Offerings are typically pretty light around these parts.
Laughs and levity rule the day. Humor is the goal, presented via an apparatus that is immediate to me: family and parenting and kids.
That’s my life. It’s where I’m at, and it’s what I know.
So I share anecdotes highlighting the good, the bad, the ugly (and the oftentimes messy) realities of raising four young children who are – despite my rumblings – the absolute and unquestioned apples of my eye. I love them beyond compare.
But the past few days, when I’ve thought of children, funny has eluded me.
Heavy thoughts weigh on my mind. My stomach pitches and twists and turns itself inside-out again and again, searching in vain for something that won’t be found, can’t be found.
My heart very literally aches.
Undoubtedly, I’m not alone.
News of events involving an alleged monster and children and unfathomable acts emerged from a college town in Pennsylvania this week.
And let’s be clear: there’s only one monster involved here.
A host of other individuals – an eyewitness, his father, a coaching legend, a multitude of other adults in positions of authority – knew of the atrocities committed by this monster, yet turned a blind eye, inexplicably suppressing what would seem to be the natural human instinct to pick up the nearest blunt object and take matters into their own hands, or at the very least immediately contact police.
Any one of these individuals could have ended this monster’s reign of terror a decade ago by simply acting in the manner that any conscionable person would who was armed with knowledge that a child had been harmed.
The fact that none of these individuals did so makes my eyes well with tears of rage.
These individuals are culpable and their actions are criminal, and for that they’ve paid – or will pay – with their finances and their careers and their consciences and perhaps even their freedom.
But there’s still only one monster.
And let’s also be clear: there’s only one group of victims involved here.
A then 28-year-old graduate assistant who witnessed a 10-year-old boy being sodomized in a shower by a grown man and reacted by calling his father and following his advice to immediately leave the premises is in no way a victim.
An 84-year-old patriarch who was rightfully fired because he put a friendship and a football program ahead of the safety and welfare of children and admits that he could’ve done more is in no way a victim.
College students and fans who took to the streets in an asinine, blindly loyal display of support for a football coach who lost his job rather than a group of young boys who lost their innocence and childhoods are in no way victims.
No, there’s only one group of victims here.
Eight boys at last count, and their families.
But there will be more that come forward.
Boys who knew how painful the truth would be for their loved ones so they kept it all for themselves instead.
Boys who had been too ashamed before now to reveal the dark secret they held inside.
Boys who had convinced themselves that the actions of this monster were somehow their fault.
Boys who had lived for years mistakenly believing they were the monsters.
I believe that my strong visceral reaction to this scandal has a lot to do with being a parent, although such a deep-seated emotional response isn’t limited to those who have children of their own.
After all, in addition to being sons, these victims are also brothers, cousins, nephews, grandsons, friends, students, players, and patrons. Everyone knows a child through some type of relationship, so everyone has an image that can be superimposed on a faceless victim as that monster pins small hands against a shower wall and shatters lives.
But for me, it’s my children: my three sons – ages 7, 5, and 2 – and my daughter – age 4.
It’s each of their faces – terrified eyes and pleading voices –running through my head over and over. It’s my fists clenching. It’s me frantically trying to save them, desperate, wondering what I can do.
And yet I know there’s only one thing I can do to help protect my children.
Talk to them.
I have to make sure that each of my children– in language and terms that they can understand – knows there are some things no person can ever do to them or make them do. Not a friend, not an older child, not an adult, not a relative.
These talks must be fairly explicit. They need to know there’s no gray area.
They’re going to have questions. Tough ones. Kids always do.
Some of those questions will be challenging to answer; some I won’t have answers for at all.
And I absolutely have to stress that if, God forbid, something does happen, it’s not their fault. No matter what. And they absolutely must tell someone.
These conversations are awkward and uncomfortable; they’re far from easy.
But they have to happen.
And they must be frequent, although I have to be cautious: I don’t want to make my children distrustful of others, but at the same time they must know what is unacceptable.
I wish these talks weren’t necessary.
I wish the events involving a monster and children and unfathomable acts that emerged from a college town in Pennsylvania this week had never happened.
For the sake of those boys who were victimized and their families.
For the sake of children and families everywhere.
For the sake of my children and my family.
But, unfortunately, those events did happen.
Those events do happen.
So as a parent, I must speak of unspeakable things.