A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Richard Nelson: Kids need parents involved in lives; fathers play key role in preventing mass violence

Gabe Parker was described as cold, callous and “shockingly calm” in an interview with Kentucky State Police. The 16-year old is being tried as an adult for killing two of his fellow students and severely wounding 14 others at Marshall County High School earlier this year. The calm demeanor was called “bizarre” by one KSP trooper. And Marshall County Sheriff’s Detective Captain Matt Hilbrecht said in his 18 years of police work “It was like nothing I’ve ever seen.”

The red-headed kid with glasses looked boyish and harmless in the photo of him sitting next to his attorney at his court hearing but his merciless actions betray something that went terribly wrong in his soul. Parker told Hilbrecht that he was an atheist and that his life had no purpose. The shooting was intended to be some kind of experiment and that he wanted to “break the monotony” and see how people would respond to it. 

How else could one respond except with shock and grief? What happened to Parker’s moral compass? Capacity for empathy toward his peers? Sense of responsibility to the well-being of others?

After the deadlier Parkland, FL school shooting, there have been strident calls for more gun restrictions. Oregon banned convicted domestic abusers from owning guns and Florida is imposing a three-day waiting period and restricting gun sales for people under 21. But that wouldn’t have stopped Parker who stole the 9mm Ruger handgun from his stepfather’s bedroom. Federal law already bans anyone under 21 from purchasing and possessing handguns.

Gabe Parker, Instagram pix

Gun control measures might make gun access more difficult. Some even propose to ban all guns, but can any legislation disarm the hate and indifference that lives deep within and leads to mass violence? Political solutions might make people feel safer, but at best they provide a false sense of security so long as the root cause of alienation and anger isn’t addressed.

Kids need their parents to be involved in their lives. Too often we are guilty of distracted living. Social media and smartphones constantly beckon us but aren’t your children more important than your smartphone and how many “likes” your recent Facebook post garnered? Your children need your attention.

Consider that 50 percent of kids today will experience living with a single parent at some time in their life before age 18. The tearing apart of a family, tears apart a child’s heart. 

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “Fatherless children are at a dramatically greater risk of drug and alcohol abuse.” Fatherless children are more prone to violence and more than twice as likely to commit suicide. They are also more likely to drop out of school. If you’re in a struggling marriage, get help. Do your best to work through your issues.

Consider that young boys need dads. The majority of mass shootings are perpetrated by young males without a father in their lives. Author Warren Farrell wrote in USA TODAY “Without dads as role models, boys’ testosterone is not well channeled. The boy experiences a sense of purposelessness, a lack of boundary enforcement, rudderlessness, and often withdraws into video games and video porn. At worst, when boys’ testosterone is not well-channeled by an involved dad, boys become among the world’s most destructive forces. When boys’ testosterone is well channeled by an involved dad, boys become among the world’s most constructive forces.” 

Dads, won’t you do everything within your power to make your son a priority and be there for him? Won’t you mentor him, pour your love and wisdom into his life? Sons need their dads. And if we’re to become a safer society, we all need dads to invest in their son’s lives because it may be the best measure to safeguard all of us against future acts of mass violence.

Richard Nelson is the executive director of the Commonwealth Policy Center, a Kentucky-based nonpartisan, public policy organization. He resides in Cadiz with his wife and children.

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