A couple of weeks ago something horrible happened to my son and I still don’t know how I feel about it. It isn’t easy being a parent and sometimes the hardest thing to find is the courage needed, to let your children take risks. But I keep worrying that I might be wrong and my son could pay for my mistakes. I guess I should explain…
Two nights a week, after school, my son becomes an Army Cadet – because I encouraged him to join. He is almost 15 and I thought he should be doing more with his free time than playing Xbox, watching TV, or updating his Facebook. Joining Army Cadets gives young lads a chance to do some exciting and energetic things, whilst also teaching them discipline and making them iron their own trousers. Perfect.
So Brandon joined cadets, looked brilliant in his uniform, settled happily into the group and picked up loads of new skills (map work, first aid and shooting guns!). He also walked the 15 min route to cadets (and back) on his own, getting some fresh air and being independent. It all seemed to be working out well for him.
Then one night, when he was on his way there, somebody threatened to kill him.
Actually, it was two men, who looked as though they were in their 20s and looked Arab, Indian, or Pakistani (according to my son). They drove past Brandon, blowing the car horn and sticking their fingers up. He ignored them but then they stopped and waited for him to catch up. The driver wound down the window and said,
“If I see you walking around this area in that uniform again, I’ll f*cking kill you!”. Brandon just carried on walking and they drove off. He didn’t tell anyone about it, until he got home that night and told us. I was freaked out, to say the least.
The area we live in is home to a real mix of ethnicities and is at least one third Muslim. I suppose a young white male, in a British Army uniform, may be an unwelcome sight to some of the disaffected young men around here, who are not white and not happy with Britain’s current foreign policies. Or maybe the two guys in question were just bullies, who would have picked on any random stranger, without really having an idea why. I don’t know what faith (if any) they were brought up in, but I’m sure that local Muslims would be horrified if their sons behaved like these young men.
The thing is (having reported this to the authorities) we (myself and Brandon’s step-father) have now had to decide whether to let Brandon walk alone to cadets and whether he should wear his uniform on the way there. After talking to Brandon, and to the Army, we have decided that he can still walk there alone, that an officer who lives nearby might give him the odd lift home (he gets home by about 10pm), and that he should still wear his uniform but with a dark hoodie over the jacket and his beret in his bag.
The risks are all too obvious but I don’t want Brandon to live in fear because of bullies and I don’t want him to feel forced to back down, because of intimidation. Obviously, it isn’t a good idea for a guy his age to be tied to his Mummy and unable to go to cadets without her tagging along.
But it is very hard to let him go off to cadets, all the same. I hope we are right and he is OK…