Wielding a Dangerous Weapon

By Paul Koch

I listened to the radio on a recent Sunday afternoon as the reports came in of a shooting at the Garlic Festival in Gilroy, California. A 19-year-old young man had killed 3 and wounded 13 others. Once again, it all seemed senseless and difficult to imagine. Not even one week later I learned about the horrific shooting at an El Paso Walmart. A 21-year-old young man killed 22 and injured 26. The next morning as I drove down to church to prepare for service, I heard the shocking reports coming out of Dayton, Ohio. This time a 24-year-old killed 10 and injured 27 others.

Then I look at my son. He’s only 9, but I try to imagine him not as the victim of such a crime but as the perpetrator. What would cause him to join the ranks of those young men committing such atrocities?

Of course, the usual debates have all been reenacted. The lines in the sand are drawn and well known to everyone. Is it 2nd Amendment issues or violent video games or Gangster Rap? Rage boils over and everyone tries to capitalize on the frayed emotions of a society that just wants to see the shootings stop. If political points can be scored, they will be exploited for every last drop. Maybe this time it will be different, perhaps this time there will be real action, real solutions. I hope so.

In trying to process all of this I recalled an old lyric from Eminem who was perhaps more accurate than anyone wanted to give him credit for at the time. In his song, The Way I Am (The Marshall Mathers LP, 2000), he talked about kids committing violent acts and even alluded to the Columbine shooting saying:

“And it seems like the media immediately points a finger at me

So, I point one back at ’em, but not the index or pinkie

Or the ring or the thumb, it’s the one you put up

When you don’t give a fuck, when you won’t just put up

With the bullshit they pull, ’cause they full of shit too

When a dude’s getting bullied and shoots up his school

And they blame it on Marilyn and the heroin

Where were the parents at? And look where it’s at!

Middle America, now it’s a tragedy

Now it’s so sad to see, an upper-class city havin’ this happening…”

Again, I look at my son.

Perhaps not simply, “Where were the parents at?” but, “Where were the fathers at?” In the incredible book, The Boy Crisis, the authors (Farrell and Gray) marshal ample evidence linking mass shooters to what they call dad-deprived homes. The presence of a dad in the home has a massive impact on a boys’ economic future, emotional intelligence and marital potential. One of the maxims of their work is, “When boys are hurt, they hurt us – physically, psychologically, and economically.” In all the discussion surrounding these shootings I fear we might be overlooking the real danger perpetuating the violence – the role of dad.

I look at my son and I see that it is my relationship with him, my interaction, my presence, my roughhousing and limit setting and forgiving and compassion which will have a far greater impact than any legislation or social shaming. The dangerous weapon we wield is the relationship of a boy with a father. To undervalue this is to play a deadly game. We must be champions of dads, encouraging this relationship as often as we can, and even stepping into the role for others if we must. But we cannot ignore it. In an age where masculinity is demonized as toxic and we passively view the government as an acceptable replacement for a father, I fear there will be no shortage of shootings by young men. As the authors of The Boy Crisis write, “Dads – like moms, air, and water – are essential to our lives” (p. 105).

The time has come for us to stop trying to live without dads.