The racially-motivated mass shooting in El Paso made me question if our unstable country is a safe place to raise my three-year-old bi-racial son. And I can't be the only one.

By Christopher Dale
August 20, 2019
american flag bullet on top of flight map background
Photo illustration by Sarina Finkelstein; Getty Images (1); Adobe Stock (1)

This was not just another "not again." This was different.

That was my first reaction when I learned that a young white male, fresh from posting a paranoid, racist manifesto against Latinos, had shot and killed 22 innocent people in Texas on August 3, 2019. This was more than another gun massacre in a nation that, as of early August, had more mass shootings this year (255) than days.

Little more than 12 hours later, this carnage was capped with an ugly exclamation point when a gunman opened fire in Dayton, Ohio. The shooter's rapid-fire, high-capacity rifle allowed him to take nine lives in just 32 seconds, punctuating our problem with legal weapons of war unleashed on innocent civilians.

It says a lot about where we are as a country when an incident that claimed nine innocent souls only distracted us from a deeper societal issue. But that's exactly what Dayton did—it disrupted the shock of a mass murder hate crime based on racism with the unfortunately familiar debate over gun control.

But not for me—as a father of a bi-racial child, it made me ask myself one question for the first time: "Is this country a safe and stable enough place to raise my three-year-old son?"

It was the first time I seriously wondered whether it was time to permanently pack our bags and become a family of ex-pats, for my son's sake. Here's why.

Hatred and Firepower: A Lethal Combination

America has been flirting with a reckoning on gun violence for what seems like forever. El Paso and Dayton join Columbine, Sandy Hook, Charleston, and Mandalay Bay as places forever synonymous with gun death. The scourge has become so severe that, in the wake of El Paso and Dayton, two-thirds of those polled by Fox News—an entity not exactly known for pro-gun control views—favored a ban on assault-style weapons. Even larger majorities want expanded background checks (90%) and so-called "red flag" laws (81%) to help keep guns from potentially dangerous people.

Whether or not meaningful gun control legislation is finally passed this time around remains to be seen. But in a country with more guns than people, the question of whether this is too little too late surrounds the dialogue.

Regardless, with El Paso, gun control is a mere sideshow to the slaughter. What El Paso really showcased was another national emergency: hatred.

It is tempting to dismiss what happened in El Paso as run-of-the-mill racism—though racism certainly saturated the slayer's views, and the notion that white supremacists don't feel emboldened given our current political landscape is delusional at best, deeply dishonest at worst.

No, El Paso was the deadly result of something more. In recent years, America's penchant for violence has been poked and prodded by partisanship so divisive that half the country loathes the other half, and each side misunderstands the other. We are two peoples existing in separate, segregated media-siloed realities, with a heaping side of high-powered weaponry. That's a killer combination.

As an American, I am aggrieved and outraged. As a white male, I am ashamed. And as a parent, I am extremely worried that none of this shows signs of abating, or even being fixable.

It is not within my control to solve any of these problems. They are systemic and ingrained, and any progress made will require gradual, large-scale healing—a process likely leading to further tumult throughout my toddler's formative years.

What is in my control is my physical location. Whether I, as a parent, continue to choose to raise my son in a land ravaged with hatred and riddled with bullets.

But leave? Really?

Yes, really. Or at least, it's something worth considering—and modernity has made it possible.

This isn't 1990 anymore. In our cyber-connected world, with high-speed internet and high-definition videoconferencing, many of us—myself and my wife included—often work remotely with little or no disruption. The feasibility and acceptability of telecommuting have made location matter less to household economics. So unlike a few decades ago, many of us are unrestricted by geography. The question of "but what will you do for work?" has been rendered mostly moot by technology.

From there, the list of "why nots?" begin to pile up. I mean really, as a parent, what's making America such an obvious choice for raising my son other than it being our birthplace?

Am I staying for the lagging education system, where we rank 38th internationally in math and 24th in science, and where the cost of most colleges is akin to a mortgage?

Am I staying for the scourge of opioids that helped lead to 68,000 drug deaths in the United States last year—186 per day, the highest death rate of any wealthy nation?

Or maybe I'm staying here because the only way to ensure not being bankrupted by a serious illness is not to get sick?

Remind me why I live here again? Why I choose to raise my son in a country with crumbling infrastructure and a $22 trillion-and-growing national debt that will fall on his generation to repay?

These aren't partisan issues; they're American issues. And so is what has brought me to this point: guns and hatred.

So why haven’t I considered leaving earlier? Because I’ve made a happy home here with loving friends and family—and because, historically, this is an exceptional nation. Americans have invented everything from modern democracy to baseball to hip-hop. We’ve saved the world from Naziism, put a man on the moon, and led the charge to eradicate diseases.

But my son is coming of age in the America of today, not the America of glories past. And I am deeply skeptical of whether I can entrust my son’s youth and his safety to America as it now exists.

Will my son be deemed insufficiently white (his mother is of Chinese descent) by someone with an AK-47? Will he be seen as an invader in his own homeland? Will a child with the potential to be a doctor or an engineer instead become just another sob-worthy statistic?

And from there, a question once fantastical becomes increasingly logical:

Do I really want to stick around to find out?

Christopher Dale writes on parenting, societal, and sobriety issues. Among other outlets, his work has appeared in Daily Beast, NY Daily News, and Tribune News Syndicate, and he is a regular contributor to the sober-lifestyle website The Fix. Follow him on Twitter at @ChrisDaleWriter

Comments (1)

September 18, 2019
You can’t escape fate. Move wherever you like. Fate will always find you, for better or worse. Good luck finding your utopia.