Fear in America

In this installment of “Love, Recorded,” Matt fears for his daughter’s future, in America and outside of America, in private and in public, and in the aftermath of the recent school shooting.


And then someone goes and shoots up an elementary school, and the details that come out are more and more horrific. Suddenly, trying to write about your own small fears seems misplaced. Public fear, collective fear, dominates the news. It dominates Twitter. It dominates parenting.

Cathreen is taking our daughter to Korea in the middle of January. This was our main fear, before. For a little while, our fear was: how will Grace do on the 12-hour flight? For a little while, we were allowed to worry about this, and not whether our child will survive her childhood.


I don’t know how to write about this. I don’t know how to talk about tragedy that seems more tragic than other tragedies, why that is, why that should or shouldn’t be. I don’t know how to talk about all of the ins and outs of murder, of mass murder. I don’t know how to write more than: I am scared.

The shootings happened not far from where I grew up. One of the people I went to high school with was a first responder in Newtown. You get to the scene and what do you do with all of those dead children?

I am afraid for us, if we are supposed to be interpreting these events.


Grace is 17-months-old, learning a new word each day, it seems. Part of the fun of this age is in seeing which word it will be. I am reading her a book, one she has read many times before, and she will point to the page and say, “Triangle.” My wife is in the kitchen, cooking something bland enough for Grace to eat with us. “Triangle,” I shout. “Did you know she could say ‘triangle’?”

Sometimes I am a step behind. I wonder when she will learn words like “murder,” like “gun,” like “fear.”


I come home one day and Cathreen tells me one of the teachers hid her kids in the cupboard and told the shooter her class was in the gym. The shooter killed her, but the kids lived. Cathreen spells out k-i-l-l so kill won’t be the word du jour. She tells me another teacher locked herself and her class in the bathroom. She whispered in her kids’ ears that everything would be okay, because she wanted that to be the last thing they heard.

I have been terrified that my daughter will forget me, over two and a half months in a foreign country. That has been my fear. Last week, I came home and told my wife that PSY was in trouble for some songs he had sung a long time ago, after an American tank ran over two Korean girls. To my daughter, PSY is a hero. “PSY” is one of her 30 words. She listens to PSY when she changes her diaper. He keeps her from running wild, naked.

I wrote 3000 words on PSY and Asian American masculinity, but now they seem trivial. This is something important to me. But if someone were to hold a gun to my head? I don’t think I would have written about PSY.

I still might have written about my daughter.


It bothers me that I should have to think about what I write in that way. But I understand how one event can make everything else feel less or more important. Which parent doesn’t?

When I get home today, we will drive to the airport to pick up my brother, who has been doing organic farming in Korea and is back for the holidays. Grace hasn’t seen her uncle in half a year. Or she has seen him, but only through the computer screen. Only in the way the world allows.

We will go to Connecticut for Christmas. We will go together. We will try not to be afraid, or we will try to keep our fears small. Our fears will be conquerable. We will try to have one good simple day. We will try to make each other happy. We will try to get our daughter to eat. We will talk about triangles and dogs and books. We will try to parent what we can parent, until we can’t. And then we will be there for her, anyway, we will be as close as we possibly can be, because we know what is around the corner, and also because we don’t.


photo Flickr/Kevin B 3

About Matthew Salesses

Matthew Salesses contributed to the very first day of The Good Men Project. He writes the "Love, Recorded" column about his wife, baby, and cats. He has written for The New York Times, NPR, the Center for Asian American Media, Salon, The Rumpus, and others. He is the author, most recently, of Different Racisms: On Stereotypes, the Individual, and Asian American masculinity. See more at his eponymous website. Contact him via email or @salesses.

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