When I first brought my son Ty into the world, I had no idea what lay in store for him. He just looked up at me from his mother's arms, his eyes filled with hope, and asked me through those eyes to help guide him into it. I certainly did my best; as Ty grew up, I spent as much time with him as I could, playing games, reading to him, helping him with his homework, and so on. I remember one day where he had a lot of trouble with a math problem that he'd gotten in algebra: he just could not figure out factorials. My big secret was that I never really got the hang of them, either; I tried for hours to help him out, but he could tell I was getting frustrated at myself. He told me, "It's okay, Daddy. You're learning right along with me."
That sentence is something that haunts me and thrills me to this day; seeing those eyes as he understood that I wasn't Superman, I was just Daddy - doing his best. Of course, we all know about his teenage years; around junior high, some of his friends decided to convince him to join a gang. I was working so much, I hardly ever got to ask him what he was doing with his friends; all I knew was that he seemed to be having fun. We grew apart; it was heartbreaking, but I just thought that's something that kids do when they become teens - they rebel. Little did I know that he was robbing grocery stores, doing drugs, running from the police. All of this happened right under my nose.
He was with several of his fellow gang members the night he was shot. They'd decided to rob a jewelry store; they all got in masks, grabbed guns, and waited until the store was near closing. When there was just the manager there, they struck; they had no idea that the manager himself had a gun for protection. He put a bullet in my son's chest, and his friends ran. Ty bled out right there in that jewelry store.
I have forgiven the manager in my heart; he thought his life was in danger. I have forgiven my son, because he did not know any better, and had found a place of belonging in a world that is not friendly to him. I have not, however, forgiven myself; it was my job to protect him, my job to keep him away from doing things like this. However, every time I start telling myself I'm worthless, or that I deserve to be punished, I think back to the most important words I've heard in my life: "It's okay, Daddy. You're learning right along with me."
I chose the eulogy because the issue of juvenile crime involves issues of mortality, crime, drama and sorrow; I thought the eulogy would be an interesting framing device to see the feelings of those who have to deal with the consequences of juvenile crime. I framed this piece as a father making peace with the choices and parenting strategies that led to his son's death, considering how he would feel in the wake of a son making these kinds of wrong decisions in his life. I chose to keep my eulogy fairly formal, but with a tinge of sadness to it. I wanted to frame the tragedy from the father's perspective toward his son, so that we saw how it affected him more than strictly learning about the deceased. I wrote this piece for those who might be getting into juvenile violent crime themselves, or parents who do not know what to do about their troublesome teen. I wanted to give them the message that things are going to be okay, there is no need to blame yourself, and that it is okay if you don't have the perfect solution to your child's delinquency problem. For this piece, I researched a lot about the juvenile justice system, and the reactions of parents of teens who get into crime; I also researched reasons teens get into crime to understand the underlying motivations (including the need to belong, economic and academic troubles, etc.)
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Jenson, J.M, Potter, C.C., and Howard, M.O. American juvenile justice: recent trends and issues in youth offspring. Social Policy and Administration 35(1): 48-68. 2001.
Siegel, L.J. and Walsh, B.C. Juvenile delinquency: theory, practice, and law. Cengage Learning. 2011.