Thursday 16 June 2011

Father's Day: the rehabilitation of a fallen man

My father was a terrific man and a wonderful father. He remained married to the same woman, my mother. He never cheated on his wife. He was never drunk. He didn't beat the kids or kick the dog. He faithfully went to work each day and came home to dinner with his family. In his off-hours and on weekends, he spent time at home with his wife and children. He came from "salt of the earth" parents who were hard working, rural folks and my father, as well as his two brothers, inherited a practical, nose to the grindstone philosophy about life.

I noted recently that my father and his two brothers, all born in the second and third decades of the 20th century, remained married, each for fifty years, never divorcing. Of the seven children born to these three men, all in the second half of the 20th century, each one has been divorced. Only two of the seven have remarried. I offer no commentary, no analysis, just an observation of the facts. I believe the changes we have all seen in society from the first half of the 20th century to the second half will give up any number of explanations about the divorce rate between these two generations of the family.

As of late I have read a number of blogs about divorce penned by women. - Do women tend to write about their experiences as opposed to men? - I suppose this is giving me a specific slant on the ending of a marriage which focuses on mom and the kids as opposed to "that bastard". I'm saying that tongue in cheek but some bloggers give me cause to speculate on whether or not the ex, any ex, will ever be rehabilitated.

A phrase which pops up occasionally is "Loser Dad". Whoever the man is, whatever his sins, his name is mud. He is persona non grata and if he is still in Dodge, he should get out of Dodge and never return. But how to deal with the devil incarnate when Father's Day is coming up? Make an offer to bury the hatchet... right in his head? Send a card? Carlton has a very nice "Happy Loser Dad's Day". FedEx a gift like a box containing a skittish tarantula? Now how about re-enacting the famous SNL bit "Dick In A Box"?

Okay, these ideas are supposed to be funny, but behind the humour, I couldn't help seeing some rancour. As a guy and a father, step-father to be precise, I wondered if "that bastard" would ever see his wanted poster retired from the post office; within his lifetime I mean.

The news has been filled with the most unbelievable stories as of late. Dominique Strauss-Kahn is charged with sexual assault. Arnold Schwarzenegger has fathered a love child. Anthony Weiner has tweeted nude pictures of himself. The list goes on and on. Each represents the most egregious behaviour on the part of a man which in turn has experts and pundits weighing in left, right, and center on just what the heck is wrong with men in general. Certainly my father would never have done or considered doing any of the above acts in a million years. I note though that each of the above men is a father, as with Dominique and Arnold, or soon going to be a father as with Anthony. Each is a fallen man; each is a fallen father. They are and will be condemned, ostracized, vilified, raked over the coals then taken out to be shot and pissed on. Will they ever hear between now and death their children say to them, "Dad, I love you" or their wives say, "I forgive you"? Will they ever be welcomed back into the fold in any sort of manner?

I realise that the above three examples represent, as I said, the most egregious of behaviours with no room for doubt. J'accuse? J'accuse, je condamne et j'exécute! While the death penalty may be sought, will the execution be stayed? - There is little doubt in my mind that Straus-Kahn is guilty and will end up serving time unless by some miraculous legal loophole uncovered by his high-priced and hopefully genius level group of lawyers he escapes back to France. - But what about the rest of the fallen men, the fallen fathers? Are all crimes equal? Is the very fact that one has "fallen" enough to be lumped together with everyone who has fallen? Is the fact that a person is behind bars mean they are now as guilty and as deserving of scorn, shame, and ridicule as, let's say, Charles Manson and Jeffrey Dahmer?

Is there anybody on the planet who doesn't hear the name Bill Clinton without wanting to yell, "Mo-ni-ca!" and do a fist pump? He's still married. He's still a father. He continues to give lectures and seems to be successful on the international stage. Has he been rehabilitated? If not in the public's eyes, in the eyes of his own family? It is said that one bad deed erases a thousand good deeds. Will anybody who tries to come back, who continues to follow the straight and narrow eventually earn their way back into heaven or are they like the Wandering Jew condemned to walk the Earth forever?

