My dad taught me the power of life and death. He used a gun.
In my family, coming of age as a boy is to get a shotgun. My father loves bird hunting. The bestowing of a shotgun on my brother and I when we turned fifteen meant participating with dad and his friends. And when I think back, this is where I learned to value life.
I don’t expect anyone from a city who has never handled a gun to understand this. What I am writing is foreign to one who has not experienced a gun with the loving instruction of a father. I suspect one without experience could view a gun as cold, death oriented, with fear. More like Star War’s Darth Vader than an agent of peace and protection.
I remember that day, my dad telling me how powerful it was to wield a gun. I remember how serious he made it. Never point a gun at a human. All the hunter safety tips. I remember my mother’s uncomfortable-ness. The power of life and death in the hand of a teenage boy.
I remember what it did to the inside of me. Laying the boy aside and stepping into a man. The finality of the death of a bird. The respect of the weapon. And the fact that my dad trusted ME, Shea, with it. This is one of the places I learned how really important I am. This is what is missing in America, the trust and expectation of a child to act like an adult. The freedom to harm but the choice not to. The belief that each one of us are tremendously impactful and important. That our choices matter. Where we point things matter. I wish all boys could have that experience with a loving dad. I wish we all would get an apprenticeship in the value of life. How would our world change?
In this day there is much talk about keeping children from playing with toy guns. This is an understandable but misguided response to each new school shooting, mass murder or unimaginable gun violence. There is nothing wrong with little boys playing with toy guns when one realizes they are actually fantasizing on how to be a hero for good in most every case.
In contrast, I believe 10,000 hours in simulated soldier combat warfare on a developing boy would have its effects, especially in the absence of an involved and responsible father. The video games and wanton violence in media plays an undeniable role. It does not take a psychologist to discern this. And not on the hero side of things but on “how does one value life?” side of our brains. The problem with violent video media and simulated murder on repeat is that in a tough psychological time, these young addicts lose the ability to discern fantasy from reality, and forget that pushing the reset on the Playstation will not bring someone back to life. (Learn more at http://www.demiseofguys.com/)
When my dad was a child he and virtually every child in America fantasized about how to protect others. He has told me how he loved the Lone Ranger and played “cowboys and indians” with his brothers. Now our young men move from fantasy into something different. By the time they have reached eighteen, they have habitually killed in their head thousands if not hundreds of thousands of times.
My belief is that toy guns aren’t bad and playing with them are not bad. The truth is boys are not going to stop fantasizing about being heroes if we take their toys away. They will fashion weapons out of their fingers if necessary. Protecting the beauty, or saving the country is fundamental to the masculine heart. What is bad is when fatherless-ness, isolation and technology allows good fantasizing to turn into something more sinister than being a hero.
Boys don’t learn masculinity from guns or anything else, boys are masculine. Which means they are powerful. The thing the shotgun moment did for me when I turned fifteen was help me to realize, under the careful instruction of a father, how powerful I really am. That whether I am driving a car, holding a power tool, or cutting onions in the kitchen with a knife, that I often hold the power of life and death in my hands .
Now I am a dad, and I wake up every morning humbled by how much influence that I have toward my wife and my little ones. I wield it carefully. My words, my thoughts, as well as those things that could potentially harm. I watch for what dangers come into my home including media and video games.
Years ago, I walked away from that lesson with the shotgun, knowing that I am powerful. Now, here in lies a real problem, if you take a boy and tell him his whole life that he is not powerful. If you tell him he is weak, if you suppress him, and make him into something else, something defenseless, something fatherless, then these masculine souls do lash out. It usually is in some angry way.
That is the point where we all step back and in astonishment ask “how could a young man like Adam Lanza do such a thing?”
If I think back, it wasn’t the emphasis on guns or hunting that made the real difference but the trust and the responsibility from my father that transformed me. If we look at this intelligently, we will find that we don’t have a gun problem, we have a fatherless problem.
There is an answer to being fatherless. It is to humble ourselves to the Father. To join Him in a long journey, one that stretches all the way into eternity.
*Originally posted January 9, 2013