After Visiting the Museum in Albany, I tried explaining 9/11 to My Son
*I originally wrote this article 4 years ago after my son Brody and I spent an afternoon inside the NYS Museum in Albany. He was only 4, but at the time, I thought he was old enough to begin the process of learning to understand what 9/11 means in this country.
I'm not sure if anything I specifically said to him back then still resonates, but I do know this: Brody has a deep appreciation for the work of men and women in law enforcement, our military, first responders, and health care workers.
And he still drapes Papa's American Flag proudly in his bedroom at my house.
Originally posted September 2019
I've taken my son Brody to the NYS Museum in Albany at least half a dozen times. Sometimes, I avoid the 9/11 exhibit or pass through it quickly because my son, who turned 4 in July, wants to see animals and funky minerals and dinosaur bones; the fun stuff.
He doesn't want to see his daddy tear up while gazing at the twisted metal and shrapnel that were once steel beams holding up the Twin Towers or the charred firetruck that New York's bravest raced in trying and save people inside Tower 1.
Recently, I walked through the transfixing 9/11 memorial exhibit, "The World Trade Center: Rescue, Recovery, Response" with my son and tried to explain to him what happened to this country 14 years before he was born.
As I'm sure you know, it's not easy.
Brody loves the American Flag
He points them out every time he sees one on someone's front porch or waving in front of a building. Over the years, he's come to somewhat understand the importance of the flag, respecting the one his Grammy and Papa gave him that hangs in his bedroom.
Brody's also been to enough baseball games and sporting events to know that during the National Anthem, we stand and face the flag, put our hand over our heart, remove our caps, and are respectfully silent. While the concept of freedom, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness - and everything else our Flag represents - doesn't quite resonate with him, he knows the American Flag is important.
While Brody and I walked through the NYS Museum, he sensed that I was somewhat somber while taking in the 9/11 exhibit. Trying my best to explain to him what we were looking at, I told him that "mean people flew airplanes into big tall strong buildings" and even showed him some of the images from newspapers.
Together, we looked at what was left of firetrucks and even saw a piece of an airplane mangled and unrecognizable. Sadly, I told him that many innocent people, as well as brave men and women, firefighters, police, EMTs, and kinds of people who protect us at their jobs, got really hurt that day.
He couldn't comprehend why or how something like that could happen. "Why did mean people fly airplanes into those tall buildings, Daddy?" Brody innocently asked.
I didn't know what to say
For a brief moment, I wondered if this was just too much for a little boy to experience and that I erred in my decision to show it to him. But I wanted to answer his question. The best I could come up with was, "Brody, mean people were trying to hurt us because they don't like us and they don't like our American flag".
Brody stared off into space while thinking about my answer and didn't say anything else. He was looking at the covers of daily newspapers dated 9.12.2001. His innocent and curious little boy eyes were fixated on the photos of the burning towers. I think he was out of questions, and I felt like I was out of answers.
I thought about all the people forced to call their loved ones to tell them they were on a hijacked plane. I thought about the people trapped in burning buildings and the sheer panic and fear they must have experienced. I thought about all the firefighters who braved scorching heat climbing upstairs to try and save people and despite the imminent danger they kept climbing, searching, and never thought about turning back.
I thought about the EMTs, police officers, nurses doctors, and good citizens who did anything they could to keep people calm, safe, and alive. I thought about the parents who lost their children that day and the children who would grow up parentless. It's just so damn much, all because a group of people "don't like our American Flag."
Fighting back some tears, and without words, I grabbed his little hand while we walked to another exhibit and enjoyed a few lighter moments together before we wrapped up our visit.
On the ride home, Brody was his usual chatty self.
"Daddy look!" he shouted as he pointed to Old Glory on the side of the road, "They didn't get that one!"
Looking back and smiling, but fighting an onslaught of tears, I gathered myself and said, "No, they didn't buddy...no they didn't".