FourWritten by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief Emeritus | email@example.com
Twenty years ago, the young man I was might have looked at the middle-age man I am and shook his head in denial. I am closing in on 10 years of marriage to a patient and endlessly fascinating woman. We have two boys, Evan, who is now 4, and Sean, who is now 2. We recently installed a white picket fence around our suburban home. For the boys’ mid-June birthdays, we gave them a puppy.
So, to recap:
House in suburbs, check.
White picket fence, check.
I am what I swore I would never be: an American cliché.
Twenty years ago, I would have thought this status unattainable. Partially because I envisioned a starving artist existence of global exploration and a legacy of tortured genius writing, broken hearts and an early-30s demise, possibly at the hands of government assassins, more likely in a mundane auto crash on a coastal highway. Mainly because I could not envision a scenario in which I would deserve such blessings of normalcy.
From where I stand today, as husband, father and gratefully employed editor, I look at who I was then and vigorously shake my head in denial. My younger self was about the excitement of the carnal chase, emotional chaos and writing as primal scream therapy.
Now, I’m a daddy.
The epiphany is that the security, stability, love and relative calm of now is worth a million lifetimes more than one minute of then.
Every day, I am more invested in my love for Evan and Sean. I soar when they fly and I crash when they stumble. Every new word they learn, I relish as if hearing it for the first time. As the love grows, so does the investment in our responsibility for keeping Evan and Sean safe. The inspiration for the fence was to give the boys a defined boundary in which to run and play without having to worry about them dashing into danger. I think about the fence a lot when I am making decisions about risk and allowing the boys to explore and assume the consequences of exploration.
I believe we have set a healthy atmosphere for Evan and Sean to make mistakes and learn when it comes to matters of pushing their limits. Climbing higher stairs, running faster, testing social boundaries and acceptable behavior standards are situations in which the metaphorical fence keeps them in.
But there are situations that require parents to bolster that fence to keep threats out.
On the eve of the party celebrating Evan and Sean’s birthdays, our neighborhood learned that a convicted pedophile has been seen acting suspiciously around a group of our neighbors’ children.
According to the official Michigan Public Sex Offender Registry, there are 27 known registered sex offenders in Tecumseh. Two of them have multiple convictions for criminal sexual conduct with incapacitated victims.
Marvin Lee Ruppert, according to the state registry, has been convicted of criminal sexual conduct in the second degree with a person under 13 and possession of child sexually abusive material. He was reportedly seen on our street within the past few days, “acting suspiciously” around a group of girls all under 9 years old. Police have been notified and fliers with Ruppert’s picture and sex offender history have been distributed.
On our street, there are six consecutive houses with children ranging from 2 to 13 years old. Since news of Ruppert’s alleged behavior has surfaced, the kids on our street are no longer playing in front yards, bicycling, pulling each other in wagons or walking dogs along the sidewalk. All the kids are now in backyards, sealed within fences, under watchful eyes. The moms in the neighborhood are anxious and watchful. There is a low hum of protective energy running through the men on our street; every one of us has talked and agreed to be on guard.
I have never met or even seen Ruppert; I do not care if I ever do. But I hate the threat he represents. I hate the shadow of evil and malevolence his actions epitomize. I hate that I no longer see our neighbors’ kids playing on front porches or chalk drawing on sidewalks. I hate that my sons are no longer out there, either. I hate that along with all the controllable and uncontrollable things I worry about as a father, I now have to worry about my neighborhood like a lifeguard has to worry about a section of ocean invaded by a dead-eyed shark with nothing but pain and shredded flesh on its mind. I hate the sudden, unwelcome awareness I now have of the other 26 sex offenders who live in our city. I hate knowing there are more, unregistered offenders in our area who have yet to be discovered. I hate that anyone might see our two beautiful and loving boys and divorce them from their humanity in favor of viewing them as targets for perversions beyond the imagination of good men.
I hate that I hate.
There is a gate in our fence, designed to one day swing open and allow our boys to leave us behind, to venture out into the world with the best coping and thinking tools we can provide. I cannot control the evil that lies beyond that fence, and I hate that fact most of all.
Michael S. Miller is editor in chief of Toledo Free Press and Toledo Free Press Star. Call him at (419) 241-1700 ext. 223 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tags: Lighting The Fuse