Sept. 11 serves as reminder to keep open minds sharpTo Our Readers

This article was originally published in North County News.

The game show host asked the contestant her home state.

“New York,” the 9-year-old replied.

“And what do you do?” he asked her father.

“I’m a New York City firefighter,” he replied.

The ovation erupted without warning. Seven-hundred people rose to their feet spontaneously, clapping loudly but reverently. And for some unknown reason, tears welled in my eyes at the sight before me.

This tough firefighter stood tall and proud, making his khaki shorts and tee shirt look like a freshly pressed uniform. Yet, he tenderly moved closer to his daughter when she spoke.

The man whose job it is to protect so many, was this little girl’s father, too.

And the ovation continued. And the tears spilled.

The entire audience was not American, not even on American soil.

Somewhere in the Caribbean, a cruise full of folks from all over the world joined our contestants for “Who Wants to Be a Mouseketeer,” Disney’s version of “Who wants to be a Millionaire,” to test their knowledge of Disney’s characters, places and things. Our firefighter and his daughter _ on the day before July 4th, our first Fourth since 9/11 _ had been randomly selected to participate.

Randomly. What an appropriate word to describe the day when random was rampant. And ruthless. And deadly.

Upon my return to the States, I caught up with the news I missed during our seven-day sojourn. I learned “under God” was under attack.

And I sighed.

Can’t we find something else to get bent out of shape about? Must we, as they say, be so open-minded that our brains fall out?

As a parent of school-aged children, I constantly monitor the songs they listen to, the television they watch, the movies they see, the friends they make, the places they go to, their time on the Internet, their time on the phone, and on and on.

And this guy’s worried that his eight-year-old will be negatively influenced by other children saying, “under God.”

Heaven forbid.

I hope this fellow is hyper-vigilant with the other influences our world hurls past our children every day in both private and publicly funded institutions. Drugs, alcohol, sex – these are the negative influences that worry me.

In July 8th’s Newsweek, Howard Fineman reports on his interview with Michael. A. Newdow, the dutiful dad who wants to protect his daughter from “the emotional ‘injury’ she risked as an atheist outcast in a room full of God-fearing kids.”

I’m sure she’s feeling included now.

While in public school, my kids have celebrated Kwanzaa, Hanukkah and the Chinese New Year, even though our family does not practice those beliefs. They, like Dad Newdow’s child, were not required to participate. I’m sure I could have requested my children be removed from the classroom during those lesson. But I didn’t. I feel my faith is strong enough to handle the questions such influences may stir.

One child now goes to a parochial school where, again, we do not practice the traditions of the vast majority of students. I do not view her as an outcast nor fear her being “emotionally injured” by others’ beliefs or practices, even though she is clearly in the minority.

Granted, she has brought home questions. And we’ve struggled with answers. But, questioning is part of learning. The purpose of education is to teach our children to think, and questioning launches the mind into the highest gear of processing.

According to Fineman, Newdow claims that more is at stake than protecting his child _ his “aim was to surgically separate faith from any action of government.”

How parental of him.

And my anger turns to sorrow when I think of this little girl being front and center because of her father’s political agenda. Was he really thinking of her best interests when he started this discussion? Was it that difficult for him to explain his faith or lack thereof to his child?

“I’m as patriotic as you can get,” Fineman quotes Newdow as saying.

“I’ll keep going right now _ I’m ahead,” Newdow concludes.

At what cost, Daddy Newdow?

Then I think of that proud firefighter on stage and the tender support he gave his daughter. Patriotism and parenting. Somehow Dad Newdow’s brand of patriotism doesn’t mesh with mine.

Nor does his brand of parenting.

We survived the random, rampant events of 9/11 as one nation–under siege.

And in my heart and prayers–under God.