Monday, December 24, 2012

Thoughts on Newton, CT

Over the last forty-eight hours like most American's I have been thinking about my kids and reflecting on what they mean to me. The tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut has forced anyone with the ability to feel empathy to examine just how do we secure a safe world where tragic days like this don't exist and can we even do that.

As a divorced father with three children from my first marriage I have my three oldest every weekend. This weekend for me was different as I suspect it was for every parent. We did not play the Wii or other games that we normally do. I wanted, no I needed, to be close to them. I held them and more often then normal I told them how much I loved them. We went to the Toledo Zoo and walked looking at the lights and holding hands. Normally, Knoah my six year old sleeps in his own bed but Saturday he came into the bedroom and wanted to sleep with me. In truth he does this nearly every weekend but after a few minutes I typically carry him to his bed. Not so this weekend as I needed him and my other children close to me. Ethan, my youngest at only sixteen months old is always with me and this morning after his mother left for work I set on the rocker in his room watching him sleep and thinking about what world we are giving to our children.

When I was “coming of age” I did not want to be a father. I had always imagined my life without children. I did not think that I had the “tools” to be a parent and always thought that “others” could populate the world and I was good with that. All of that changed early in my marriage when my ex-wife and I discovered we were going to have a baby and then shortly after that we had a miscarriage. Losing that child, a girl we named Madison Tate, is something that changed my thoughts and feelings about being a parent and something that even to this day, I have not gotten over. Nearly a year later we had our son Jacob who is now fourteen and the moment of his birth has been the most significant watershed moment in my life. Jacob's birth was uneventful as it seemed he was ready to be on this earth and came into this world without hesitation. I was thirty when he came into this world and while I had already been in the Military and graduated college in truth I had no idea how to be a parent. It was a struggle to learn all of the things that I needed to be a good “dad”. Hannah followed two years later and she brought with her even more difficulty. Her birth was long and difficult. Hannah was born during a snowstorm and the delivery was long and difficult for her mother. That day, 12/12/2000 was the first of two days in my life that I prayed to God asking that he please allow my child and her mother to be on this earth and that if something horrible needed to occur than allow me to be the one to bear that. God, I believe, heard me and allowed Hannah, her Mother and I all to leave the hospital. As a baby Hannah suffered with GIRD (gastrointestinal reflux disorder) and knowing she could and would throw up on you at nearly any second was at times a trying thing. Knoah followed six years after Hannah and his birth was even more difficult than Hannah. Knoah is a little-person and has many physical aliments that he must overcome. His birth was marked by more than 18 hours of labor that finally resulted in an emergency c-section as his heart rate slowed. He was not breathing at birth an was rushed into ICU. Just like six years earlier I prayed to God that Knoah would be safe and again my prayer was granted. Three years after Knoah graced this earth his mother and I divorced and while it was difficult I knew that my children needed to be the focal point of my life. I was lucky, then and now, to have them and even luckier to meet and fall in love with Laura within two years of my divorce. Laura and I were blessed with Ethan in 2011 and his birth was long and difficult. Laura was a trooper through nearly eighteen hours of labor and then finally the doctors decided to do a c-section as he just simply did not seem to want to be bothered with joining us outside the womb on that day. When they took him and placed him on the warming tray in the operating room it was clear that this boy was comfortable with himself and would be at peace with his surroundings. Ethan was not a crier and did not seem bother by the changes but opening his eyes he seemed to want nothing more than to find his Mother and take it all in. The birth of all four brought the normal emotions of joy, love, happiness and pride along with tears.

I know today that I have grown to be a better father as time has gone on. I have with age grown more patient, more understanding and more aware of the needs of my children. I am not a perfect person and have made mistakes in my life that have hurt and disappointed others and myself more times than I wish to remember as a parent, husband and boyfriend. I know that I have continued to learn and I do use each day as an opportunity to learn and hopefully grow.

I have grown comfortable in the role of helping my children and find more joy in playing with them than anything else on this earth. I have grown obsessed in a way with board games and have amassed a collection of more than eighty games that we can play. I have grown into wanting to do silly things with my children (like setting up disco lights in the house and playing Wii karaoke). I know that this will given us the “shared expressions” that we can reflect on later in life.

So this weekend was more reflective, more somber than most. Because this weekend seeing, touching, hearing my children brought to me a happiness that I know twenty families in Connecticut will never feel again. As a father it is crushing to know that a fellow human must deal with such an unimaginable pain. Knowing it also has lead me to reflect and consider just what can “I” do about this and what is the world that we showing our children.

