Parents play so many roles, but one of the most important is that of protector.
I still remember the feeling that came over me when we brought our first child home. Driving away from the hospital, I was on full alert, ready to defend my newborn son with every ounce of my being. I had our car surrounded with a psychic force field the seven miles it took to reach the safety of our house.
Those early years were easy. My job as protector was mostly physical — making sure the house was baby proofed, or that my son didn’t get carried away by eagles. The perceived dangers were clear.
But as he got older and started learning about the world around him, suddenly things got complicated.
When he was three years old an airplane flew into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. My wife and I couldn’t help but watch TV coverage for days, but we didn’t encourage my son to absorb any of it. “Go play,” we’d tell him. I felt he just wasn’t old enough to think about this kind of evil.
You don’t sit a 3-year-old down and teach him about things like terrorism, rape, torture, and disease.
Eventually, though, they have to start understanding the harsh realities of life.
One of the saddest things about your children growing up is when they start to figure out that the world isn’t a blissful paradise with smiling people living on candy mountains.
I just want these feelings to come slowly. Step by gradual step.
When my son was nine, he took a big leap in his grasp of how cruel this world can be sometimes.
We were learning about Anne Frank, and how her family hid from the Nazis during the German occupation of the Netherlands. We read about the years of isolation, and then the betrayal and arrest of everyone in the hiding place.
At first, my son was mad that somebody had ratted them out. But then he asked me, “So what happened to Anne?”
I answered, “She was sent to a concentration camp.”
“And, she died there.”
He looked up at me suddenly, and I could see it in his eyes, this sort of angry bewilderment. It was like he was thinking, “What the hell is wrong with us that we do these things to each other?!”
He thought about it for a minute, and then the understanding dawned. Yes, this is, was, and always will be a cruel world. Bad things happen sometimes.
I think he really truly gets that now.
As his protector through the years, I’ve slowly guided him toward these moments of wisdom. Because of that, I think he’ll be better able to process the information and make good choices for himself.
But at the same time, I’ve given both my kids the chance to grow up with a foundation of hope and love, to know that the world is, first and foremost, a beautiful place with countless reasons to be happy and optimistic.
Even in our worst moments, I trust they will never forget that.