Out There: Kids balk at American pride

Kids want many things, but not for their parents to stick out.

jp.services1 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
Every year around July 4, I get that warm and fuzzy American patriotic feeling. I get a hankering for hot dogs with relish, Wal-Mart, baseball, the smell of cut grass, Gilligan's Island, Bruce Springsteen - all the things that make America great. And America is great. How do I know this? Because millions of people from around the globe would do anything just to live there. Even from countries that hate America. For instance, compare the number of Iranians who would give their eyeteeth to emigrate to America to the number of Americans just dying for that chance to move to Teheran. Or the number of Venezuelans. Or even, for that matter, French. I'm no expert, but I would wager there are more folk from Nantes trying to move to New York than Los Angelenos longing to live out the remainder of their days in Lyons. So, at the risk of sounding like a country western song, I'm proud to be an American. Which is more than I can say about my children. BORN HERE, my four children are all pretty blase about their American roots. The Constitution doesn't interest them; the Civil War means nothing to them; and they don't well up all teary-eyed watching clips of Bob Dylan singing at the 1963 Civil Rights March on Washington. That's all very natural and understandable. They're Israelis, for goodness sake. I understand that. But what annoys me is that they are not proud I'm an American. If anything, they're embarrassed by it. It's the darndest thing. This is a country that - let's face it - loves everything American (except, of course, the odd American who lives here). Israelis visit the US by the millions, an estimated 600,000 Israelis actually live there, and half the rest of the country seems to want to be American - aping the way Americans walk, talk, and dress, and copying what they eat, buy, watch and listen to. Every other person here wants to be American. Except my children, they wish they were Moroccans. One of my kids, son number two, actually thought for many years we were Moroccans. One day at school, when the teacher did the requisite where-are-your-ancestors-from unit in class, my boy innocently got the word Marrocaim (Moroccans) confused with Americaim (Americans) and told the class we were all Marrocaim. At our next back-to-school night a very bemused teacher looked at us, heard our accent, and said: "You don't sound like you're from Casablanca." Bingo. We don't sound like Moroccans, but rather like Robert Olinsky, the radio weatherman who speaks Hebrew like it's English. WHICH IS A major part of the kids' embarrassment. In the best of situations parents embarrass their teenagers just by being. But add to the mix an accent that makes the parents different, makes them stick out, and the embarrassment gets even more acute. My kids cringe. Some of them even make like they have something important to do and drift away from the counter when I open my mouth to order meals at Burger Ranch. Kids want many things, but not for their parents to stick out. They want us to blend in, be like their friends' parents. And it's more than just the accent. My kids link every thing negative they see in the wife and I with our American upbringing. In their eyes we're up-tight, standoffish, stupid, cheap, snobbish, too strict, and - at least as far as the wife is concerned - too concerned about nutrition. So they extrapolate these traits and place them on the whole American nation. "Son, be back by midnight," goes a regular conversation in our house. "Oof, Aba," comes the reply, "don't be such an American." "No, honey, you can't watch an R-rated movie, you're only 15," we tell our daughter. "Oof, Aba," comes the reply, "don't be such an American." BY CONTRAST, everything they wish we were - cool, easy, friendly, hip, go-with-the-flow, lenient, well-networked - they link with our Sephardi neighbors. And, as such, they wish we were all Sephardi. But this sentiment, this desire to be someone else, does not completely annoy me. I can understand it, it is not foreign to me. I was young once, and when I was, I wanted to be black. Growing up in Denver, attending an integrated junior high school that was half-black, half-white, it was not cool to be skinny, bespectacled, bebraced, white and Jewish. Bar mitzva lessons didn't exactly wow the babes. But it was cool to be black. So I, and many of my chums, wished we were black. We walked like the black kids at our school, we talked like them, shook hands like them, and some of us even wore our hair like they did - that distinctively '70s-style hairdo commonly know as the Jewfro. Until one day we had this epiphany and realized we couldn't be black, we would have to make do with being white, Jewish and skinny. Which is my message to my kids. One day I rounded them all up, sat them down around the dinner table, and headlined the following words under the title "life lessons." "Kids," I said, "we're not from Morocco. We have our distinctly American hang-ups, but don't you think the Mizrahis also have their problems? "Don't be ashamed. Be proud, exult in your Americanism." To which one of my kids replied that if this "life lesson stuff" was part of being an American, he'd rather take a pass. His epiphany, obviously, has not yet arrived. But it will.