Friday, June 20, 2008

The murderer-suicide in our midst

Are you a middle-aged man? Do you provide a good home for your family? Are you dedicated to your wife? Devoted to your kids? Do you work hard to maintain their lives? Do you like to think your life is pretty much under control? But is it still sometimes a bit of a struggle? That promotion not so easy to get? So you sometimes wonder if you can keep up? Have the stress and working so hard crimped your social life a bit?

If so, then you fit the profile for someone who could kill his family and then himself.

Yes, you.

You might be just like Brian Philcox.

At least, according to the Mirror and Professor Jack Levin, an expert on "family annihilators".

It's a bit of a double-bind, isn't it? And you can kind of see their point.

If you took such a basically ordinary man and subjected him to sustained, ongoing torment through the disruption of his life in every respect. If you took his family away, turned him out of his home, prevented him from seeing his children, spent his money; if you rendered him completely powerless to do anything about it. If you made him try to defend himself against society's disapprobation for failing as a father, or a husband, or a man while giving him no tools to do anything about it. If, in short, you tried to break him, he just might do something terminal.

You can see how that might happen. So can the vindictive ex's, the courts and their apologists, even if they won't admit it, which is partly why they pile on the blame as they strip a father of his rights, to make sure it is his fault, as opposed to the other way around. Slightly scared of the consequences of their own actions, they seek to divert attention to the most convenient target. The guilty are always the quickest to apportion blame. Fighting it makes it worse.

Most likely he'll be made to give up and become one of the 40% of separated fathers who lose all contact with his children within two years, and it'll be his fault for not fighting hard enough.

Somewhat less likely, but still alarmingly common, he might kill himself, which means he was weak anyway. It's tragic, but we can forget about him now.

Very, very rarely, he might kill his family and himself, then he is unspeakably evil, it's no-one's fault but his own and everyone falls over themselves to condemn him.

Through this unspoken, but obvious chain of connections, uncountably many good fathers are unjustly tarred with one horribly failed father's grotesque act. The very vagueness of the "profile" causes a tiny bit to stick to every father under the family court spotlight. Is it any less grotesque to connect these good fathers with that despicable act? No-one says it, but you can practically see them thinking it.

The first places the journalists go when such a thing happens are the fathers' rights organizations. If he was acting with nothing in common with other, unfairly rejected fathers, why would they do that?

Of course, there is no defending such a destructive act as murder-suicide. It is quite the most distressing and appalling thing I can imagine. And not least because it does so much harm to other fathers. One simply does not want to think about it.

But there must be more to it than that. In order to prevent it happening again, we have to ask some difficult questions.


Or, perhaps more usefully: what kind of man would do such a thing?

The fact that a supposed expert in the field can only describe an ordinary sort of chap in straitened circumstances tells us something important.

The vast majority of such ordinary chaps don't do any such thing. Hence, in truth, Prof. Levin is really saying: "I don't know" even while he apparently claims to. He's also saying "anyone could do it". In which case, unless we're to be completely paranoid, context is absolutely crucial. It is therefore not that the behavior necessarily has a specific root in the individual concerned, rather that environmental factors play a very strong role.

If you look at Prof. Levin's web site, you will find that he is actually an expert in violent hate crime. This would seem to suggest that he views murder-suicide as a hate crime. Now, that sounds reasonable, I suppose, but it leads to the assumption that the murderer's motives are simply hateful. In which case, I would have thought that the perpetrator's profile would include being known as a hateful, vengeful sort. But apparently not.

Of course, that doesn't stop the peanut gallery from running with it. Carol Sarler in The Daily Mail is positively horrified that anyone would DARE to suggest that someone besides the perpetrator himself might have had anything at all to do with it. He must necessarily have been acting in a complete vacuum, driven only by his own diabolical need for revenge. It is possible, of course, but Ms. Sarler demands that you not DARE have any other ideas.

She also thinks it's only fathers that do it. Oh, she knows mothers kill their kids, but they're just ill. They have undiagnosed problems, like post partum depression, or schizophrenia. Fathers who do so have no such excuses and are, well, inexcusable, and "just trying to prove a point". Somehow, a father who kills is in full possession of his faculties and acting out of sane, but evil, logic. Mothers, on the other hand, are understandably out of control, the poor things, and it wasn't their fault. Come again?

She cites John Hogan as an example - a man who survived his unpremeditated suicide but killed his son. This is a man whose two brothers had previously killed themselves and has himself been treated for clinical depression for most of his life. His wife shacked up with another man almost faster than you could snap your fingers and, since the attempted murder-suicide, he has tried to kill himself at least 4 times. I insist that I am not excusing him, but even so it would be a spectacularly blinkered observer who claimed there were no factors involved besides some evil need to revenge himself on his wife.

If you follow the link to read about John Hogan, you'll also find discussion of Linda Parmeter who killed her son Ryan. Not only was it carefully premeditated, she left some truly horrifying souvenirs for her husband to find. It would be another act of spectacularly willful blindness to say that she was not spiteful nor motivated by revenge. (Nevertheless, there are those who inexplicably leap to her defense.)

