You know what I find interesting? If you lose a spouse, you’re called a widow or a widower. If you’re a child and you lose your parents, then you’re an orphan. But what’s the word to describe a parent who loses a child? I guess that’s just too fucking awful to even have a name. – Brenda Chenowith, Six Feet Under
In a world full of constant fear, one fear I’m actually glad NOT to have is the fear of losing a child. But I have friends and family with children, and I, of course, have parents. And, I can sense a constant anxiety in all of them, even if they don’t always wear it on their sleeves.
If I had children, I would be worried all the time. I’d be worried about them getting hurt – both physically and emotionally. I’d be worried about them making poor decisions, or worried about someone else’s poor decisions affecting my child. The worry would be constant and – as my dad says about his own parenting fears – sometimes debilitating.
But, to me (and I know some will disagree), worse than losing a child literally would be losing a child, figuratively, to evil. Christina Taylor Green has parents, and so too does her killer, Jared Loughner. Tyler Clementi has parents, and so too do his harassers, Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei.
Seung-Hui Cho has parents.
Eric Harris and Dylan Kelbold have parents.
Hitler had parents.
The adage that “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” is often true: my chill friends have chill kids; my sports-crazed cousin has a son who sleeps with his hockey stick; my liberal parents have a liberal daughter. But, sometimes the apple and the tree are in two totally different orchards. Or, more often, the apple turns into a snake, while the tree stays a tree.
None of the parents of these monsters were killers. Maybe they hugged too much or not enough. Maybe they ignored their children when they should’ve paid more attention to detail. Maybe they didn’t ask who their kids’ friends were or how late they were going to be out or what they had for breakfast or if they wore a coat on a cold day. But, they weren’t killers. Their children didn’t get that behavior from their parents.
I’ve recently written about the concept of randomness and the need to accept random events in the world. And, it seems to me, nothing is more random than kids. No matter what you do, there is always the likelihood that children will become the exact opposite of what you wanted (case in point: Alex P. Keaton in Family Ties). In some cases, that means becoming a musician instead of a doctor or a stripper instead of a nurse. In other cases, it means becoming an assassin instead of a decent human being. And, while I accept randomness on certain levels, this is one case in which the potential horror of that randomness cripples me, and I am, even without children, debilitated by that fear.
When you lose a child, you have to deal with your own grief. And, it will never go away, and each day will probably be harder than the last. But, if your child is the perpetrator, not only do you have a lifetime of your own grief to deal with, but, if you’re any kind of empathetic human being at all, you will also be saddled with the guilt that your offspring is personally responsible for shattering someone else’s life. You have to deal with the shame of your parenting even if it had little to do with you. You have to deal with the ire of others, the constant stares and whispers. The hate mail, the angry answering machine messages. The media interviews. The public scrutiny that accompanies raising a monster. I wouldn’t be able to bear it even for one minute. My heart would break and bleed and die. I know people say that they love their child unconditionally, but I can’t say I would feel the same in these kinds of cases. I would probably grow to hate my child for what they have done to themselves and our family, but more for what they have done to someone else. And, what’s left after that? Once you hate your child, you’ve lost them; there’s no going back.
It’s very difficult to look at small, innocent children as evil or potentially evil. It’s hard to think of them as killers as they wait for the school bus in the morning with their Dora the Explorer backpacks fastened on their shoulders. But, some of them, despite their light-up sneakers and snot-crusted noses, will become bullies, rapists, thieves, and murderers. Some of them will ruin lives and break hearts. Some of them will leave their undeserving parents with a lifetime of misery.
Then again, some will become the next Barack Obama, the next Benazir Bhutto, or the next Bruce Springsteen. Most of them will become the next average, middle-class American doing no real harm or good. But, I’m too scared to take the chance, no matter how miniscule that chance may be, that my child could show up on CNN as the face of death and destruction, looking all crazy with a shaved head and beady eyes.
When something tragic occurs, we focus almost solely on the victims and the victims’ families. We forget that the aggressors have family, too. And, when we do remember that family, it’s often to condemn them for producing such a rotten apple. But, as easy as it is to blame the parents, we have to know that this could happen to anyone. Obviously, some are more prone than others, but, it’s not always as simple as determining who was breastfed or not or who played too many violent videogames. This is just life as it is, and I typically accept that willingly; but I’m not sure I’d be able to accept this.
So, for now, my best bet is to just sit on the sidelines and watch everyone else lovingly raise their own little monsters, silently hoping that they turn out more like Shrek than Stalin.