Nothing provokes thought more than a list of the names of dead schoolchildren, aged 6-7, particularly when one of your sons is 6.
You push aside the neat arguments set forth by interest groups. Your anger is all about guns, about media, about income equality. You begin by thinking, I'm a dad. What are the things I can control to make sure that my boy doesn't grow up to be a man, in fatigues, walking into a school with a gun? You hope that other parents think the same.
In past generations, the business of being a dad wasn't much easier, but it was certainly less complex. Dad was expected to be the primary income earner and to serve as mom's "nuclear option" on the discipline front. Mothers maintained the homestead, making sure the kids had manners and that they would never be accused of things like being raised in a barn.
Today the silent majority of dads are adjusting to a blended role: part breadwinner and part homemaker, IT support, repairers-of-all and doers of disgusting jobs. Most importantly, dads are now on the frontlines of discipline. We are no longer getting the call up in the box. We are on the field with Mom, calling the penalties.
The world outside our homes has also changed. Media is a much bigger part of our children's lives (just look at how many babies can work a touchscreen before they know how to use a fork). More than any other generation, they're exposed to a never-ending flow of information that is almost impossible to monitor. And they have greater access to TV shows, movies and video games than ever.
Welcome to modern fatherhood, where changing dirty diapers is the least of your concerns. You are up for a battle against media -- a Daddy David against a media Goliath that is not only funnier but a whole lot cooler.
This isn't an anti-gun control argument, or an argument that exclusively lays the blame for gun violence on media, but rather a reminder that good dads need to first take stock of the things that they control. Certainly you can make sure that assault rifles aren't in your house, though it's less easy to ensure that they aren't in the houses of your neighbors.
You can make sure that you control your child's exposure to violent movies or video games that glorify or desensitize violence. Because even if you aren't absolutely sure that violent media leads to violent acts, you've likely had that same needling feeling that I've had after my sons see something too violent for their ages.
Part of our reluctance to be a filter for our children is the fact that many of us are happy consumers of violent media. Perfectly functioning young fathers play Grand Theft Auto or Modern Warfare and are huge Tarantino fans, but we should remember that many of us lived at least part of our lives in a time when most media violence was more laughable than graphic, and video games consisted of making sure that Pac-Man was well fed rather than calling in air strikes. Our kids haven't had this life experience as a counterbalance to the media they consume. The world around us is the world they know.
Another source of reluctance is the new role of parent-as-friend rather than authority figure. We are willing to do everything necessary to be a good parent, so long as it doesn't make us uncool in our children's eyes. Managing our children's media consumption definitely falls in the category of uncool, so we cede a critical part of our parenting duties to commercial forces.
But when you look at a list of dead children your own child's age, being a cool dad is the least of your concerns. You've had your time as cool, and you'll trade coolness for a world at least as good -- or better than -- the one you were a child in. One where children can go to school without the fear of being harmed. This means actively monitoring, restricting or discussing the media your children consume.
No one said it would be easy. Welcome to filterhood.