Fatherhood and Plastic Pistols

For a while, Matt and Julie’s son Dylan had been asking his parents to buy him a toy gun so he could play Cops & Robbers in the backyard. But for a while, Matt and Julie disagreed about whether or not it was right for their little boy to have a gun, even if it was just a toy. This was the kind of thing I’ve seen happen in lots of young families. Dad had no problem with the idea of his son running around the house in a cowboy hat, a plastic Sheriff’s badge, and his underwear, shooting imaginary bad guys with imaginary bullets. Boys will be boys, after all.

But Mom had her concerns about that kind of scene. She didn’t want to risk that her son would grow up to become flippant about weapons and fighting or numb to violence. It’s a scary world, after all, and a parent can’t be too cautious. Dylan kept asking for that toy gun though, and pretending every toy he touched was a gun. For four years, his asking and his parents’ disagreeing went on, until it became clear that as a group they weren’t ever going to find a happy medium. Somebody would have to give in.

And for this family on this issue, the disagreement was resolved when Julie gave in. The kid got his gun, and he was happy as a lark about it. Although Julie felt she was making the best decision, her parental concerns didn’t magically disappear. How could they? How do you hand a little boy a plastic pistol and then try to teach him that hurting people isn’t really OK? How do you show him the fine line between rough-and-tumble and chilling aggression?

Still, if you’d ask me whether Dylan’s mom and dad made the right decision about that toy they bought their child, I’d tell you I think they did. And my response wouldn’t be a statement about gun control or violence or the right to bear arms or any of that. It would be a statement about fatherhood. In raising children to be good and decent people, there are thousands of choices that parents have to navigate: Will an allowance spoil them? Will that sport make him too competitive? Will this Barbie taint her perception of beauty?

With new questions to ask every hour, it can be easy for parents to get lost searching for little answers. In the process, we can lose sight of both the primary questions and their truest answers. Will a plastic pistol be the trigger for violence in Dylan’s life? It’s a valid question maybe, but it’s not the first one. The first question is this: Does Dylan know what a good man looks like? And because the answer to that question is “yes,” concerns about toy guns and other things quickly pale in comparison.

Dylan’s dad, Matt, once a child terror himself, is an outdoorsy guy, crazy about animals but loves to hunt and fish, as gentle and humble as a guy can get. He’s honest and caring, always trying to find ways to love his wife and kids better. That kind of example, more than any toy, is what molds a child. That’s what’s primary. And that’s why when Matt and Dylan play Cops & Robbers in the backyard it looks like one good man and the making of another one.