He wanted to show his daughter that he’d “go to the ends of the earth to make her wishes come true.”
I am sure that Jeremiah Heaton was trying to be a good dad when this past winter his daughter asked him if she could be a “real princess.” Like many 6-year-old girls, Emily was enamored with the media and merchandise of the princess culture.
But instead of getting his daughter a fairy-tale wardrobe, or a trip to Snow White’s Castle, Heaton made one of the most excessive parental gestures of all time—he promised her that he would make her a “real” princess for her 7th birthday.
Heaton realized that for his daughter to be a real princess, he would have to become a real king. He decided that the best approach to acquiring a title of royalty was to find a bit of unclaimed land and declare himself its monarch.
There are only two landmasses in the world not claimed by any nation, and both are uninhabitable. The first is Antarctica, which the United Nations has declared off-limits to annexation. The last unclaimed landmass is a roughly 800-square-mile of uninhabited, waterless desert in Africa called Bir Tawil.
Heaton chose Bir Tawil as the section of land he would claim for his kingdom. Wedged between Egypt and the Sudan, Bir Tawil is the landlocked, undesirable section of a larger area called the Bir Tawil triangle.
Heaton is not the first individual or person who has attempted to lay claim to Bir Tawil. For a short while, Reddit readers threw around the idea of turning it into “Bitcoin island.” The area’s complete lack of infrastructure and water led Reddit readers to abandon the idea quickly. Other individuals have claimed the desert land, even going so far as to create a prototype for official Bir Tawil identification cards for the 14 people who agreed to join the new nation.
Heaton mistakenly believed that the only legitimate way to claim a territory was to physically plant a flag on its soil. He can be excused for the mistake, since in 2007, Russia made the same error and attempted to claim the North Pole using the same method. Canada’s foreign minister responded by saying: “This isn’t the 15th century. You can’t go around the world and just plant flags and say: ‘We’re claiming this territory.'”
On June 16, Emily’s 7th birthday, Heaton planted a flag and declared himself the area’s sovereign ruler and his daughter its princess. Then, having taken what he wanted from Africa, he went home and bought his daughter a crown and alerted the media.
In an interview with the Washington Post, Heaton stated that he will be seeking official recognition for the country he has renamed “The Kingdom of Northern Sudan.” He believes that during his trip through Egypt to reach his new kingdom, he convinced the Egyptian authorities to offer formal recognition. He plans to lure Sudanese officials with his promises to turn the arid and inhospitable land into an agricultural hub. He did not mention how he planned to irrigate his new kingdom, which, as of now, does not have so much as a single operational well.
Heaton plans to become more than a king in name. He plans to have actual subjects who will be denied any say in their government. And having established a Christian country in an Islamic region of the world, it seems likely that he will decide rather quickly that he needs an army. If things go as he has planned (and there is only the slightest of chances that they will) he could destabilize an already volatile region for no reason other than his daughter expressed an age-appropriate but utterly fleeting wish.
Heaton makes the argument that his history has well equipped him for this undertaking. He has worked as a farmer, served in the Army Corp of Engineers, started a small business, trained as a sociologist, and run for Congress twice. However, it should be noted that his businesses, and his two runs for Congress were failures.
I think that Heaton has a romanticized view of parenting. In the same interview with the Washington Post he said: “I wanted to show my kids I will literally go to the ends of the earth to make their wishes and dreams come true.”
Despite his good intentions, however, Heaton would be hard pressed to have made a worse parenting choice without lapsing into neglect or abuse. But he has given us a very interesting and useful illustration of how well intentioned, loving parents make some pretty colossal mistakes.
Here is what he unwittingly taught his children:
1) It is a parent’s job to “make their [child’s] wishes and dreams come true.” The truth is that it is a parent’s job to raise children who are capable of making their own wishes and dreams come true. The parent/child relationship becomes dark and twisted when parents either appropriate their children’s dreams and make them their own or try to force their children to live their own dreams.
