One Sunday afternoon while I was watching some sporting event on TV, I heard the doorbell ring. I opened the door to discover one of my 9-year old son’s classmates.
“Hello,” he said as he fidgeted nervously, “Can your son come out and play?”
“Sure,” I said. “What are you guys planning to do?”
“Oh, we’re just gonna go to the park and hang out for a while.” At that moment, my demeanor changed. Although the park is only a short distance from my house, I was worried about letting my son go unsupervised.
“Why don’t you just play in the back yard,” I said.
“Okay,” said the boy looking slightly dejected.
After this incident, I started to examine why I was so afraid let me son go to the park with his friend. I’ve raised him to be careful and his friend is a good kid who wouldn’t lead him astray. However, I had a nagging fear that something horrific would happen to him if he were out of my sight for too long. I know that the likelihood of something bad happening to my son was low, but at that moment I was paralyzed by my fears.
When I was my son’s age, I had much more freedom than he does. The closest park to my house was at least two miles away and I went there by myself regularly. As long as I was home before the street lights came on, I could go almost anywhere I wanted to.
The only time that my mother restricted my freedom was during The Atlanta Child Murders – a series of murders committed from the summer of 1979 until the spring of 1981. Over the two-year period, a minimum of 28 African-American children, adolescents and adults were killed. My mother was afraid for my safety and kept me close to home until the killer was caught.
Now that I’m a parent I understand the fear she felt. In 2011, an 8-year-old Brooklyn boy who got lost while walking home alone from day camp was killed and dismembered by a stranger he had asked for directions. This story continues to haunt me and affects many of my parenting decisions.
As a father, I’m compelled to keep my son safe. However, I know that I can’t be with him at all times nor can I prevent bad things from happening. All I can do is teach him about the evil in this world, prepare him to deal with dangerous situations, and pray that he has the presence of mind to make the best decision and get help.
SInce that incident, I’ve slowly been loosening the reigns. I’ve given my son permission to ride his bike through the neighborhood and each time he asks to go a little farther I say yes. Soon he will make it all the way to the park. When he does, I hope his friend is there waiting on him.