My teenage son was called a “goddamn Jew” yesterday. The words were just words to the utterer; likely just one of many curses they swore with on a daily basis. But they were more than words to my son, who had never been on the receiving end of hate before.
So much of parenting is about protecting our kids. Car seats and swimmies, bike helmets and plug protectors. But we can’t protect them forever. We all know that, and I know that. Instead, I have to trust that he’ll carry his Epipen and ask the waiter whether the food he orders contains tree nuts. And I have to hope that his father and I gave him the tools to handle the world, both as it is and as it’s becoming, without it turning him into something other than the compassionate, funny, caring and empathetic young man he is.
The culprit was a friend of a friend, and the swear came through his Playstation headset. The kid had no idea my son was Jewish, until my son reacted. Then, the kid didn’t stop and apologize. Instead, realizing the barb had hit home, he used it again. At that, my son first fired back and then, realizing it wasn’t an argument worth having or a person worth having it with, booted his friend and his friend’s friend, out of his game.
Then he came to me in tears. Anger, frustration, sadness, and pain were all evident on his face, as he explained to me what happened. Above all else, he couldn’t fathom how anybody would use those two words as an epithet.
We talk about current events and the issues of the day with both of our kids. My son is not unaware of the racism, misogyny, and xenophobia going on all around us. It had just never been directed at him, personally.
I understand that many parents face far worse fears than mine, as they send their kids out in the world with differences that aren’t hidden: skin color, religious headwear, physical disabilities. And I suppose I should be happy that my son was able to go nearly 15 years without being singled out. But I’m not.
Instead, I’m sad for my son. I’m frustrated with the world. And, yes, I’m astounded that people are still teaching their kids this shit.
Look, I understand that the world often forces us to develop a thicker skin. Things happen, people hurt us both intentionally and unintentionally, life isn’t always happy. But I don’t want his skin so thick that he can’t experience the good things, too. And I don’t want it so thick that his character can’t shine through.