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Parents' promise: I will keep you safe

By LZ Granderson, CNN Contributor
December 17, 2012 -- Updated 1211 GMT (2011 HKT)
Candles burn next to a lighted tree at a makeshift shrine in Newtown, Connecticut, commemorating the victims of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012. Candles burn next to a lighted tree at a makeshift shrine in Newtown, Connecticut, commemorating the victims of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012.
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • LZ Granderson: The promise a parent makes to a child is "I will keep you safe"
  • He says mass murders spread fear that parents can't protect their children
  • Granderson: Small towns, movie theaters, schools, malls have become vulnerable places

Editor's note: LZ Granderson, who writes a weekly column for CNN.com, was named journalist of the year by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association and is a 2011 Online Journalism Award finalist for commentary. He is a senior writer and columnist for ESPN the Magazine and ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter: @locs_n_laughs

Grand Rapids, Michigan (CNN) -- December 13, 1996.

My son, barely a few moments old, is crying. I walk toward the medical room bassinette where he is lying, smile, and then tell him not to worry... daddy's here. And then ever so gently I place his tiny hand inside mine and again tell him daddy's here... I will keep you safe.

He stops crying.

LZ Granderson
LZ Granderson

I start.

And thus began a parent and child relationship that is probably no different than the billions that came before that night and the billions in the 16 years after. Of all the natural instincts that enslave my body, the desire to love and protect my son is a master I have never rebelled against. And I am sure many of you can agree: Being a parent can be both a person's greatest joy and greatest sense of anxiety.

"I will keep you safe," is what we tell them.

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And then something like the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary happens, or the shooting at the mall in Oregon, or the movie theater in Aurora, and you are reminded of how increasingly difficult it is to do just that.

There have been 31 school shootings since Columbine in 1999, and sadly there is not a damn thing to suggest there won't be 31 more.

In my 20 years of journalism, I have had quite a few conversations with mourning mothers and fathers who have had to bury their children. Last year I interviewed a father who dropped his son off at football practice and never saw him alive again -- taken by an undiagnosed heart ailment. I cried for hours afterward. I'm sure that father still cries on occasion today.

But something different grips your soul when you know the cause of a child's premature death was not brought on by ill health or an accident, but rather an outbreak of senseless violence that took place somewhere we once viewed as safe -- like an elementary school. Or as we saw late this summer in Wisconsin, a place of worship.

We hurt and weep for the victims while fighting off a chilling fear that the same thing can happen to us. I can take my son to the doctor to have his heart checked out, but how do I or any of us drop our children off at school on Monday and not be worried?

'Newtown will prevail'
Candlelight vigil in Newtown
Newtown family reacts to massacre
Piers Morgan, guests debate gun control

Scared?

Some of us who choose to live in small cities or nice neighborhoods used to be able to cloak ourselves with the comfort of "it can't happen here." But in this new America, it can.

It has.

Newtown, Connecticut, is far from the mean streets of New York City.

There are fewer than 28,000 people there.

And it happened.

What are parents supposed to do? "I will keep you safe" is so much harder today, and at times I feel as if I'm running out of places to hide. Do I keep him away from the movie theater? The mall? School?

Tragedies like these usually reignite discussions surrounding gun laws, but those talks and possible changes do nothing to ease the fear millions of parents are dealing with right now. Guns are the symptoms, the true disease is a culture that embraces, glorifies, and monetizes violence.

In the summer of 2011, a man drove through the heart of my mid-size city's downtown and randomly sprayed the streets with bullets -- striking innocent bystanders before speeding down the street and eventually killing himself. What am I supposed to do, not let my son go to the library that's down there?

"I will keep you safe" is my promise to him, and there are days in which I feel as if this new America is determined to make keeping that promise as hard as possible.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of LZ Granderson.

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