My Son the Terrorist

I was getting ready to board a plane to take me from the dreary snow of late April in Michigan to sunny Florida. I serpentined my way through the line for the baggage check in. At the counter I began using a touch screen monitor to process boarding passes for my wife, myself and my three sons. I entered the information correctly, but the process seemed to simply stall. I chalked it up to a computer snafu and began all over again. Once again I reached a dead end without explanation.

Noticing my plight, the airline agent smiled at me with that smile. You know, that smile that says "Here stupid, let me do that for you, before the 87 people in line behind you have you for lunch." I watched as she entered the exact same information I had entered twice previously. It did not respond for her either. She walked back behind the counter where she and another employee examined another computer screen and exchanged words.

Approaching me, the agent asked if I had a son named John. I replied affirmatively. She asked for his birth date which I quickly provided. She asked what city he was born in. Again I was prompt with my answer. The smile on her face disappeared as she informed me that my seven-year-old son was on the government's no-fly list.

Hey, I know he had a couple of time outs in kindergarten, but the no-fly list? There I stood, in painful recognition of the fact that despite the best efforts of my wife and myself we had raised a terrorist right under our noses.

Rolling her eyes, the perplexed agent confided that she had previously had a two-year-old show up on the list. Yes, kids are truly getting worse at much younger ages. Despite his confirmation as a terrorist suspect and a threat to national security, my son was given a boarding pass, a pair of plastic wings, three airplane collecting cards and sent along with us to board the plane. Hey, what about my safety not to mention the safety of the nation? How could they force a plane full of unsuspecting adults to fly in the company of a known terrorist? Discreetly, the embarrassed agent advised me to check in with an agent upon my return flight rather than experiencing the futility of another e-check in.

Somehow the flight made its uneventful way to Florida with my son aboard. I must admit I was watching him much closer thanks to the government's tip. In five days of sunshine, shell collecting and swimming, I somehow managed to be lulled into a false sense of security about my son. At one point he asked me, "Daddy, what does no-fly mean?" (Oh yeah, play innocent with me!)

On our return, I went to the agent at the counter and explained the situation. He appeared not the least bit interested and sent us on our way through the usual myriad of airport screening and on to our gate. As my son boarded the plane, I felt the urge to blurt out his status as a terrorist to permit others to save themselves. The next thing I knew, the pilots had invited my son into the cockpit for a nickel tour. He looked around with the wonderment of a child. (Oh sure. Like you haven't already practiced hours on a simulator!)

I guess it wasn't in the works that day. Perhaps my son had not been given his secret command to attack. He chewed bubble gum, drew pictures in his journal and looked endlessly out the window. The perfect operative! Who would even suspect him?

Maybe Tom Ridge, George Tenet or the thousands of federal agents in scores of federal agencies know more than I about my son's secret life at age seven. I feel so much safer now. Don't you?

May 4, 2005