If marriage is the high; divorce is the low. For every action there is an opposite and equal reaction. All the love is replaced with hate. Okay, any other platitudes?

"To err is human, to forgive divine."
- Alexander Pope (English Poet, 1688-1744)

Alcoholics Anonymous prescribes a personal course of recovery based on 12 steps; however other groups whether dealing with an addiction or a different problem have found benefits in these guiding principles. One important aspect of this program involves making amends. You've done something wrong; you admit it and you apologise for it. Steps four through nine relate to this all important process of making amends for these errors.

4: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
5: Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
6: Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
7: Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
8: Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
9: Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

What about the other side of coin? What about the injured party? Al-Anon was created by Lois Wilson, the wife of Bill Wilson, one of the alcoholics who founded A. A. in 1939. She recognised that those living with an alcoholic had in some sense similar problems to the alcoholic. They too needed to strive for their own "spiritual growth" and as a consequence, Al-Anon follows the same steps as A.A.

Just how do you move on from a life-altering event? It seems like something relating to Zen Buddhism or one of those cryptic bizarre sayings coming out of the mouth of a bearded guy sitting cross legged on a hilltop. The sun is going to come up in the morning. There is absolutely nothing you can do about it. As soon as you accept this, the sooner you can move on to deal with things you can change. Yes, time to recite the serenity prayer.

Final Word
If I can paraphrase Charles Dickens: A Tale of Two Divorces: It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times. Nobody wins; everybody loses.

Who wants to be angry? I know that nobody is going to forget, but can anybody forgive? As corny as it sounds, I would like everybody to be happy. I hope they are successful and I wish that everyone finds their own personal peace in this sometimes turbulent world. Life is short. Life is precious. Let's not waste a moment of it as we are never going to get that moment back.

I have a feeling that whether bitch or bastard, every ex out there does not want to walk the Earth forever. To forgive is divine. The 3rd Sunday in June: Happy Loser Dad's Day.


Wikipedia: Father's Day
Father's Day is a celebration honoring fathers and celebrating fatherhood, paternal bonds, and the influence of fathers in society. It is celebrated on the third Sunday of June in many countries and on other days elsewhere.

Wikipedia: J'accuse
"J'accuse" (French "I accuse") was an open letter published on January 13, 1898, in the newspaper L'Aurore by the influential writer Émile Zola. In the letter, Zola addressed President of France Félix Faure, and accused the government of anti-Semitism and the unlawful jailing of Alfred Dreyfus, a French Army General Staff officer sentenced to penal servitude for life for espionage. Zola pointed out judicial errors and lack of serious evidence.

Wikipedia: Lewinsky scandal
Lewinsky alleged nine sexual encounters with Bill Clinton.

Wikipedia: The Wandering Jew
The Wandering Jew is a figure from medieval Christian folklore whose legend began to spread in Europe in the 13th century. The original legend concerns a Jew who taunted Jesus on the way to the Crucifixion and was then cursed to walk the earth until the Second Coming.

Wikipedia: Twelve-step program
A twelve-step program is a set of guiding principles outlining a course of action for recovery from addiction, compulsion, or other behavioral problems. Originally proposed by Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) as a method of recovery from alcoholism, the Twelve Steps were first published in the book, Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How More Than One Hundred Men Have Recovered From Alcoholism in 1939. The method was then adapted and became the foundation of other twelve-step programs.

Wikipedia: Al-Anon/Alateen
Al-Anon/Alateen, known as Al-Anon Family Groups, is an international "fellowship of relatives and friends of alcoholics who share their experience, strength, and hope in order to solve their common problems." They "help families of alcoholics by practicing the Twelve Steps, by welcoming and giving comfort to families of alcoholics, and by giving understanding and encouragement to the alcoholic." Al-Anon was formed in 1951 by Lois Wilson, wife of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) co-founder Bill Wilson. She recognized the need for such an organization as family members living with AA members began to identify their own pathologies associated with their family members' alcoholism.

