I don’t own a gun. Never have. Not because of any overt political or personal views, but for the simple reason that I am a goofball and I would most likely use that weapon to shoot my own feet, an ineptitude I’ve passed on to my son.
We were visiting family; it was a father-and-son vacation to the motherland, the red dirt state of my birth, Alabama, where sons are born with a gun in one hand and a football in the other. We arrived on my nephew’s birthday. My nephew was getting a gun.
Not a real gun: he was buying an airsoft pistol — it shoots tiny little plastic beads that couldn’t hurt a fly. My sister loaded her van full of boys and we went to the local fake arms dealer, a sports store, where my son found himself standing before a wall of fake firearms.
“Can I have a gun? Everyone else has one.”
Kid logic. It seems stupid in retrospect, but something about the lure of fake weaponry and the realization that without a fake gun my son would be fake unarmed alarmed me in the dark recesses of my cowboy brain. Plus, my wife wasn’t there. So I got two.
Back at the party, the adults were drinking sweet iced tea in the kitchen while the boys slaughtered each other in the basement. My son showed up.
“They’re shooting me!”
“Well, shoot back.”
“What’s the problem?”
“Welcome to Alabama, kid.”
Ten minutes later, two cousins appeared.
“We think Connor should sit this one out.”
“He’s shooting us while we reload.”
“Welcome to Chicago, kid.”
I went in the basement. There was my son, eyes wild, a gun in both hands, laughing maniacally, shooting neon green plastic balls in every direction while my nephews hid behind a couch and tried to ignore him. I dragged him upstairs for a talk.
“I think it’s time to put the gun away.”
He waved the gun around like a drunken Nicaraguan dictator.
“Dad, it’s totally saf—“
He’s cut off by a loud click — the only sound these guns make — and remained silent for a split second, as his eyes widened and we both looked down at his index finger, wrapped snugly over the barrel of the fake gun, a finger rapidly turning crimson. The scream came from deep within him, where it had been wrapped around his spleen, patiently waiting to deploy; now it uncurled and filled the house with a splenetic wail of oh-my-god-I-shot-myself.
This was one of those moments where a true dad, a good dad, a Tom Hanks-in-the-role-of-dad dad, would take a knee, soothe the boy’s affliction, and teach a life lesson.
You know where this is going, right?
I fell out of my chair. I laughed so hard I almost choked. Was my son crying? Yes, yes, he was. Was it my fault? Yes. Absolutely. Entirely. Did any of that stop me from laughing? No. It. Did. Not.
Because that’s a life lesson as valuable as anything Tom Hanks could offer: sometimes, you’re an idiot. Being aware of one’s capability for genuine stupidity is important. When my son is a man and he fantasizes about buying a gun, he’ll look at his finger and remember he’s an idiot and go to a bookstore.
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