After the Valentine’s Day shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida I was forced to come face to face with a hard truth: I would no longer be able to shield my sons from the distressing truth that their school could, one day without warning, become a place of terror and even death. In the face of this, my wife and I decided that talking openly with our boys would be the best way to approach the subject and try to assuage whatever fears that might have.
So, on the day of the shooting, we sat down our 14- and 10-year-old boys after dinner. We wanted not only to explain the day’s events but get a better understanding of what they had already prepared for and to see how closely they had been paying attention to any school instructions they had already received. I also knew that listening to their voices was vital.
It’s not an easy task for a father to admit to his children that he won’t always be able to protect them. It’s hard to realize that for yourself, much less seeing that message sink in through the eyes of the most important people in your life. As we explained what happened in Parkland, the questions came mainly from my 10-year-old — a lot of why’s and how’s. I struggled to answer them adequately, which made me feel that much more impotent. Can I keep them safe, even if I can’t talk to them?, I asked myself.
I kept thinking about the unfairness of it all. I thought about the relative safety that we enjoy. And then, that my kids were growing up so much quicker than I had to, how they need to confront the reality that they aren’t even safe in their classrooms.
I noticed, as we talked, that my 14-year-old was far less talkative, almost to the point of shutting down. It was clear that the conversation was making him uncomfortable. Eventually, he said, “Can we please stop talking about this?” I didn’t know how to answer. Because I don’t know if we can. And because truthfully, who could blame him? Why would any kid want to hear from their parents that this was a possibility?
The sad fact is we no longer have that luxury. My kids and I have to talk about it. But I don’t know how to explain that our nation’s unhealthy relationship with guns has finally reached a point that it takes precedence over the security of our children. Organizational support like that from the NRA is more valuable to our representatives than the lives of school children.
I realized that the colossal difficulty in this type of conversation with my kids was making it real enough for them to take it seriously, without exposing how terrified you are as their parent. This dilemma all too often leads parents to remain silent. Many will say; “let them be kids.” I used to be one of them. But I realized, after it was proven over and over this nation isn’t taking guns and gun violence seriously, that the only option I have is to expose my kids and myself to such tough conversations. Conversations about violence and death and cowardice.
These conversations can no longer be rare in our society. In fact, this is a matter that needs to be a constant topic at dinner tables for the foreseeable future. I don’t know all the answers. In fact, I don’t have very many. But we need to have the conversations regardless.