Explaining Mass Shootings and Tragedies

Over 29 people were killed this weekend in Texas and Ohio. The barbaric actions have the nation grieving once again. These all too common actions of sickness have people asking questions. The answers to those questions will not bring back those that were lost. However, I believe that it is a natural question for coping with a horrible situation. 

If no answer can soothe the hearts of those affected, what possible answers can we dads give to our children that may ask the same? How can we give them clarity and understanding? These actions confuse and go against the values that we teach our kids about human life. They are looking to us for answers. We are supposed to have answers and be right.

My first experience with this happened on 9/11. It was a Tuesday. I can remember, why, but I was off work that day and had just fed my daughter. I was playing with her on the couch and the phone wrang. It was my dad. “Are you watching t.v.?”, he asked. “No”, I replied. “Turn on the news…quick”. At that particular moment, both of the World Trade Towers were in flames. Shortly thereafter the first one fell…followed by the second. 

My daughter was a baby and unaware of the events. My oldest boy was at school. Somehow they heard the news or saw it. We only lived a few blocks from the school. Around 3ish pm, He ran through our front door. “Dad…what happened? Why? How many people were killed? Who did it?”, he asked. Every bit of his attention was on me. He had heard a bunch of stuff at school, but his dad would have the truth. His father would know the correct information and could tell him why.

All I could tell him was what a terrorist was and some possible reasons that they chose to attack the USA. The conversation lasted until dinner time. He had so many questions. Most of the were prefaced with “why”. All I could do is to tell him as a Christian, that the heart of man is deceitful and sick. Who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9) I told him that there are those with no regard for anything other than their “cause”. Taking another person’s life is the ultimate act of selfishness, and under no immediate threat is despicable.

Two years prior to this, the Columbine shooting happened. Now it was 9/11. I told him that in both cases it was a tragedy that few people could understand. Many years after the Columbine tragedy. The mother of one of the shooters Sue Klebold came out to address the public in a TALK . Click on the word Talk on the left to see her speech. She had no answers for the victims. This was her son. How could she not know? As I watched her speak, I truly began to hurt for her.

Approximately 20 years and many mass shootings later, we are a nation of the same questions repeated in desperation. Now, young parents have to make sense of these tragedies for their kids. Dad’s, they are looking to you. What are you going to say? Even if you were not part of the families and community affected by such violence, kids will want to know why? They will have questions. 

Teenagers are a bit different. They may get caught up in the moment briefly and have an opinion. Unfortunately, such news has become commonplace that most reactions are not an uproar unless it happens to them or someone they care about. Most young people don’t think such things will happen in their town, neighborhood, or school. 

As an educator, I have had 2 students come through that faced murder charges after leaving our school. One, in particular, I worked with daily. I was his religion teacher at this private school. Believe me, when I heard what this young man was accused of some years later, I began to question myself. He was a tough kid with a rough background…no dad. However, very kind and cordial in my class. As a matter of fact, he aced his final in my class…a test that most common churchgoers would probably fail. Did I miss something? Did I fail to see something? Did we the school fail him? 

My kids shared classrooms with at least one of these boys. My oldest, the one with the 9/11 questions, is in the Navy. He had to call me one time to let me know that there was a shooter on base…but that he was okay. These tragedies affect everyone. They raise the same questions and speculations. Be transparent with your kids. It is okay to say I don’t know or to quote your conviction. Ask them what they think about it and what do they think are solutions. Keep the lines of communication open. Events like these are not likely to go away. We live in a hurting and broken world. Give your kids the time. Give them your ear. Give them a voice to express themselves. Be the best dad possible.


Teaching Kids about Fighting

Kids are going to fight. To what degree lies with the individual child or teen. My middle and youngest child were fighting before they could speak intelligently. Most of the time “fighting” meant aggravation and fussing. Elevated voices, growls, cries, and screams were common. As long as they were at home, my wife and I tried to make them work it out. The parent referee was not the first choice. There was not enough vallum in all of the pharmacies for that. If I got up and ran into a room every time my daughter growled her brother’s name, my Fitbit would register 10 miles before lunch without leaving the house. 

As they got into school, they had to adapt more to frustrations and the “little darlings” from other families. I have to admit this was interesting. My son was a tall and athletic kid. He really wasn’t much of a target. My daughter was not super tall, about average height for most girls, but VERY strong. My daughter was also the one with the temper. She obviously gets it from her mother. 😉

The school experience was interesting because now other adults could tell them what to do, and what not to do. Obviously, I’m talking about elementary. We got our baptism early to the principle’s office. That is right. Your kid does something and you the parent get to go to the principle’s office. When we got our first summons, my wife called me and said we had to meet at the school. “What did he do?”, I asked. “No, it was YOUR daughter”, she said. 

My daughter was/is my baby, my princess. She fought with her brother at home sometimes, but she would not cause trouble at school. This had to be a mistake….NOPE. We arrived with my daughter sitting just outside the inner office as we were called in to face the “judge”. It seems as if my daughter had been walking to her seat. Do you know the square desks with the tiny chairs? Anyway, a boy lifted up her dress, exposing her undergarment. A few kids laughed, then there was a crash. My daughter hit him over the head with her chair. We are talking WWE off the top rope SMASH. 

Okay dads, here is lesson one. Don’t laugh in the principle’s office if you receive this kind of news. However humorous it may be at the moment, your character takes quite a beating. I mean…regardless if the little fart deserved it, we should never advocate violence.

