I had been working on a thorny problem with a database at work most of the day ten years ago. I didn’t go to lunch until almost 3:00. On the radio, there was a report about a “hostage situation” in a high school in Colorado. The details were sketchy; no one seemed to have a handle on it. Several kids had been shot. There had been a SWAT team called in. By the time I finished eating and headed over to my dental appointment, the immediate tragedy at Columbine High School was over. The second-guessing was just beginning.
Columbine wasn’t the first school shooting. I had been in high school when Laurie Dann walked into an elementary school in nearby Winnetka and started shooting kids. It wasn’t the worst shooting. We all knew what “Charles Whitman in the clock tower” referred to, though it had happened years before we were born. However, Columbine touched a nerve in me. The night before the shootings, Meka and I had spent a couple of hours on the phone, going through baby names. We had picked out “Daniel”, but we were still working on the middle name.
“What kind of world are we bringing our baby into?” I wondered in my journal back in 1999. We had just found out Daniel was going to be a boy and already I was worried how I could possibly protect him all the time. The cold, hard answer was I couldn’t. I was reading Good Morning, Merry Sunshine; a book by Bob Greene about his experience becoming a father for the first time. His daughter was born in 1983 in Chicagoland. Those from this area remember it as the year of the Tylenol Killer. The first victim was a girl my age at a school in a nearby suburb. Bob Greene covered the funeral for the Chicago Tribune and found himself feeling as helpless as I did in the face of an entire world of strangers and dangers, apparently all intent on doing our children harm.
I do my best to protect Daniel. Sometimes – I know – I go overboard. Daniel has lagged behind the neighborhood average when it comes to being allowed to cross the street by himself, or play unsupervised, or stay out late. Last week Daniel decided to ride his bike to our neighborhood gas station by himself, a three mile round trip. It was a challenge not to come down on him like a ton of bricks. The problem is I can remember being nine years old. I remember getting away with a lot of things and thinking my parents were cramping my style. But – looking back as a parent – I have to admit that I was just plain lucky on a number of occasions. In the end, I suppose, it’s all we can do to protect our kids as much as we can for as long as we can. The vast majority will grow up, have kids of their own to worry about.