All I knew about the Columbine tragedy came from the 2002 documentary Bowling for Columbine. Having raised and lived in countries where gun violence is extremely rare, I paid relatively little attention to ‘Columbine Tragedy’ when choosing this book. I approached A Mother’s Reckoning, a bestselling memoir of the mother of one of the shooters in the Columbine massacre, purely as a book about parenting.
When a horrifying massacre happens, my prayers go to the perpetrator’s family as much as to the victims’. No one would raise a kid to be a mass killer. How could they live the rest of their lives with such guilt?
I believe Sue Klebold was a good mother who truly loved her son Dylan. I believe Sue gave and taught her son everything to be a good person, but it was not enough to keep Dylan from killing others and himself.Why?
Sue’s story was a series of her failures to recognize Dylan’s secrets through his attempts to conceal them. My question was this: why did she fail to detect his secrets, despite all the signs he showed? He got into trouble at school multiple times and even committed a crime to be arrested by police. Throughout these events, Sue failed to identify and resolve the fundamental problem with Dylan that led him to the massacre. I don’t hold her accountable for the tragedy, but my final impression of Sue was an ineffective disciplinarian who didn’t have the power to prevent any further delinquencies of her child. Simply put, she was clearly NOT in power over her relationship with her son. Dylan was in control of the relationships with his parents and that was, in my view, what enabled his deviance. Despite Sue’s best efforts as a good parent, Dylan was free from any authority that could have imposed a clear moral direction on him. She clearly didn’t have any power over Dylan’s thoughts and behaviour.
The below scene best illustrates the abnormal power structure of the relationship between Dylan and Sue:
… I tried to get him to talk about himself, but Dylan answered my questions as briefly as possible, then asked me about my job and my life. He was so adept at listening that I did not see how skillfully he turned the focus of the conversation away from himself. Before our pancakes were cold, I was babbling about my artwork, my job, and my dreams for the future without recognizing how deftly he had shielded his inner life. (202)
Notice how easily Sue was manipulated by Dylan’s attempt to keep her away from his thoughts. Dylan was controlling the conversation, not Sue who should have been in command as the elder and lawgiver.
Maybe it was simply the matter of Dylan’s and Sue’s own personalities that determined the nature of their relationship. Maybe Sue was too benevolent by nature or Dylan was too self-reliant to be governed by anyone, including his parents. But I couldn’t help thinking that if Dylan had been put under a strong direction and guidance, or had a positive role model he could look up to, he wouldn’t have committed such a crime. Sue claims she gave the best moral lessons she could, but clearly they didn’t stick to Dylan’s mind. The scene following Dylan’s arrest illustrates how Sue’s moral lessons were just empty words to Dylan:
…Appealing to his empathy, I asked him how he’d feel if someone stole from him. “Dylan, if you follow no other rules in your life, at least follow the Ten Commandments: thou shalt not skill, thou shalt not steal.” I paused to consider which of the other commandments might have relevance, and then decided to stop haranguing him. “Those are rules to live by.”
He said, “I know that.”
We sat in silence for a little while. Then I said, “Dyl, you’re scaring me. How can I be sure you’ll never do such a thing again?” He said he didn’t know[.] (196)
In this particular scene after perhaps the most serious misconduct of her child before the massacre, Sue was not teaching or disciplining her child; She was practically begging. I don’t think Sue’s mere quoting of the Ten Commandments had any effect on Dylan. This scene is a clear illustration of Sue’s failure to discourage Dylan to participate in any future crimes. I think Sue’s biggest failure was letting Dylan have the power over their relationship that basically enabled him to ignore everything she had taught him.
I respected Sue’s honesty and courage, but concluded that her perspective is limited to fully comprehend Dylan’s true motives. Maybe Sue was the least capable person in the world of seeing him objectively; after all, he was her own child. She is still struggling to understand her child, and probably will be so for the rest of her life.
I’m not yet a parent yet, so I might be more capable of emphasizing with Dylan than Sue. Parents may give so much to their children, but the children may not benefit from them. I feel sorry for Dylan for not caring to be a proud son.
Having a child of my own is one of my dreams. A Mother’s Reckoning taught me that it takes a lot more than love and care to successfully raise a child.
Klebold, Sue. A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy. New York:Crown Publishers, 2016.