Magazine article Psychotherapy Networker

FAMILY MATTERS: Lessons from a Gun-Shy Father

Magazine article Psychotherapy Networker

FAMILY MATTERS: Lessons from a Gun-Shy Father

Article excerpt

Fortunately for me, the war in Vietnam ended before I got my draft notice. This was good for world peace--and for my own inner peace. Guns, senseless bloodshed, fear: I couldn't understand any of it. I was lucky not to have to face the killing, and managed to avoid all involvement with firearms for many years thereafter--until my son reached adolescence.

Michael's preoccupation with guns gave me little concern at first, since it didn't seem unusual for a young boy. But just when I thought his obsession would fade, like his earlier love of Legos and Tonka toys, it escalated. Many of his friends had begun to hunt deer with their fathers, and he proposed it to me as a good father-son activity. At first, I tried to put him off with "maybes" and "we'll see's," but he kept talking about guns, hounding me incessantly to go hunting with him.

I decided to call in reinforcements and consulted several friends, one of whom was an FBI agent--a man I'd always found to be levelheaded and a source of good advice. Much to my surprise, he was all for it. "Let him learn the right way, " he said. "Better under your supervision than with someone else."

And so, reluctantly, I entered the wide world of sports, a world essentially foreign to me. On our first purchasing expedition, I tried to persuade my son that a light .22 was what we wanted, but the experts told me that you couldn't hunt deer with a .22, and I was forced to buy higher powered weapons.

Then came joining a rod and gun club, and even at this stage, I held out the hope that Michael would be satisfied with shooting cardboard figures and paper targets on a rifle range. But his interest continued to grow, particularly after he met several hunters there. One older fellow, who belonged to a hunting club and owned land in the mountains, invited us up for the first day of deer season. I made every possible excuse, but once again found myself buying gear--the boots, camouflage clothing, hats and accessories that go along with joining the brotherhood of hunters. It was paradoxical: I had such an aversion to killing animals for sport, yet I was thrilled by the chance to bond with my son, who had never before been passionate about very much in his life.

Soon the winter evening came when Michael and I laid out our hunting gear in the living room in anticipation: thermal underwear, backpacks, boots, gloves with the fingers cut out, 150 square inches of orange cover material (so that we wouldn't be mistaken for deer), a knife, toilet paper, a thermos of coffee and, of course, our weapons of destruction.

We rose at 3:00 a.m., and as my son slept, I drove like a white-knuckle flyer through a squall of snow in the darkness, asking myself repeatedly why in God's name I was doing this. The answer came wordlessly when I glanced down at the seat next to me, where my great white hunter was sleeping like a baby.

As we entered the mountains, newly fallen snow glinted like diamonds in the first rays of sunlight. How could we murder innocent animals, I wondered, in this beautiful, serene setting? We pulled off the main road and onto a dirt track, unloaded our equipment and made our way through the thick brush into the dense, dark woods. The ground was littered with Styrofoam cups and fast-food wrappers--evidence of other two-legged predators out for the kill. I trudged along the path like a schoolboy on his way to the principal's office, trying to hide my anxiety behind a false display of enthusiasm for my son's sake. This was the hour of reckoning, I mused. All those months of target shooting had led to this day when a father must challenge his long-held beliefs and a son follow his own, distinct dream. …

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