I have been succumbed the past four days with an experience that really does not belong to me, yet I have gone through every emotion from anger to disgust to confusion to sympathy to empathy and back.
The top professional running back in the world, Adrian Peterson (AP), lost his son on Friday after what seems to be a violent act of intolerance. Please forgive me if my facts are not all together perfect. The point of today's editorial is not necessarily to analyze what happened or why it happened. My goal is to dissect the psychology of the reaction of this professional footballer to the unnecessary death of his son. I want to say upfront that I do not deem him guilty in any way of wrong-doing or not caring about his child. I will not begin to speculate on the situation or circumstances that led to this terrible tragedy.
For you parents reading, this will be a much more personal and real exercise than those without children, but I imagine everyone will quickly be able to relate to the points of emphasis.
Imagine that you got pregnant or got someone pregnant out of wedlock. Imagine that child was born, and you made the conscious decision to allow the other person in the relationship to raise that child without you while living hundreds of miles away. Whether you decided to make a personal investment into being a parent to that child or not, you were going to go weeks if not months without seeing or touching that child because of your job and location of that job. Either way, you made the CHOICE not to be present in that child's early development. Two years go by and the other person has at least one relationship with another person. That person begins having more contact and say in the development of your child than you. You are so far away and disconnected that you have no idea of the quality of life and love that your child is receiving. Maybe you send money. Maybe you Skype as often as possible. Maybe it is less or more, but in the end, you really have no say because of the choice you made.
And then it happens. You receive a phone call that your child is in intensive care in a hospital and the prospects of survival are slim. There are few details to follow your questions. You just know that there was an incident and your child was critically hurt. You hop on the next plane and go to be by your child's side.
This is where (as far as I can tell) the gaps in the story begin. We don't know what AP did when he got there. We don't know what he learned or didn't learn. All we know is that he was back at practice by the end of the day hundreds of miles from his child who was pronounced dead in the afternoon of the same day.
I try very hard to be a person of empathy; to see the world and the actions of the world through the eyes of people I cannot begin to understand. Sometimes I'm good at it. Sometimes I am awful at it, but I do try hard to breathe in the face of tragedy and think of others before I think of myself. Everyone was shaped differently in relation to their personal emotions, choices, and circumstances. Everyone deals with tragedy differently. Some blame God. Some blame themselves. Some point the finger at everyone else. Some get depressed. Some hide from the world. Some get angry and look for opportunities to let that anger out in any way possible. The spectrum of emotion and reaction is infinite. I know I have personally felt the spectrum of the above reactions.
How would you react to this devastating news? Would your reaction of your child's death be any different if he or she died in a car accident or was killed at the hands of his mother or father's live-in boyfriend/girlfriend? I am not naïve to think that the latter doesn't change everything for you. I know it would for me. In the end, though, the child is dead. It really doesn't matter how it happened. That little boy will never laugh or cry or learn that life doesn't have to be this cruel. The parents will never have an opportunity to hold and comfort that child and make that pain and fear go away. They will never again get the opportunity to be the parent that little boy deserved.
I have two small children, so bare with me. I have cried multiple times the last four days with the thought of this happening to one of mine. Tears are running down my face as I type. As sympathetic as I want to be, I still get extremely angry.
Why was this child left alone with someone who was capable of this act? Why didn't someone see this coming? How could anyone do this to something so small and sweet and helpless?
I have no relationship with Adrian Peterson or his family. I live 2000 miles away from where the tragedy took place, but today, I feel guilty. I have no reason to, but as a parent, I wonder if the average person like me is doing enough to keep this type of thing from happening. It's a strange reaction to have, but I can't help it. As adults, it is our job to protect those who cannot protect themselves. You don't have to be a policeman or a fireman or a tough guy. You just have to know better, and we live in a world where too many people have not been taught to know better.
This didn't happen because Adrian Peterson or this child's mother wasn't present. It didn't happen because family and friends didn't see the signs. This happened because the man responsible was not taught tolerance and love and empathy and humility. Again, I can only speculate, but four days after the fact, I can only blame the parents of the man that did this...and their parents...and their parents...and so on and so forth.
I feel terrible for the parents and family of this child. Not only did they lose a child, but they have to mourn their child in front of hundreds of cameras. They will be reminded of this on TV and the newspapers and the internet for weeks if not months to come. They will be reminded of their guilt and their choices. They will be reminded of the smile and laughter they will never see or hear again.
The Peterson family will never be the same. I hope we all take the time to reflect on what we can learn from this, so this never happens to someone we love.