Silent Sons

by Jessica Bram
December 7, 2007

Jessica Bram
Jessica Bram

First there was this spring’s horrific rampage – a disaffected Virginia Tech student who was somehow able to legally purchase two handguns in gun shops, ammunition on eBay, and methodically murder 32 students and professors. And now this: another unhappy young man, this one just 19, opening fire in an Omaha shopping mall filled with holiday shoppers, killing eight and wounding five. Apparently depressed from being fired from his job at McDonald’s and a breakup with his girlfriend, he was reported to have written in a suicide note he would “go out in style”. Presumable he intended to find some relief by emulating Die-Hard-like movie action heroes with a loaded rifle – and the satisfaction of having his name in the news for a day or so, along with a list of the dead.

As I did after Columbine, and then again this spring, I find myself thinking about those silent young boys – the Cho Seung-Huis and Eric Harris’s and Dylan Klebolds, and a now this new boy in Omaha. I keep wondering how these boys could for so long have harbored such rage, and what could only be severe mental illness, and kept it a secret? As a mother, I ask: what about their parents? Didn’t they have a clue, not even a hint, that the boys they had nurtured as toddlers, who had slept in their homes for most of their lives, taken showers down the hall, grabbed milk from the refrigerator – that these boys had the capacity, and most of all, the will, to commit these acts? Or are we seeing, again and again, some highly deranged hero worship of our culture’s new style of cowboy, shoot-'em-up, action figures with automatic weapons and endless rounds of ammunition?

One thing I do know about sons, from raising three of my own. Boys, especially teenagers, are intensely private. Outgoing or shy, introverted or life-of-the-party, what they choose to share with their mother is on a strictly need-to-know basis. When my oldest son had his first high school girlfriend, I learned of it from the woman across the street with a daughter in David’s class. I learned that my ninth-grader Alex had officially joined the school newspaper when I read his name on the masthead.

It’s not easy, but I have disciplined myself to put aside my curiosity and respect my sons’ privacy. I sense that it’s something that boys simply need in order to become men. But it makes parenting teenage boys kind of like driving in the dark without headlights. On instinct most of the time, I can only sense that I’m heading in the right direction, and pray never to go too far off-road. Meantime, I hug my boys frequently whether they like it or not, and let them know I’m interested in their lives whether or not they choose to inform me.

Despite the endless analyses of these events which appear in the press and elsewhere, I know that we will never fully unravel those mysteries to which our teenage sons fiercely cling. But I also know that as long as any unhappy young man can walk into a gun shop and emerge with a handgun and box of ammunition, I, for one, will never feel safe.

I’m Jessica Bram.