I don’t think I’ve ever actually read a Dear Abby column — it just never occurs to me to look for them. But some interesting responses in Massachusetts’ Eagle Tribune to a Dear Abby installment sent me to the website of the master advice-giver herself (Abigail Van Burne a.k.a Jeanne Phillips, who took the column over from her mother Pauline) to find the letter that sparked the debate.
The original letter to Abby was written by a “Concerned Grandpa” and said:
DEAR ABBY, My four-year-old grandson “Teddy” is the apple of my eye. I recently learned that my son-in-law has been taking Teddy hunting for deer and sees no harm in it. At his age, my grandson should be at a petting zoo admiring God’s creatures instead of viewing the killing of them….
At four, my grandson is too immature to understand the killing. I don’t believe that this exposure is good for his psychological development at his tender age. How do I approach my son-in-law about this, and at what age do you think it is appropriate to allow the boy to go hunting? — Concerned Grandpa in Greenville, S.C.
To which Abby replied:
_DEAR GRANDPA, It would be interesting to know how your daughter feels about her son going hunting with his dad. While I am not a fan of killing for sport, many people are avid hunters who consume the birds and animals they shoot.
While going on those expeditions at age four seems quite young, if your grandson isn’t traumatized by the sight of the blood-and-gutting and enjoys the “bonding sessions” with his dad, and his mother has no objection, then I guess he’s old enough to go along — providing he doesn’t get in the way and endanger himself.
_ To which numerous reader letters responded on the Eagle Tribune website, including one that said:
I was a preschool teacher for several years, and the children who were the biggest bullies and least socialized were always — and I mean ALWAYS — the ones graphically exposed to the killing of animals… The gentle, studious, most popular children never spoke of hunting, but the bullies would talk at length about killing, guns and blood. It affected their emotional stability and ideas about death….
Who knows to what extent the son-in-law actually involved the four-year-old in the sport. And who knows what would compel someone to think that Dear Abby was a resource for hunting-related advice in the first place (though, I will say, aside from the "killing for sport" comment, Abby gave a more even-handed response than I would have expected). It's actually the ex-teacher's claims that interest me the most. In addition to the dozens of counter-observations I could name, I just can't imagine that anyone with their eyes and ears open could assert such a black and white generalization. I guess some see what they want to see in order to justify their convictions. -K.H.