An American Pastime

(This essay originally appeared in the Chicago Tribune soon after Bill Clinton’s affairs were revealed.  I hesitated reprinting this, because I am a Hillary supporter, and don’t want to pile on her in any way.  However…  It’s Bill that was at fault, as alluded to in this essay.)

Let’s say you are reading the newspaper one fine spring morning, when your eye falls upon a small news item from your community. Let’s say that the news item concerns someone we will call the Baseball Coach. The Baseball Coach has just been arrested for molesting a 12 year-old girl. He is in jail in lieu of a $100,000 bond.

Let’s say you know the Baseball Coach. You thought he was a nice guy – a paragon among baseball coaches. He coached your own son, who is sitting across from you at this moment, eating his breakfast and reading the Sports section. You have involuntarily gasped in disbelief and shock upon reading the news item, and your son wants to know what is the matter. What could be so terrible? Is it something President Clinton did again?

No, that’s not it, you say. You only have a moment to weigh things in your mind. Should you tell your son about the Baseball Coach, or just brush it aside? You know nothing could have happened to him… Not your child.

You decide to read your son the news item, because God knows the junior high will be buzzing with the news, and he may as well be armed with the facts. Besides, you know nothing happened to him…

Your son has the same reaction: shock and disbelief. Embarrassment also, although after all the Clinton stuff you have talked about almost nothing now seems really embarrassing or off limits for discussion.

You go about your normal morning activities. You can’t stop thinking about the Baseball Coach and how nice he seemed. You even once wrote a letter defending him when he got into a verbal altercation with a rival baseball coach. You trusted your child with him. You trusted that the Baseball Coach would not only teach your son the fundamentals of baseball, but also show by example how to be part of a team, how to handle winning and losing, how to use sports as a way to grow as a person. The Baseball Coach is a role model, whether he wants that role or not. Parents trust the Baseball Coach.

You think also about the many people who have been in your child’s life. Adults you have trusted. How difficult it was that first time leaving your child with a babysitter. The babysitter looked like a kindly grandmother, but what happened when you left the house? You see people on the news and on Oprah who videotape their babysitters and nannies doing terrible things to children, but you could never do that. A person has to have some trust. Or so you thought.

You think of the long line of babysitters, teachers, coaches, and even other parents who have been in your child’s life. You trusted that every one of them was a good person, a person who liked children. A person who would never knowingly harm a child. Your child. A child you love with dizzying fierceness.

You wonder if you have been vigilant enough. You wonder if you have protected your child. Have you been over protective, and warped your child’s innocent mind, made him fearful of new situations and new people? Or have you been too lax, have you let
your child go into situations he might not be able to handle, knowing that you can’t be there to protect him forever, and sensing his need for independence and growth?

All morning you run into other parents, and you all shake your heads and talk in hushed tones about how you thought the Baseball Coach was so nice. How could you all have misjudged him? You talk about how in cases like this there is rarely ever just one child. Once the one child comes forward, others always follow. You know this. You also know that this didn’t happen to your child.

You feel once again as though you dodged a bullet. Bad things happen, but only to other people. You have been too careful. You have not been careful enough. This couldn’t happen to your child. This did happen to someone’s child. This happened to all of us.

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