U.K. Dad

Yesterday I had a brief, sad conversation with my son. Then I tweeted it because I was moved and I felt it was worth sharing. Then I had a brief, viral conversation with a bajillion people. How’s your week going?

Yeah, so that happened.

I should say a few things.

First: this has been overwhelmingly positive, and it looks like it’s fading now. As long as nothing ghastly happens in the next few hours, that’s an extraordinary Twitter moment, and actually a little bit amazing. Responses pinged into my replies column faster than I could read them, and almost all of them (of you) were American parents of my approximate generation sharing the exact horror that I had realised must be there, not just with me but with one another. What I wanted, desperately, was to connect all of you with one button push. My family is NOT at the sharp end of this. You are, and you are unbelievable. Again and again and again, you are unbelievable, and you are not, however much it may seem that way, alone. You are a multitude, and I think that is becoming apparent in 2018 and maybe things will get better for you. I hope.

Second: yes, it really happened. Yes, he’s fine. Today his gravest concern is the amount of salt in snack foods — in fact the health nut thing has been going for a while, which is ironic because it is predictably hard to get him to eat vegetables.

Third: I do not know where he heard about school shootings or Parkland or whatever it was specifically that took him down this road; I suspect the older kids in the playground. He doesn’t live in a house full of adult media. We get our news in the mornings by reading the papers online before the kids wake up. The most alarming TV show he watches is called Trap Door. It is a claymation thing from the 80s featuring Lovecraftian tentacles coming up from the basement of a house. I was dubious about letting him see it at first, but it makes him laugh, and since I watched it and I was the kind of kid who hid behind the sofa during The Muppets, I figure he probably won’t grow up irretrievably traumatised by it. Recently, he’s been getting a thorough TV education in Winter Olympic sport.

Fourth: there were a very few people who wrote to me to object to the thread. There is one guy who is obsessed with the banana thing (yes, I did; no, the tape did not stick properly to my face, so the banana was lying half on the pillow; yes, but I suspect his older sister helped; no, because my wife was in Nairobi; but also: Mate, come ON!) and another guy — British, inevitably — who objects to the prose style in which I tweeted the story. There was an obligatory gun owner who thought the whole thing was funny, and a lady who didn’t think I should involve myself in US politics. There were three or four people who explained to me approximately that my city is full of no-go areas and I should arm myself to defeat Islamism in the streets. (It isn’t, and I won’t, because that’s ridiculous.) One or two also implied I was a bad father because my son shouldn’t have to know about such things. I agree that he shouldn’t, I just disagree about the mechanism: I think it’s better to stop the school shootings than that I helicopter in to cover his ears when the older kids are talking by the water fountain.

However, there were two or three people who pointed out that there is another layer of this discussion I did not address, which is what it means to be a black parent in America. Guilty. I did not. It was not part of the conversation I had with my son, so I left it alone. Someone sent me this link, early on Monday, so I’ll let Clint Smith speak to that.

Clint Smith: How To Raise A Black Son In America

Finally: I’m kinda done talking about it. Not in a bad way, but I have work to do, and the truth is that it isn’t a huge ongoing thing in my house. That was part of it for me: that I could actually just say “No, that isn’t going to happen in your school.” And then I realised that American parents — my friends and family — could not.

I did not know this would go a bit viral, and I don’t have anything to sell you or tell you at the far end. I don’t have anything very revelatory to say about guns in the US. How do I feel about guns? I think they’re a lousy tool for solving complex problems. Brits in general think guns are a bit silly. In fact, let me leave you with this — there was a gag when I was growing up about the test which applied if you asked the Metropolitan Police for a handgun license:

“Is the petitioner the sort of person who wants a handgun?”
“Yes, Sarge.”
“Then they’re not the sort of person who should be allowed one, are they, Constable?”