Lesson two. If you receive the news that your daughter whooped a boy for being a little perve, it is important to wait until you leave the school office before getting down on your knee in front of your princess and say, “you are the coolest kid I have ever met”. Yes, I know it was wrong…sort of. 

I never advocate violence to my kids. What I taught them was to never be taken advantage of or let another kid be bullied. I told them that they could and would face consequences at school for their behavior whether it seem just or not, but I would always be supportive of them defending themselves and others. Some don’t believe that affirming my little girl’s actions were right. They say that it was not defending herself, but retaliating. I have the right to disagree. I think she was standing up for other girls, not just herself. 

One other time, my oldest boy was in junior high or middle school. He sat in a class with desks pressed together by fours…they all faced each other. Next to him in the class was a girl that was slow. Forgive me for using that term. I don’t know her diagnosis. I just knew that she had special needs. Like the perve kid in my daughter’s elementary classroom, a bully lifted up her dress and yelled out the color of her underwear. My oldest boy had never been in a fight. He was extremely passive. However, he hated bullies with a passion. He flew across the desks and decked the kid, knocking him flat. We of course “got the call”.

This time as we made it to the jr. high school office, we heard a woman yelling. It was the mother of the special needs girl. She was threatening news media, lawsuit, and the apocalypse if they punished my son. We just stood there. My boy just sat there. Then a lady that looked liked she had just changed back into her human form walked out of the principle’s office. She saw Daylon, walked up to him and gave him a bear hug and a thank you. We pretty much just all walked out after that.

I taught my kids to never be a bully. I wanted them to stand up for themselves and for those that would or could not. I don’t know when the appropriate time for action is for your kids. I just know that it is a discussion that you must have. Edmund Burke once said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”. Not everyone will agree with your view on this subject. You and your kids can face consequences for actions that some may deem noble. You have to set the standard. You will set the values in your home. Be the best dad possible.


Learn Grow Love!

I love the movie Driving Miss Daisy. It came out in 1989. If you haven’t seen it, you must. If you have seen the movie, you will recall the wonderful story of friendship and love that developed throughout the story. The part that I love so much about the story is the raw honesty, verbal battering, and understanding that developed in the story.

Miss Daisy, played by the amazing Jessica Tandy was a stiff-necked widow and retired school teacher. Morgan Freemon played the role of Hoke, the man hired by Miss Daisy’s son to be her driver. Miss Daisy was a rude and snobbish old lady at the onset of the film. In one scene, Hoke revealed to Miss Daisy that he could not read. Miss Daisy fussed at him, gave him a brief grammar lesson to enable him to find a specific headstone in a cemetery. During the “lesson”, Miss Daisy said, “I taught some of the stupidest children that God ever put on the face of this earth…”. 

Although it commanded a chuckle of “amen” from many old school teachers in the theater, it made me do some serious contemplation about kids and their learning. I started to look into their development. I always looked at kids as young, but rarely as unable to comprehend. I’m not talking about toddlers, but young teens…middle and high school ages. When looking at their behavior, there were many times that I pulled out my stupid rubber stamp. I never took the time to consider how they think and their brain development. 

In a book entitled The Teen Whisperer by Mike Linderman, the author states, “Many teens, because their brains are still growing aren’t capable of the kind of higher-level reasoning, abstract thought, formulating a vision of the future, and feeling empathy for others the way adults can”. I had heard the suggestion and claims many times throughout the years, but never put 2+2 together. Perhaps I was the one with the incapability. Not of the tasks in his statement, but truly understanding kids and teens.

One thing I hate is excuses. I try not to make them because I can’t stand them when they come to form my students. I had to come to a place where I owned my own lack of understanding. I always viewed those that gave excuses as weak or dismissive of responsibility. I had to learn. The first step in learning is to shut up. That’s right…eyes and ears open…mouth shut. After that, you can question for clarity, not to debate your own convictions. I had to ask myself what it was that I truly wanted to learn and why. 

I needed to learn in order to grow as a man, teacher, and dad. Only then could I give my kids and students the type of love that they needed which would open their minds to learning. Remember, where there is hostility, little learning takes place. Where there is misunderstanding relationships don’t grow. Lastly, only through compassion and love will you ever reach a child’s heart and mind. Please note that I never removed discipline from the equation. Discipline and guidance must be present for a child/teens sense of security. It is up to you as the dad however, to balance the other elements for their development.

Does this mean that I would need to embrace excuses? Never. What it means is that by understanding grow and abilities, it allows me (the adult) to make sure that I am communicating and teaching with the proper tools and language. I think giving kids an audience for excuses increases their likelihood of more failures throughout their lives. I think it says that failing is okay. Failing is only okay when you react to it properly, owning it and trying again.

When my middle child went off to college, it was a very proud moment. He had graduated high school and worked very hard to get a college to draft him as a soccer player. Guess what. His college career lasted one semester. He traveled a lot with the soccer team and did not put the time into his school work as he should have. He failed. I told him this as he sat on my couch between semesters. He needed to own it. This was painful. He flushed the chance that he had wanted for so long. “Now what?”, I asked him. “You are down now. How are you going to get up?” His “formulating a vision for the future” was not there. I could not believe it and wanted to dismiss his lack of drive to be stupid. I was the stupid one. He needed me to understand what he could not put into words, have compassion, and guide him. “I” had to learn how to help him.

Dads, you are going to struggle with your kids/teens as long as you sit on your dad throne. Humble yourselves and learn. Then through love, compassion, and guidance, you can grow. Your children can grow. The relationship can grow and you can be the best dad possible.