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Am I responsible if my kid murders someone?

James Holmes, the man who allegedly shot and murdered 12 people and injured another 58 in a Colorado movie theater last month has parents, and I wonder about them.

Were they permissive or abusive? Did they let young James play with toy guns and firecrackers, blowing up teddy bears and G.I. Joes? Were they loving and caring, reading to him every night and tucking him in with a hug and a kiss?

And does any of that really matter?

All parents have that fear that we are somehow responsible for our kids actions, and we are all frightened by the unknown psychic chemistry that makes a child, no matter what age, do something horrific and evil.

Or something that’s just not nice.

Years ago, when my daughter lied to her second grade teacher, I wondered about what I had done that would make her do this, and what I could do to make sure she wouldn’t do it — or something worse — next time?

Thankfully, most of my girls’ imperfections are insignificant in light of this catastrophe. If they’re slobs, or pick their noses or don’t write “thank you” notes, is it really so bad? But what if tomorrow, or next month, or even years from now, they inflict some travesty on another, what then? I’m sure I will wonder if could I have prevented it by making them fold their clothes, taking away their allowance, or spanking them.

I am a big believer in letting go and I want to send my children out into the world to make their own choices, but I’ll always believe that how I raised them will influence the decisions they make. If I’m not parenting them to make the right choices, why am I parenting them at all?

The moments of discipline and conflict still weigh on me even as my daughters quickly move toward adulthood.

Do I set a curfew? Should I negotiate with them? Will I ground them? The opportunities to teach are fewer, but the lessons and their consequences get heavier and heavier.

I feel for the Holmeses. They will never know if they could have stopped their son, but every day from now on they will wonder.

Being a parent is like that, and as my children get older there is more room for doubt and second guessing all the decisions I have made. It is only my daughters staying on a good path that protects me from the hell every murderer makes for his mother and father.

Read The Dad every other Thursday on BrooklynPaper.com.

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