It seemed within hours of the tragedy in Newtown the political sphere was abuzz with how we needed new or more restrictive gun laws. I was and remain angry not that discussion was brought up but that it was done so in such a quick manner. I felt that it was emotional and to me was somewhat disrespectful of the families as within hours of learning your child had been murdered there were people using this tragedy in a political manner. I understand that but I disagree with it. As I write this we still don't know all of the facts of what a clearly disturbed young man decided to do. What we do know is that he did not legally own any guns himself and that he had even been turned away from purchasing a rifle days or weeks earlier because he did not wish to proceed with the background investigation. For me this means that in addition to killing his mother and twenty-five other humans before killing himself he became a criminal by stealing weapons. I don't know his background and wish not to speculate but it is significant to me that much is being bantered about him having a “personality disorder” and that he may fall within the autism spectrum. I can't know if any of this is true but I do know that if so having him participate in learning to fire weapons and having weapons in such close proximity would not have been, to me, good decision making.

I have always been around weapons most of my life and have in the past owned handguns and rifles. I have one rifle now but have yet to share this with my children. None of them have ever seen me fire a weapon (outside of a nerf gun). When I was married my ex-wife did not want the kids to play with toy guns and really was opposed to having them around guns. I respected that and agreed. Jacob has asked me over the last two years to teach him how to shoot a gun and I have reluctantly agreed however in the last seventeen months the closest he has gotten is to hold an unloaded Remington 22LR (without the bolt) and learn about weapon safety, breathing technique, proper trigger pull and how to properly sight the weapon. I have not progressed past this point because at times Jacob has seemed very flippant and immature about understanding the true damage that a weapon can do. It goes back to the fact that this isn't a “toy” or something to take even the slightest bit lightly. I trust my son more than I can express and know that he is a responsible kid but I want to know that he takes things seriously. Call me overly cautious if you like but he is my son and I will take as much time as I feel necessary to progress to finally shooting at a target.

To me the entire “gun control” argument becomes one of responsibility and respect. It has been speculated that the “framers” of the constitution did not intend that American's would own automatic weapons when they drafted the second amendment. In truth we don't know what they intended but it is fair to say that as these weapons did not exist they, of course, did not have the knowledge of them and the destruction that they could cause. But I don't believe that this means we can know what they intended. We have, in my lifetime, had more restrictive gun laws enacted and while I think some have been successful (background checks are important and necessary, in my opinion) while others have been marginal and unsuccessful. During the term of President Clinton we saw the “assault weapons” ban which was more about how a weapon looked than it was about how effective or powerful the weapon was. It was a good feeling to some to ban these weapons but it did nothing to stop violence as Columbine occurred during that time.

It seems many want to move to even more restrictive laws and seek to ban semi-automatic “assault type” weapons like the one used in the Newtown tragedy. The argument is that there is no real “need” for a civilian to have this weapon. My heart understands that argument but I find myself in disagreement based on my life experiences and logic. Consider that as a soldier stationed in Alaska I would regularly fish in remote areas of the Chena river outside of Fairbanks and one of the members of our group would always take a Israeli made AK-47 because running into a bear was a real concern and the ability to get as many rounds down range in as quick a time possible was a nice security blanket. On the other side of this is that because I know people who own semi-automatic weapons and am aware of the joy they have firing them at the range or in other safe environments, I struggle thinking that we should take this legal activity away from them. If the argument is simply that they don't need that then isn't it logical to extend that same argument to almost everything? Seriously, who “needs” a Suzuki Hayabusa that is capable of nearly 200 mph. Same for a Corvette ZR1 or a Stingray 225SX speedboat with more than 320 hp. I just don't see “need” as an appropriate question.

Logically then it would seem the real question is should we even “have” weapons in our society? Maybe not but then again there are folks that use firearms for hunting and feeding families. Police surely need them to protect the community. Besides how would we really get rid of all of the weapons already owned legally in America? Do we really advocate that we should confiscate them from people or is there another solution? Maybe we should prohibit types for weapons. That could be a fair conversation but the question it brings it what type and why? Do we go back to an assault weapon ban based on the way something looks or how many rounds can be thrown down range? Do we base it on the caliber of the weapon? There are so many stumbling blocks and “yeah but what about” that it is nearly impossible to tell.

I know the one thing that I can and will do is be a good parent. It is difficult to be away from Jacob, Hannah and Knoah four days of the week but it is the life that we have and I would like to make the best of it. So the weekend of the shooting we played board games, read books, had sit down meals, went to the zoo and just spent time together.

Hannah was already aware of what had happened and talked about it some. I let her and Knoah in on the truth that sometimes people do things that are evil and hurt other. I also let them know that they have family and friends that love them and will always be there for them and in the end that is all we can do. We can't control what others do but we can control how we react to it. In this case my reaction was to make sure that my kids know that I love and that I am proud to be a Dad.

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