There’s something you need to be aware of me and that’s to never sit next to me at a children’s birthday party. This past weekend I got out of the house and engaged in what is my sad social life. My middle daughter, Lyla, got invited by her best friend forever and ever’s 10th birthday celebration at a pizza parlor. I thought I would play with my phone for two hours, give up the only cash I had, about three bucks, to my kid for arcade games, and smile as the other parents - eight women around my age – complained about their husbands and gushed over the latest episode of Grey’s Anatomy. Instead, I talked about socialism with the star of the party’s Swedish immigrant mother.
My personal politics have changed a lot since I became a father. I was told that I’d become more conservative and appreciate money, more. But the opposite has happened. As much punk rock as I listen to and as many artists I admire, you’d think my tilt to liberalism would end in my iPod earphones or after the credits roll on my favorite television shows or movies. But I seem to be auditioning for a sequel to Warren Beatty’s 1981 pro-commie film Reds about controversial journalist John Reed.
The moms and family members of the birthday girl began to pair off and after a few minutes I found myself alone in a spare booth attacking Twitter like a teenage girl with a new boyfriend. After a short amount of time I looked up and the birthday’s girl’s mother was sitting in front of me exchanging pleasantries. Between my patented smirk and awkward smile I asked a question that unloaded almost two hours of some of the interesting conversation I’ve had, outside my own home, in a long time.
“So, do you ever miss your home country?”
My daughter’s best friend’s family are Swedish-American immigrants. Her grandfather founded a famous jewelry business in Sweden, later Turkey, before coming to the United States a little over twenty years ago. My partner in talk, we’ll call her Frida for blog post sake and because she’s my favorite ABBA member who put out a decent pop album in the early 1980s, followed her father. She now runs a successful jewelry franchise. Since I wasn’t asking about her husband or what happened on Grey’s, Frida started dropping Swedish bombs about how she misses the laid-back liberal lifestyle of her yellow and blue homeland but loves the business opportunity and overall freedom of the U.S.A. I wanted to pump my fist and say something stupid like “hell yeah, America rules!” but instead I put my phone away and listened. Frida’s experience, and overall frustration with this country and her own, made me relate. Plus, everytime I turn around, Swedish business is more prominent than American – Ericsson phones, IKEA furniture (my girls have a bunk bed from there), Volvo, Saab, Electrolux).
Sweden has one of the highest GDP (gross domestic product)s in the world. It’s a country that listed as one of the happiest. Since the 1930s, when they went from a monarchy to a parlimentary democracy, Sweden’s operated under socially and fiscally democratic policies that soem call socialism that have seen it become one of the safest and best countries in which to to. They haven’t been to war in over 200 years. Sweden’s focus on maximum labor force participation, gender equality, egalitarian benefits, social safety nets and extremely low levels of corruption have led to a stable economy, low unemployment rates and a cool book and movie called The Girl With The Dragon tattoo.
The Swedish Model is simple:
1. Free health care for everyone
2. Free education for everyone
3. Five weeks fully paid vacation a year and 13 months parental leave for each child for EACH parent
4. A budget in balance
5. No wars/stay neutral
What I noticed the most about Frida was every time she expressed support or positivity about something “liberal” she’d lean into me, in between bites of vegetarian pizza she charmed me into eating (it was delicious), and whisper. It was as if we were in the French Underground during World War II exchanging spy words. That’s because everyone else in the room thought differently than we did.
The jist of my conversation with Frida was that while she missed the less judgemental, less money obsessed lifestyle of Sweden, she enjoyed the freedom of America and the chance to grow her family’s jewelry business under less taxes. The last thing Frida said to me before going to cut the cupcake cake, was the most profound.
“You know, Lyla’s dad, maybe when our girls are President and Vice-President, they can implement the policies that we like without so much hate and division”. The cream cheese I tasted a minute later had never been so sweet.
As I watched my daughter and her best buddy and other girls run around giving each other “cupcake tattoos ” (icing on their faces and arms) I looked into my daughter’s blue eyes to see wonder and hope. I named her best friend’s mom Frida for this post for a good reason. Frida’s hit song from 1982 was called I Know There’s Something Going On. In the non-prejudiced, non-fear mongered minds of my daughter, and Frida’s, the girls with the cupcake tattoos, was opportunity. They symbolize a chance for this country to not just want rugged individualism, but also a collective better life where everyone is accepted and success is measured by happiness, not money.
Here’s the real Frida and buy the book – The Ballad of Helene Troy, paperbacks out now! http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=lance+burson#/ref=sr_kk_1?rh=i%3Aaps%2Ck%3Athe+ballad+of+helene+troy&keywords=the+ballad+of+helene+troy&ie=UTF8&qid=1361892587