Cary Gruber was my competition, but I never told him so.
When vying for coolest-dad-in-the-world status with 8- and 9-year-old girls, it’s best not to let the other guy know you’re trying. My ace-in-the-hole at “sleepovers” were pink-frosted Dunkin’ Donuts and (virtually) no bedtime. Gruber didn’t mess around: “Happy Girl Sleepover!” cakes from Carvel. It was almost unfair.
So when Gruber’s face popped up on national television this week, it was a big deal to us — “Mr. Gruber’s on TV!” The Gruber family had moved to Florida a couple of years back, and our daughters rarely get to see each other anymore, other than on FaceTime.
Turned out Gruber’s appearance was a big deal to lots of people. He and his son were among those gathered at the White House to meet President Donald Trump after the student massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. By the grace of God, the Grubers’ son Justin, 15, survived the shooting by finding shelter in a closet. So, mercifully, had their daughter Samantha — the nicest girl anyone could imagine. She listened to the pop-pop-pop of rifle shots in her brother’s school building from the neighboring middle school, she recounted to my daughter later that day.
Weren’t we just laying blankets over them and flipping off the TV? Weren’t they just talking about sleeping bags, princess movies and homemade slime? Seems like five minutes ago.
I don’t know how the parents of Marjory Stoneman Douglas have found the strength to speak out so eloquently in the days immediately following the massacre, but they have. Parents like Andrew Pollack, who lost a 17-year-old daughter; Fred Guttenberg, who lost a 14-year-old daughter; and Lori Alhadeff, who lost a 15-year-old daughter. All I know is that we need to listen to them because they and their children know what they’re talking about in a way the rest of don’t, and I pray never will. The Marjory Stoneman Douglas students, like combat veterans, have seen something that has changed them. They need to be heard.
Some people don’t like what they’re saying. They should keep quiet and listen, if only out of respect. School shooting survivors have more than earned the right to speak uninterrupted, and there are a growing number of them — from Thurston High in Oregon, Columbine, Sandy Hook, Red Lake, Virginia Tech, West Nickel Mines and a dozen other massacre scenes that went from quiet obscurity to national infamy at the squeeze of a trigger.
But that’s not what’s happening. Marjory Stoneman Douglas students are being shamefully attacked by some right-wing media outlets, I’m embarrassed to say, and falsely portrayed as scripted political agents for anti-gun groups. George Soros’ name has somehow been tossed into the mix.
It’s nonsense. What we are seeing are the honest reactions of everyday Americans thrust into the school shootings debate through the barrel of an AR-15. Does anyone really think they need to be scripted? Would you need a script?
Make sure to take a listen to what Cary Gruber has to say if you get a chance. He’s the coolest dad in the world.
William F. B. O’Reilly is a consultant to Republicans.