A Moment of Reassurance
It happened in the most unassuming of moments. I was putting lunch together for tomorrow. It’s not often that work and home collide in a scary and tense manner, but it certainly did now. In-between the spreading of peanut butter and the addition of grape jelly my kids were all gathered in the kitchen.
This comes after a day where I drove with a photographer to Marin County for a townhall meeting where at least one Congress person spoke for twenty minutes at a time without saying anything of significance. Between the exhaustion of two hours in a car there then three back . . . only to continue working in my real job – being a Dad – things grew more and more tiresome.
So when I was at work all day and part of the evening, the pre-made pasta and leftover spaghetti sauce being my children’s dinner this evening without their father, they all decided in this moment of flurried activity that they should – in unison – inform me of every single intricate detail of their day. This is usually something that happens the moment I walk in the door, but it’s not one that happened today. I cannot muster the energy to be excited by the fact that the PE lockers actually opened the way they’re supposed to and that the books they wanted in the library weren’t checked out by another student.
So into this exhaustion came the question I wasn’t expecting.
“Hey Dad,” my daughter exclaims . . .
“I’m not made of hay.”
“Oh geez . . . Okay . . . Dad?”
“My friend told me that ISIS beheaded a journalist in Iraq. Is that true?”
There it was. It wasn’t an innocent one, it was a fearful one.
“Yes,” was the only answer you can give. “It’s true, kiddo, they did.”
My daughter was horrified.
“Why?! I mean . . . why would they do that?”
“Lots of reasons. They want to be seen as powerful, as in-control, and as the ones in charge. They want to control the message. The journalists are under their control. It wasn’t until the last gulf war that journalists were attacked there and it’s because war correspondents have the drive to tell the right stories, the real stories. Not the controlled messages. So the ISIS people think they control the message and hope to scare the hell out of people, too. It’s why war correspondents are so important, too.”
My daughter and sons looked thoughtful.
“You didn’t want to do that, though, did you Dad?” came from one of my sons.
“Well…it’s journalism of a high order. You have to be wired to do it, I suppose. If I hadn’t been married or had you guys I might have. News is breaking over there and journalists more than anything want to expose what’s really happening. When the messages are covered up we want to uncover them.”
This didn’t reassure them.
“Richard Engle, who works for NBC, was kidnapped by rebels in Syria. He got out because another rebel group attacked the convoy and hit the truck he was tied up in and he ran away. The next morning, still beat up, dirty and exhausted he was on the Today Show telling not just the world but the rebel group who kidnapped him that the message was not theirs to control. That’s important.”
My daughter looked at the ground for a moment.
“I just remember you went to Israel after 9/11 . . . and you were in Afghanistan once.”
“Yes . . . and my trip was about terrorism in a region that deals with it almost daily. There was a cease-fire then, though, so I didn’t face any real danger. Even if it wasn’t I would have gone, though.”
“Then you went to Germany and Afghanistan.”
I messed up my daughter’s hair a little.
“Yes . . . and I was in Afghanistan for all of two hours. It was a mission to bring wounded soldiers home, not to hit the front lines.”
I took a deep breath and decided that I was going about this all wrong. It’s not about journalism for her, it’s about me.
“I would have gone years ago, kiddos. I was supposed to cover the second gulf war but the launch date came too close to you guys (my twin boys) being born. I had the shots, the gear, all of it ready and I told the managers I couldn’t and stayed home so I could see you on your first day in the world.”
This made my boys smile.
“I took more risks when your Mom was here and part of that was knowing if something happened, if I got hurt, you had her. You don’t any more and I know that. My days of even thinking about these things are long gone, guys. I wouldn’t do that to you.”
They looked happier at this notion.
“Beside, guys,” I told them, standing as falsely-straight and brave as I could look, “I’m not Richard Engle. That guy’s made of steel.”
My sons, grinning just a little, giggle as they say . . . “no, Dad, you really aren’t Richard Engle.” Unspoken, though, I could hear their little brains thinking it . . . no, you’re not a war correspondent . . . and we’re really happy about that.
I assure them that I was never, ever, as experienced at that kind of coverage. I also didn’t want them to think that I was the same kind of journalists as the likes of Engle or Amanpour or any of those brave people who do go into harm’s way. If my life had taken another direction 25 years ago I might have.
But today, tonight, and for the immediate future, the story is always going to be this: I’m your Dad. I won’t be first in line to head into harm’s way . . . not even if the reporter in me thinks I should. After all . . . I have enough adventure ahead of me just with the four of them.