Upon seeing the photos of Alan Kurdi laying face down in the sand on a beach in Turkey, my heart broke in a way it never had before. I'm a new father of a perfectly innocent little miracle named Capri. Her coos and high pitch squeals of joy light up my life each day. No amount of sleep deprivation could blunt the overwhelming love I have for her.
When I first saw that heart-wrenching photo, I imagined Capri, my beautiful little angel, lying alone, cold and lifeless on that beach instead. I imagined the kind of desperation I would have had to have faced in order to risk my family's lives on that overloaded boat as it attempted to cross the Mediterranean. I could vividly picture those fateful minutes as the boat capsized and I struggled in vein to save Capri and watched as the waves overcame her; each desperate gasp driving salt water harder and deeper into her lungs, squeezing the precious life out of her.
So, the day I saw Alan Kurdi's photo I cried for the first time in a long time. And it was the first time I had cried over something I had only read about in the news.
That day I followed all the commentary on Facebook in my newsfeed. People were outraged and wondered aloud how this could have happened. But it struck me that we all have a part in allowing this to happen. After all, aren't we part of a largely complacent Western civilization that sits idly by as atrocities occur daily all over the world?
For most of my life, I've been guilty of the same thing. Sitting idly by. It struck me that day that if an event that brought me to tears wasn't going to kick my butt out of complacency, then when would I ever stand up for anything?
Fortunately, my family and my business partners saw eye to eye with me and agreed to sponsor a refugee family. We announced the sponsorship to our family and friends and asked for whatever support (financial, clothes, food, furniture, their time, etc.) they could provide.
Our initial Facebook post announcing the sponsorship and requesting support fell flat. We received just six likes, a couple of shares and a few comments. Our second post a couple of weeks later received just one like: from my wife. The overwhelming response was none at all. Complete indifference.
To give some perspective, when I post a picture on Facebook of Capri, that picture might get anywhere from 100 to 200 likes and many comments. Two separate posts asking for support for our Syrian refugee family received a total of seven likes.
It's nearing the time now when we're due to send out another call for support. But this past weekend following my newsfeed I have noticed a decided shift in sentiment. The Paris attacks and the news that one of the attackers had entered Europe as a refugee seems to have polarized people. Those who were indifferent before the Paris attacks are now outspoken critics of Prime Minister Trudeau's commitment to accept 25,000 refugees and bring our CF-18's home. Some of the comments I have seen are downright vitriolic.
It has been suggested to me by a number of people that we re-consider reminding people at this time that we're sponsoring a refugee family. It might be bad for business and could alienate more than a few friends. I find it incredibly sad that the current state of affairs is such that I have even faint concerns about a backlash for my desire to help those in need. I certainly won't let it deter me. But it's sad nonetheless.
A calmer dissenting voice might ask why I would risk the security of my daughter -- who I say I would do anything to protect -- to help someone who could be a terrorist. If there's even a small risk of letting in terrorists who might hurt my daughter, why take that risk?
I'd answer that in two parts.
First, that risk has been dramatically overblown. A report in the Economist recently quoted Kathleen Newland at the Migration Policy Institute -- a U.S. think tank -- as saying:
"Refugee resettlement is the least likely route for potential terrorists ... of the 745,000 refugees resettled since September 11th, only two Iraqis in Kentucky have been arrested on terrorist charges, for aiding al-Qaeda in Iraq."
Sure, there's a small risk of letting terrorists in, but there's a risk you'll get hit by car if you cross the street.
Canada has a long history of accepting immigrants. Those immigrants have helped build Canada into the great country it has become. Who among us didn't have parents or grandparents who arrived in Canada looking for a better life? Why would we abandon the approach that has made us so great?
More importantly, I'd say this:
The very thing we admonish ISIS for is their callous disregard for human life. Closing our borders to people who desperately need our help makes us guilty of the same hate that Daesh (a.k.a. ISIS) spreads. I choose love instead of hate or fear. That's why I'm still sponsoring a refugee family.
For anyone wanting to make a donation to support our Syrian family: we are sponsoring a family of four (which includes two boys ages five and nine). The father and the five-year-old have a serious medical condition and are right now living in a refugee camp in Lebanon.
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