Yesterday, a terrible tragedy struck Newtown, CT and the nation. I cannot begin to understand fully the grief and loss suffered by those parents, loved ones, and community members, but my heart and my thoughts go out to them.
Initially I was in shock, hearing the news as I drove home early from the school where I work. The words on the radio couldn’t quite penetrate. The thought that a shooting could occur at an elementary school not unlike the many that I visit for work, was unfathomable.
But for me as a father, I was woken from my shock by the President’s statements later that afternoon.
Typically, the sentiments expressed by government officials and police during these times of tragedy are thoughtful and well-rehearsed, but rarely are they heart-felt. The President spoke not only as Commander-In-Chief, but also as a father, as a parent. He spoke from a place of loss that most all parents can understand. When I think about the possibility of losing my own 1st grader, I tend to think about how the world would be stripped of a beautiful presence, and how my son would be robbed of every beautiful moment that I imagine for him. In the President’s words:
“They had their entire lives ahead of them: birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own.”
It’s common to hear spokespeople address great loss of potential when a child dies, but rarely do they speak of the indelible pictures conjured in the minds of parents regarding their own children’s futures. This is why the President’s address was so powerful for me. He spoke about what I as a parent imagine when I contemplate the possible loss of my son. How, in many ways, my son is owed a beautiful life because he brings so much joy to mine, and the thought that this future could be stripped away from him is unthinkable.
I was also touched by the President allowing himself to experience emotion and heartbreak on a public stage. It’s often that parents, especially fathers, must separate their public persona from their private one. I find I need to do this myself on a daily basis. As I deal with the stresses, traumas and heartbreak of those I work with, their stories typically resonate with me. Yet, because I am a professional in that moment and not a father, I hold back. Many times this is necessary for the type of work that I do, but it certainly leaves me feeling disjointed emotionally. I think for me there is a true fear of allowing my emotions and my role as a father to seep into my work life. I think it takes true emotional strength and clarity of purpose to allow oneself to integrate the roles of fatherhood and work in a meaningful and thoughtful way, and I believe that is what the President showed the nation yesterday.
In the words of President Obama, “This evening Michelle and I will do what I know every parent in America will do, which is hug our children a little tighter, and we’ll tell them that we love them. And we’ll remind each other how deeply we love one another.”