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As an American who immigrated to Canada partly to get away from the prevalence of gun violence in Los Angeles in the early 1990s, I won’t claim to understand Uncle Sam’s love affair with citizen gun ownership.
But given the gun-related events of late in our southern neighbour, I feel a need to share a story regarding my dear American father and his handgun.
My dad was from what is often called the Greatest Generation. He enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps, became a navigator-bombardier-gunner and flew 50 Second World War missions before his 21st birthday (press releases, not he, told me that he shot down a Nazi plane while his own aircraft was missing an engine over Holland). He met my mother in a Chicago bar, exchanged engagement rings that night, conceived my sister, came home from the war, then obtained his BA and MBA from the University of Michigan in a total of 3.5 years. All this before he turned 25!
Half a century later, he and my mother were 75 and living in Washington State. By then a dual citizen, I had earned a PhD in gerontology – so 75-year-olds were my sweet spot.
On one of my cross-border visits, I walked into my parents’ kitchen. On the counter sat a well-mixed Black Russian, a burning cigarette and a Viagra prescription.
It is important to know that my father had been diagnosed with macular degeneration and was a recovering alcoholic, and that they both had battled smoking addictions for decades. Now, apparently, someone’s libido was in need of a boost.
“Phew,” I said, “I was away only a few weeks. The commanding officer must have changed the rules on the base.”
They looked at me and, in stereo, said: “Shut the hell up. We are 75 now, and will do as we please.”
A few short hours later, my father and I volunteered to go to the local Chinese restaurant to pick up takeout. While waiting for the food, I sat at a bar and had an alcoholic beverage with my father for perhaps the first time in my life.
That “chat” was probably one of the most open and engaging conversations I’d ever had with him. In between war stories, Michigan stories and the tale of how my six-year-old cousin burned down my parents’ apartment in Chicago, he mentioned that his brother, the big-shot Chicago cop, had given him a handgun years ago.
I felt that last part deserved extra attention.
I said: “Dad, let’s get that gun out of the house: You have grandkids there; you haven’t fired a gun in almost 50 years; data shows that it’s more likely that handgun will end up being used against you or mom by an intruder than vice versa; and besides, you’re legally blind!”
He said: “Remember when we were robbed years ago? I can handle any situation that comes up [they were not home during that robbery]. And besides, I can’t find the gun.”
“You can’t find the gun? Dad, you have to find the gun! I will help you find it.”
“No you won’t. It’s my house, and my gun. Go worry about some other seniors.”
Not many weeks later, on my next visit home for a family gathering, at the first chance at being alone with my father I asked him about the missing gun.
“I found it,” he said. “Your mother had moved it to the garage. The strange thing is, it was cocked.”
At that point, my gerontologist bells were at smoke-alarm alert.
“Dad, did it ever occur to you that Mom is a bit depressed and that there may be a very sad explanation for why that gun was found in the garage, cocked?”
His reply to that was silence.
“Dad, where’s the gun? I am taking it away from this house.”
He calmly replied: “Never mind. I have put it in a safe place, one where your mother won’t find it.”
Rather than continue this no-win conversation, I let it go.
Later that afternoon, I took my siblings aside and told them they needed to keep our parents occupied for at least 20 minutes so I could do a thorough search for that stupid, most assuredly loaded, firearm. I was 90-per-cent sure it was in the bedroom.
It took me three minutes to locate it. I remember not knowing how to handle that loaded gun, so I stuffed it in my pocket. Next problem – how to dispose of a handgun that, even if my father’s cop brother had probably stolen it from a criminal in Chicago, my father might have legally registered in his name. Was I in the process of committing a felony?
Soon the solution came to me. A lifelong friend of mine owned a local gas station (and had once been a Hell’s Angel). Freddy would know what to do with that gun.
I took it to him (still loaded) and, as I’d hoped, he said: “No problem. I’ll put it in my safe, and the next time the sheriff comes through he’ll know what to do with it.”
“I don’t ever want to hear another word about that gun,” I said. “And of course, when you see my parents, not a peep.”
This story has an interesting ending: Neither my father nor I ever spoke of that gun again. He must have noticed it was no longer in the place he’d put it. Maybe I had successfully treated him for his Charlton Heston Disorder?
Regardless, my intervention upon my father’s Second Amendment right is one I have never regretted. My mother was grateful, too.
James Watzke Jr. lives in Toronto.