Several years ago, we published a story about some bad parents.
After a long day, this mom and dad just wanted to have a few drinks and watch the big game.
So they decided to put their two small children to bed and go to a sports bar. Except they didn’t have a babysitter.
They had themselves a great evening, until the kids woke up and went outside, and the neighbors called the police.
It was one of our most popular stories ever, maybe even more than the police brief about the rancher who was eating at Hooter’s when a wise guy let his cattle out of the trailer and a bunch of Army Rangers rounded up the animals in the parking lot.
We know why that story was great.
But why did the bad parenting story resonate with so many readers?
Because it made a whole lot of parents feel pretty good about themselves, myself included.
No matter how many things I screwed up in the parenting department when my kids were little, at least I can pride myself on the fact that I never got arrested for drinking beer and eating wings while my toddlers wandered around in the yard in their footie pajamas.
I thought about this story on Sunday.
Early that morning, a 15-year-old boy was hit by a car and killed while lying in the road in the dark.
Questions still abound, and the death is under investigation, according to Columbus police.
When one of my three teen sons told me what had happened, I thought of the bad parent story: Two parents are given the age-old task of feeding, clothing and protecting their offspring. It’s not an easy task, of course, and it sure wears you out, but parents have no choice, and so they do it.
The overwhelming majority of parents worldwide somehow manage this task. However you want to chalk it up – to instinct, to love, to fear of embarrassment – most parents just get it done.
That’s why the bad parent story has always made me laugh. These parents felt what all parents feel – like they want to get out of the house and have some fun – except they actually did it and got arrested.
Fortunately, the children weren’t harmed, and so I don’t feel too bad laughing about it.
Of course, the story I heard from my son on Sunday wasn’t one bit funny – it was heart-breaking.
It also didn’t make me feel better about myself as a parent.
Instead, it scared the hell out of me.
If you have teenagers, especially teen boys, and you don’t think something like this could happen to them, you’re fooling yourself.
Everybody won’t agree with me on this.
But when your children are young, you take care of them and you keep them in your sight. You also train them for the day when you’re not around to show them the difference between right and wrong.
That day will come alarmingly fast. And then parenting gets really tough.
Despite your parenting skills, every child is different. And usually, they surprise you. The kid you think is smart does something stupid. The kid you think lacks judgment does something to make you proud.
The surprises can be good, and they can be bad. That’s why my heart races when the phone rings in the middle of the night. That’s why, when my children are away, they move in my mind like blips on an air-traffic controller’s screen, floating either closer to home or farther away.
It never ends, which you realize is a good thing. My heart goes out to the parents for whom it has ended.