2) A daughter will feel very loved if her dad makes a grand romantic gesture for her. Heaton’s actions have to be considered in their historic context, and as a trained sociologist, he must have known that context. Since Medieval times, men have shown romantic devotion by conquering in a woman’s name. His actions were by definition romantic. But daughters do not need romance. They need their fathers. In the long run, it would have been far more appropriate to have spent her birthday with her than in Africa, crowning himself king.
3) It is appropriate for a father to make a grand romantic gesture to his daughter. The thing that stood out for me as I read the articles in which he was interviewed, is that he does not mention his sons at all. And his wife is mentioned only in passing as the person who helped him pick out his daughter’s crown. According to Heaton’s statements while running for office, this family does not enjoy unlimited resources. Heaton’s vacation time and the family’s budget for travel is presumably limited. Taking his wife on a second honeymoon or his whole family on a vacation would have been an appropriate use of family finances. Concentrating that money and time on his daughter while ignoring his wife and sons is, at best, weird.
4) Being a princess is a good thing. The role of princess is really about being an ornament, and about being in relationship with a powerful man. We do not do our daughters or anyone else a favor when we teach them that being beautiful and universally admired is something.
5) If you have a whim that cannot be met in the United States, it is perfectly reasonable to travel to Africa and just take what you want. Heaton is teaching his kids that imperialism and colonialism are still viable and moral undertakings. At the very least, he is teaching his children to not consider how it might look and feel to other people when she announces that she is an African princess. Racial sensitivity is not about being political correct. It is about having good manners and being kind.
6) Democracy is all fine and good until your daughter wants to be a princess. After that it becomes, “screw liberty and justice for all; pass me my scepter.” Heaton’s proposals are heaping with hubris. He expects that other countries will just give him water, that other people will want to bow to his assumed power. That kind of entitlement is not moral, and it is not a healthy thing to teach a child.
7) Inequality is good as long as we are at the top. Implicit in Heaton’s plans for developing his little fiefdom is that the African nationals who would work the farms are not worthy of democracy. Or perhaps they are worthy of democracy, but his little girl’s desire to be a princess comes first.
8) If you love a girl, put her on a pedestal, but be sure it is one you can yank out from underneath her. The role of princess is one of superiority, but it is one that depends on being in a relationship with a man in power. Teaching your daughter that she deserves to be treated like a princess primes her to pick men for the wrong reasons and to stay in dysfunctional or abusive relationships. More importantly, it sets a truly disturbing example for his sons of what their relationships with women and their daughters should be like.
9) A girl’s request gives a man the right to conquer. If Heaton had disclosed his trip to the press by telling them that he had always had a burning need to be the uncontested dictator of a foreign country, I would not be one of the first pointing out the moral, political, and racial implications of what he has done. But the excuse of having a girl that he is trying to please seems to give him license in our culture to do something that is morally reprehensible.
10) My child is so special that she deserves to be above all other children. Egomania by proxy seems to be an epidemic in our country. And I must admit that I have suffered a few bouts with the disease myself. It is pretty normal to think that the sun rises and sets on our children. When it becomes unacceptable, is when we start to think that it rises and sets for our children. The world does not revolve around our children any more than it revolves around us. And there is nothing about Heaton’s daughter that makes her more worthy of being a princess than any other little girl.
As parents we want to go above and beyond for our children. But before we do that, we need to ask ourselves a few questions: Are we really doing this for our kid or because we have unfulfilled hopes and dreams? Is it really what our child wants? Would she rather have a big pizza and pool party or send her dad on a vacation without his family?
But most importantly, we need to ask ourselves what we are teaching our child about the world. If we are teaching them that it is worth sacrificing the liberty of others to satisfy their childish whims, we are doing them and the community in which we live a grave disservice.
Lynn Beisner writes about family, social justice issues, and the craziness of daily life. Her work can be found on Role Reboot, Alternet, and on her blog: Two Parts Smart-Ass; One Part Wisdom. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter.