Ben Fields: Adventures in talking politics with children (Opinion)

Ben Fields

Ben Fields

Believe it or don’t, but political conversation isn’t one of my favorite things. I’m comfortable discussing politics, and I’m comfortable writing about the subject. I spend plenty of time doing both of those things, because I think it’s important.

My father, who is turning 70 this weekend, is a practicing family physician. HIPAA is in his DNA, to the point that there were times we didn’t know we had relatives in the hospital. When he came home, he left work at work. I guess I’m the same way in some regard.

That’s why I was so troubled by my own reaction when watching the president at a rally in Lexington, Kentucky, earlier this week as he rambled and ranted in a failed effort to help Gov. Matt Bevin, one of the least popular governors in the United States, hold onto his office.

Both my wife and I had lived in Kentucky for most of our lives before coming to West Virginia. Our families live there, as do a good deal of our friends. So we like to keep an eye on what’s happening in the Bluegrass State. But it’s hard for me to stomach this particular president outside the office, especially when I’ve seen his tweets and interviews and read reports from impeachment proceedings all day at work. Plus, the guy has made, what, eight public visits to West Virginia since he got elected? Nine? Suffice to say, I get a lot of Trump in my job.

Monday night, when Trump started in on his “Trump greatest. Others weak. Media bad” shtick, I lost it. It’s something I almost never do. The outburst probably lasted less than three seconds and basically consisted of me standing up in my chair abruptly and saying something along the lines of “I can’t believe this.” So, yeah, when I “lose it,” it’s not much of a spectacle. Regardless, my 6-year-old son’s eyes were wide when looking at me.

Had I just scared my kid? The sudden guilt and embarrassment was an immense wave crashing over me.

We’ve never really talked about government issues with our son. How do you even begin, when you want to assure him that America is the best nation anyone could live in, but it’s being run by people you don’t agree with on multiple fronts — from policy to basic human decency? How do you tell a child to always be kind and thoughtful of others, and then talk about our current political landscape?

I wasn’t sure how to proceed, so I just tried to lay it out in as simple a way as I could.

“I shouldn’t say he’s a bad man,” I told my son, who is at an age where good or bad is his basic barometer for almost everything. “We live in a great country. We just don’t personally agree with the man who is running it right now.”

I decided not to get into how the president might have tried to solicit political dirt from foreign governments in exchange for military aid, how he has treated families at the border or his explicit descriptions of groping females. I wanted the kid to be able to sleep that night.

It was a much fairer explanation than Trump would offer regarding someone he disagrees with, but I guess that’s part of the point. After all, Andy Beshear didn’t narrowly defeat Bevin by calling his opponent childish names or promising barbaric revenge against his enemies.

We can’t shelter our kids from the world or from ourselves forever. I just wish I could preserve that phase where everything is so black and white, and fear and worry are about issues like whether or not to try the bike without training wheels, for a little bit longer.

Ben Fields is the opinion editor of the Gazette-Mail. Reach him at 304-348-5129, or follow

@BenFieldsWV on Twitter.

Funerals for Sunday, November 17, 2019

Ellis, Walter - 1 p.m., West Logan Missionary Baptist Church.

Evans, Robert - 2 p.m., Koontz Funeral Home, Hamlin.

Hess, Steven - 6 p.m., Grace Church of the Nazarene, South Charleston.

Holmes, Buddy - 2 p.m., Elizabeth Baptist Church, Charleston.

Jeffrey Jr., Algie - 2 p.m., Stevens Chapel Methodist Church, Lake.

Mace, Elma - 2 p.m., Stump Funeral Home & Cremation Inc., Arnoldsburg.

Meadows II, Richard - 2 p.m., Central Christian Church, Huntington.

Messinger, John - 2 p.m., Davis Funeral Home, Clarksburg.

Reynolds, Gladys - 1 p.m., Taylor-Vandale Funeral Home, Spencer.

Smith, Rosie - 2 p.m., Morris Funeral Home, Cowen.

Sykes, Teresa - 2 p.m., Winfield Church of the Nazarene.