my kids haven’t gone on a vacation—snow day or not—for a year now. They hate it, I hate it, but come on, there’s a pandemic happening: what kind of asshole would jet off to Cancun?
It’s been eleven months since we went inside because of the pandemic—I’ll “celebrate” a year on March 13—and every day since I try to be a good parent just like Ted Cruz. So does every parent I know. But nearly a year in, let’s face it: “good” isn’t even on the scale.
As a parent living through the pandemic, everything is a balance right now: spinning plates stacked high with a towering collection of impossible things. Trying to do your job, trying to keep the kids motivated in Zoom school, trying to keep everyone healthy, trying to keep the bills paid and the lights on and the dishes washed and everyone fed with whatever groceries were available that week. Every day, every week, every month in this mobius strip of unending pandemic time you stack more and more onto the pile and, by some actual living miracle, every day it doesn’t all topple over until finally, one day, it does.
Every parent—every single parent—has known the crash this year. For some of us, the crash happens because of a big thing. We lose a job, an elderly parent starts coughing, a once-in-a-century storm hits. For others, it’s a preposterously small thing—bad zoom lighting, a weird substitution in a grocery delivery—that finally sent everything toppling over. But, big or small, every single parent in the last year—a year where we’ve been asked to do more than is truly possible with no rest, no compensation (thanks in part to people like Ted Cruz denying even a fraction of the reimbursement we all deserve)—is broken.
Every parent wants to be a good parent. And every parent, every day, fails at that because, right now, being a good parent is literally impossible. A fine parent? Maybe. An OK one? Possibly. But a good one? We’re eleven months into a pandemic that sent all our children home, laid waste to jobs, killed a half-million people in this country, and sickened many millions more. Politicians like Ted Cruz ensured it would hurt as much as possible by fighting against public health measures and relief efforts that would have made a difference. So no: a good parent isn’t really an option. We’re all just barely getting by.
I used to care about “screen time.” Now, my five year old plays video games on his tablet about four hours a day. I’m not proud of this fact, but what in the actual hell am I supposed to do? Work has to get done at some point, and it’s the only respite I can get. It’s not even a good tablet because we can’t afford a nice one for a child.
My teenager will mark his sweet sixteen with his second quarantine birthday, a fact so astounding that I marvel even as I type it. A full year of his life from start to finish lived inside. And because he’s a teenager, he will likely be among the last to be vaccinated and put the pandemic behind him. He won’t get a driver license because my state, Illinois, never made any accommodations for learner permits in the last year, even as the weeks turned into months turned into a year. Me, a bad parent, told him he’d just have to deal, that life isn’t fair. He, a good kid, already knew.
We’re all just barely getting by.
Every parent and non-parent I know in Texas has a bathtub full of snow for flushing and washing and doing all the things you need to do even when you’re freezing at home, abandoned by your leaders. That’s what being a parent is: doing the hard things on the hard days because you don’t have any other option. Being a parent right now is doing everything you can to do a good job even when you know it’s really just a bad one.
But Ted Cruz wants to be a good parent, and so he decided to leave millions of waterless Texans to freeze in the dark while he jetted off to Cancun for frozen margs in the sun. In a year where every parent has been stripped down to nothing. A year where the abject failure of the federal government, thanks to enablers of Donald Trump like Ted Cruz, has turned every single parent into, on our best days, a fine parent, on most days a bad one, Ted Cruz has the gall to believe he gets to be a good one.
What Ted doesn’t know is that being a good parent isn’t about flying to sunny Mexico in the midst of a climate disaster and a global pandemic, it’s about teaching your kids compassion, leadership, perseverance, and empathy. It’s about showing them that they live in a world and take part in a society. It’s about trying to explain, however poorly, that their grandparent is sick, why the trip to Disney was canceled, that they can’t go over to their friends house no matter how much you would love that as well. And we do that because we’re trying to be good parents, even though all it does is make us feel like bad ones.
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