Between Good and Climbing a Lamp Post

“Daddy, why was that man killed?”

That was Monday morning.  I was spending the few minutes before leaving for work to watch the news on Osama Bin Laden.  Hannah, my 8 year old, was in the living room with me.

Unfortunately, my children know about death.  We have buried their grandfather, aunts, uncles, and friends in their short lives.  Death is a subject I have been able to talk to them about head on.  I don’t have to fumble through awkward “Sometimes people don’t wake up…” conversations.  So I told her.

“Well, he was killed because he was a bad man.  He was a part of killing lots of people.  Do you remember us talking about when the airplanes crashed in to the buildings in New York?”

“Oh yeah.”

“Well he was involved with that so we sent our Army to where he was to get him. To kill him.”

(I know it was a Navy SEAL team that conducted the mission but explaining a Navy SEAL strike team to my 8 year old daughter seemed like it might take more than the 3 minutes I had before I left for work so it was the army)

“But why Daddy? Why didn’t he get arrested and go to jail?”

“Because, sometimes, what you do is so bad that jail isn’t a good enough punishment which means you have to die.”

“I hope I’m never that bad Daddy.” I almost had to laugh at the fear in her voice.

“I’m sure you will never be that bad Hannah. This was a special case. This doesn’t happen a whole lot but this guy deserved it for all the bad things he has done.”

“Oh.” Hannah’s reaction to the news was a mix of ambivalence and understanding. Not that I expected anything less from my daughter.  She was born after September 11th. Her age and her life focus kept her from caring about anything but her immediate surroundings (how lucky for her).

Then my 5 year old chimed in, “Did we get a bad guy Daddy?”

“We sure did.”

“That’s good right?” Emma was waiting to take her cue from me.

“Yes Emma. It is very good.”

“Good.”

And that is how my kids reacted to the situation.  Just a simple, “good”. The night before the reaction was a bit different.  I joined in on Twitter with, looking back on it now, bad (if not tasteless) jokes and remarks about the bravery and dedication for all of our military.  I read through quotes from the likes of Martin Luther King Jr. about not celebrating the death of anyone all while I watched the streets of New York and Washington erupt in a joy usually reserved for New Year’s Eve.  I listened to Citizen’s Bank Ballpark chant “U.S.A.” during the Phillies game.  I made sure to update my Facebook profile and read through everyone’s reaction to the news.  And at the time, it all seemed deserved.

After listening to my kids’ non-reaction to the news, I started to think about how I reacted and how others were reacting to his death.  Were we portraying the same euphoric attitudes towards someone’s death as the people do half a world away (and who we criticize for being barbaric or less than human for doing so)?  Was climbing lamp posts and singing bad renditions of the Star Spangled Banner the right way to express our feelings towards all of it?

The more I thought about it, the more I came to realize, it is not for me to pass judgment on anyone for their expressions about any of this.  Who am I to tell anyone who lived through or were apart of Sept. 11th, 2001 how to respond to the death of the man who organized that day?

So let the party go on in the streets. Sing songs. Chant U.S.A. Climb the lamp posts. Shout for joy into Geraldo’s microphone when he interviews you on the street. Quote Biblical passages and recite inspirational words from influential figures.  Say a prayer.  Make a joke on Twitter.  I don’t begrudge anyone to celebrate however they feel is appropriate because the choice, thankfully in this country, is all ours.

But as a father, I have to ask myself, what lesson can I teach my kids about all of this? I have to ask myself, “How would I want my kids to react to someone being killed, even for a person as heinous as Osama Bin Laden?” (regardless of how I might have behaved on the Internet or how excited I was over his death).

So Monday morning, as my kids were asking about the man who had been killed, I made sure my answers expressed a little more enthusiasm than a simple “good” but with a little less of climbing up a lamp post.

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7 responses to “Between Good and Climbing a Lamp Post

  1. My 8-year-old son asked the EXACT same questions as your older daughter! He also wanted to know if other bad guys on his “team” were also killed and couldn’t understand why he wasn’t just put in jail. Tough questions to answer (i.e. being truthful without scaring the crap outta them) but I think you did a stellar job 🙂

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    • I’m sure we all could have answered differently. I guess we just try our best to, like you said, not scare the crap out of them but be honest with them too. I’d rather they hear the truth from me than from someone else.
      Thanks for comment. I really appreciate it.

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  2. Your post brought tears to my eyes. I have been struggling with some of these same thoughts in the last couple of days. When I read the Martin Luther King, Jr. quote that was circulating around Facebook yesterday, I felt ashamed of my joyous reactions to Bin Laden’s death. That what quotes are good for, though, is to make us think.

    When my 10 year old asked why everyone was so happy, we, too, talked about the Twin Towers. I reminded her that I’ve told her the story about how I held her at 9 months old and realized that her life would never be the same as it was just months before when she was born. Our 8 year old has never known a time when our country has not been at war. It’s an amazing thing to think about and it’s hard to wrap my adult brain around some of the thoughts and ideas being shared right now. I don’t imagine that our kids have any real comprehension of the current events, but I think it is important to share thoughts with them.

    Thank you for yet another perspective. Looking at current events from the stand point of a parent, removed from our own personalities, really changes things some times. Your words are beautiful. You are a great writer.

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    • Your comment really means a lot to me. Thank you so much. I think a lot of parents are going through the same things we are. The best we can do is be honest and open with them and even though they may not comprehend the events taking place, at least when they hear about it from somewhere else, they will know about it.
      Thanks for the kinds words.
      All my best to you and your family.

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  3. I forgot to tell you that I also passed your blog post along via Facebook. I hope it will help some other parents to think, too. I don’t want to change their minds. I just want them to think about your words.

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  4. Honestly, I didn’t know what to feel. My heart felt empty and my eyes glazed as I read a friends facebook post. One man’s death will not bring peace nor happiness so what happens next…http://cleverlychanging.com

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