Father Knows Best (Or At Least Better)

(January 2012)

I like to think of myself as a policy wonk's policy wonk, driven by data and convinced by crunching numbers. But, there can be no doubt that life experiences affect how one sees the world. The recent horrific stories of child molestation that have dominated local media coverage have made me mindful of how profoundly my policy outlook has been altered by fatherhood. But my harsh judgment against those who have abused children and those who have failed to report or condemn offenders are not the only areas where I find that I view policymaking through a father's eyes. 

As a father, I have become much more sensitized to the need to improve accessibility in our society. Anyone who has ever had to push a double stroller through the city must conclude that wheelchair accessible ramps and curb cuts are not just niceties, they are fundamental prerequisite infrastructure improvements that eliminate barriers to participation. Similarly, encroachments on rights of way and blockages of sidewalks pathways are not just inconveniences for those who must step off the curb to go around, they are impassable stumbling blocks that could become life-threatening detours. I sincerely hope that my growing children have no memory of the heated arguments I have had with contractors who had illegally appropriated the sidewalk for construction projects, unconcerned that their barricades were "protecting" pedestrians by forcing them to walk into traffic. Wheelchair users and stroller pushers understand that what is a nuisance for some is an impassible roadblock for others. 

Like parents anywhere, I hope for my children's happiness and I would never imagine doing anything to deny them the ability to pursue that happiness. Thus, as a father, I could never prevent my children from marrying whomever they would choose. What some might see as a lifestyle choice, I can only see as a human right. Whether my children are to marry another of the same sex, a different race, or another religion -- or, heaven forbid, a Mets fan -- I would never stand in the way of their love and I cannot understand why government would tell me that my children should not be happy. 

As a proud product of Philadelphia’s public schools, I believe in a public school education, but it was not until I had children of my own that I understood the full importance of empowering parents to make decisions about their children’s education.  I became a parent when Charter Schools became an option for Philadelphia parents and students.  While I understand that the Charter Schools, themselves, show mixed results in terms of educational quality, there is no doubt in my mind that they have fundamentally changed the conversations among parents.  When my first daughter was born, my parental peers talked on the playground about whether they would be moving out of the city or enrolling their children in private schools.  But, when they received another option, not only did many begin to talk about staying in Philadelphia and enrolling their children in a Charter, they also started to look again at the neighborhood (traditional) public schools that were suddenly reaching out and becoming more welcoming to parents try to "compete" for new students.  By giving parents an expanded role in shaping their children’s educational future, we take an important step toward improving the entire system of public education. 

For the issues of taxing and spending that I usually focus on, I can say that, now as a father, I am more cognizant to take the longer view. I would hope that our city would approach financial decisions the way I encourage my children. Spend to invest, not consume. Spend to create memories that will last as opposed to gratification that will fade after an instant. 

Of course, I also have a "normal" side to my fatherhood, full of checking homework, removing splinters, and worrying about whether everyone is eating their vegetables. Still, when it comes to the policy issues of the day, I am well aware that being a father is not just something I think about once in a while, it is a part of who I am as a policy wonk.