And yet, bizarrely, Carol Sarler claims: "Women, in short, love their children differently".

Trying to think like that gives me a headache.

Different forms of love generate different motives for child murder, and some are permissible, but some are not? Truly she confuses sickness and evil.

When things like this happen, I want people to think about it, to talk about it, to explore all of the possible factors. These include, whether you like it or not, the spouse, the courts, and all the people around them. It also includes how these people normally behave in the far more common cases where there is no catastrophic failure. Is there anything they do which encourages a borderline character to go over the edge? Or are they all saints? These people often behave according to false premises, their arrogant prejudices dictate some of the outcomes and they should have the humility to explore that and make some corrections.

Collective, unacknowledged guilt is the most powerful driver of denial and injustice that there is. Righteous indignation at a challenge to your prejudices will not prevent it happening again. It will make it all the more likely. It is the double outrage of monsters like Brian Philcox and harpies like Carol Sarler who prevent us from doing what is really in our children's best interests.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

If you hate your father…

…or if you're just mad at him because he left, consider this:

It is possible, but unlikely your father spawned you with the intent to make your life miserable. Few people are deliberately evil (although there are some). Mostly, people are just trying to do what seems best at the time. Including him. Including you. Unfortunately most people, including him, including you, are basically selfish. Most will cop out, most of the time. Few will put up a fight they know they are going to lose anyway. Few people can take much humiliation. Few will put effort into something for which they receive no reward. Fewer still will do something for which they are punished. Trying and failing to defend your rights in court feels like punishment. Trying and failing to protect your rights in everyday life feels like punishment. For the ignorant, it looks like that too. Mostly people try to avoid punishment.

The modern world has little respect for fatherhood. (By hating your father, you are participating in this.) It is acceptable to ridicule fatherhood and manhood in public. It's almost a sport. It's not even politically correct, it's so ingrained it's almost invisible. That doesn't mean you can't see it. You just don't see it that way. You just don't think it will happen to you. When it does happen, victims' reactions differ. Your father saw it and probably thought it couldn't happen to him. He wanted to be proud of himself, just like you do. Maybe he decided that he didn't care what the world thought and behaved according to stereotype anyway. Maybe he struggled to avoid the stereotypes and had them forced on him, anyway. After all, if enough mud is slung, some will stick. To everyone.

Few will object to the derision of an absent father within the earshot of his children. Many will listen avidly while a mother complains, enjoying the scandal. This is not the same as sympathy for her plight. They’ll egg her on. Many will listen agog while you describe your father's sins, enjoying the soap opera, helping you raise the suds. This is not the same as helping you deal with it. They are enjoying your pain.

The world will not reward your father for trying to stay in your life. (If your mom doesn't want him to try, or if she enjoys tormenting him, most likely the world will try to hurt him.) There is no reward for paying child support, there is only punishment for not paying it. Punishing someone for not doing something that is expensive or difficult will drive them to seek escape from both the punishment and the cost. (Listen, putz, I give you a choice between two things that are bad for you, which one do you want?) For this reason alone divorce law is idiotic. Did your mother thank your father for what he did pay or do? Your mother is unlikely to be objective, even if she's still married to him. Have you ever shown any real gratitude for what good he did do, or do you just complain about the bad you think he did?

If you hate your father, are you sure it's not because it's more fun to be that way? (Is that really such a perverse idea?) Or that it isn't what the people who are still in your life want? How convenient is it to hate him? How inconvenient would be not to? How much have you invested in that hate? How much do you enjoy it? (It can be so much fun picking at a wound.) How embarrassing would it be to stop?

Tormenting an animal will cause it to attack you. Feed a dog and he'll be your pal, stroke a cat and maybe she'll purr. Dogs that bite get kicked out. Cats that scratch don't get fed. People are animals. Including him, including you. You do the math.

(This post was inspired by the answers to the Fark question on Fathers' Day: "What would you say to your father today if you could?". Don't read them unless you want to learn about all the myriad ways that a child can hate his or her father. There seem to be rather fewer ways to love him.)

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Happy Fathers' Day

Oh boy, here we are again, Fathers' Day. Time to trot out the dad-hating axe-grinders. Last year at about this time, I found several articles having a go at fathers in general. This year, I haven't really looked all that hard, but Gill Hornby (guess the gender) really takes the cake. The Daily Telegraph, a major, right-leaning paper, publishes an appallingly vitriolic rant on the uselessness of fathers, in which Fathers' Day is argued to rank alongside Watergate for notoriety. Thanks Gill, I hope you get a lump of coal for Mothers' Day, assuming you've done the world the disfavor of reproducing.

Friday, June 06, 2008

A couple of comments

To one who asks if I don't think my experiences make me a better person: if they have, the price was too high.

To the custodial father who thinks it's OK that his ex wife has no custodial nor visitation rights, who thinks he feels my pain. You haven't a goddamned clue.