We were standing in line at the Israel Independence Day Festival when he asked me “why do they want to kill us?” I looked down and smiled at him and took a deep breath. It is a good question, a valid question and one that I hate having to answer.
Because he is 9 years-old and I hate shredding pieces of his childhood. He still remembers when they stole his mother’s purse and wants to know if I still look for them. I answer him truthfully and say that sometimes I do. We haven’t discussed it in a while, but the last time we did he said that he wished he was older so that he could have helped me stop them.
I am still Superman in his eyes. He tells me that he is sure that I could have taken the guy. I don’t tell him that I am confident that I could have too, but never want him to see that side of me. It is one thing to see me get angry and another to watch me become violent. He has never seen that and short of having to protect the familyÂ I don’t expect that he ever will.
He looks at me and asks me why I am smiling. I don’t tell him that it is meant to reassure him, to soften things somewhat. Because he is old enough to understand that people die. Old enough to be happy that his grandfather didn’t die in Vietnam and curious as to why I didn’t go into the army.
My smart boy is sharp, inquisitive and interested. But he is still young enough that nuance sometimes escapes him. He doesn’t need a ton of details, just enough to whet his whistle. So I smile and consider the best approach to his question. Before I can answer he begins to tell me how stupid it is to go to war and that people who do must be idiots.
I try to explain to him that he is right, but that not everyone feels that way. Some people are nice and others are not nice. And sometimes the not nice people do things that require a response. As I start talking I realize that the bullying episode from last summer is lingering in my head. I want him to be soft and cuddly but also to recognize when it is time to stand his ground.
I want him to know that if he needs to defend himself he has my support. I don’t want him to have a physical altercation, but if need be he needs to know to swing hard. He needs to know that I have his back. I won’t accept bullying, but that is a different topic and I don’t want to muddy the waters.
So I ask him to tell me why he thinks that they do it. He gives me an answer and I smile again. We’re about to go through a metal detector. This is a happy occasion and we are about to go through a metal detector. I am sure that if you saw my face you would have seen a flash of anger pass over it. There is something wrong about that.
We walk inside and I take a knee and look in his eyes. I tell him that there is no good reason for it. Logic doesn’t always apply and some people are unwilling to use their words. I tell him that it makes me sad, but that sometimes you have to be willing to use force to bring about peace.
The conversation just got much deeper than I wanted it to. I pull him into my arms and give him a big hug. This time he smiles at me and tells me not to worry. “I won’t fight unless I have to dad.” It is a combination of innocence and knowing, the look he gives me. We’re silent as we walk towards the booths. I know my son and I recognize that for the moment he is comfortable.
I am grateful for that, but still part of me seethes with the knowledge that some more pieces of innocence have been shorn.