My father would have celebrated his 59th birthday Feb. 7. I have been trying to think of a way to honor him in these pages, to a group of readers that didn't know him at all. How do I explain a man that still means everything to his family, even though he has been gone for nearly a decade?
Then it occurred to me. I could have been Adam Lanza, had it not been for my father.
I don't write that for shock value, nor do I write that to draw attention. I write that because it is true.
You see, I was a lot like Adam growing up, kind of an outcast – the kid with the brains, but scrawny and awkward. The kid that had glasses as big as his head and big dumbo ears. The kid that got straight A's without even trying.
I was picked on, made fun of, pushed, punched, kicked and laughed at from the time I started kindergarten. I never pushed back, never lashed out – I just quietly performed in school and even got into the gifted kids class.
Yeah, the bullying bothered me, but I tried not to let it show. I still had friends, rode bikes, played baseball and basketball and had a typical early childhood. I had a family that loved each other and parents who saw something special in me.
Did I get upset? Of course. I even remember a time in elementary a kid brought a gun to school, because he was being picked on. I remember understanding why he did it, but the thought never crossed my mind to do it as well.
Then something changed. Something happened inside of me. I started talking back to nearly every adult, my grades started slipping and I became bitter. I lashed out at my parents. I closed off from other kids and kind of withdrew into my own world. I now know that part of it was because we all were changing. Hormones and liking girls replaced riding bikes and throwing rocks into the woods. I was that nerdy, awkward kid that none of the girls liked. I was alone.
I very easily could have spiraled out of control, but I didn't. My father was a big, strong guy that was the cool kid in school, yet he always told me I was better than him, smarter than him and could do whatever I wanted in life.
Both of my parents continued to push right and wrong in me. They encouraged me to get involved in debate and the school newspaper. With their help and encouragement I eventually regained some of that confidence and started to do better, started to become me.
I also grew up in a household that had a lot of guns. My father was a self-taught gunsmith. He taught me to respect what these weapons can do in the wrong hands and raised me to be a person that never had those kind of hands. I don't ever remember thinking about grabbing one of those guns and getting revenge on those that tormented me.
I very easily could have though, had it not been for my father teaching me that vengeance doesn't equate to justice - that my justice would come at the end of my life. The end of my father's earthly life reinforced that. He had hundreds of people show up to both his visitation/wake and his funeral. The county courthouse closed and flew its flags at half staff (he was the county's clerk of the circuit court).
My father was my hero. He loved guns. He loved his wife. He loved his daughter. He loved his son. He loved people.
The talk about gun violence following the Newtown shooting is justified, but my father would have been upset with the tone and direction. He would have said something that people have ridiculed as ignorant bumper sticker talk – that it wasn't the guns that killed, it was a sick, broken and troubled young man that did.
He would have said that the talk needs to be about parenting, bullying and mental health – all of which are lagging or downright broken in today's society.
He would have said to fix the real problems, without blaming the tools used.
He would have been right and I am living proof.