Wikipedia: Dick in a Box
"Dick in a Box" is a song by American comedy troupe The Lonely Island featuring singer Justin Timberlake. The song and music video debuted on Saturday Night Live as an SNL Digital Short on December 16, 2006. The song regards two early 1990s R&B ballad singers (Andy Samberg and Timberlake) crooning a holiday song about making a gift to their girlfriends of their penises, which they have wrapped in boxes (strategically placed) and then topped with bows.

Wikipedia: A Tale of Two Cities
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only. - Opening paragraph

Uploaded by ragemonkeymedia on Sep 1, 2009
Nobody Wins: Divorce In Modern America
The Award Winning Documentary Film dealing with the Divorce Epidemic running rampant in America today. Gold Award winner of the 1999 Flagstaff Film Festival and 2000 Worldfest Houston. Narrated by Spencer Lighte.
[This is just an opening clip of the movie but it's enough to make the comparison between nuclear war and divorce: MAD = Mutually Assured Destruction. (I've never seen this film.)]

You can make peace with yourself but you can't always make peace with somebody else. You try to make amends to such people wherever possible, but sometimes it just isn't possible.

Wikipedia: The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson: guest host Joan Rivers
In September 1983, Joan Rivers was designated Carson's permanent guest host, a role she had been essentially filling for more than a year before then. In 1986, she abruptly left for her own show on the then new Fox Network. This move - and her failure to inform him personally - infuriated Carson so much that he banned Rivers from his show, canceling even the three weeks of guest hosting she was scheduled to do in the remainder of the 1985–86 television season. Rivers' new show was quickly canceled, and she never appeared on The Tonight Show with Carson again. She never appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno either, a ban instigated by Leno out of respect for Carson. After Carson's death, Rivers told CNN that Carson never forgave her for leaving, and never spoke to her again, even after she wrote him a note following the [June 1991] accidental death of Carson's son Ricky.

Johnny Carson never spoke to Joan Rivers again. Never. That silence endured from 1986 until his death in 2005, a period of 19 years. Sometimes it's over and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. Yes, somebody can actually be that angry.

Postscript #2 - June 19, 2011
Inadvertently, it seems my choice of Bill Wilson, one of the founders of A.A. was not the best. A reader, in a comment to this posting, points out that Mr. Wilson cheated on his wife Lois before and after getting sober. In fact, it seems that Mr. Wilson is the inventor of the "13th step", that is, introducing somebody to the 12 steps then having a sexual relationship with them. I did not know this and in consulting several references, I wonder now if my including the above information about A.A. serves the purpose of inspiring the reader or whether it will just anger them. One "biographer" wrote:

Ordinarily, I could hardly care less what a man does with his women friends, or whether he has a mistress as well as a wife. There are millions of men who are cheating on their wives, and I'm not going to say a thing about them. But when a group holds a man up as an example of how to live a spiritual life, and even claims that the man is some kind of a saint and a prophet, a man who wrote divinely-inspired books while being "guided by God", but who turns out to be a hypocritical thieving lying philanderer, then I think we can safely cancel his application for sainthood. And I believe that it casts a lot of doubts on his religious teachings.

I found those words both horrifying and depressing. As the commenter said, Bill may have dealt with his alcohol addiction but he did not deal with his sex addiction.

For this article, I chose "extreme examples" of fallen fathers with the idea of other fallen fathers being guilty of lesser crimes. If Bill Clinton can be rehabilitated, it would seem possible that all fallen fathers may one day be rehabilitated. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe like the Wandering Jew they deserve to walk the Earth forever. Today is Father's Day, Sunday, June 19, 2011. I have the whole day to myself to mull this over.


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Unknown said...

sigh ... i'm not feeling so great about father's day coming up. the guy didn't even give a card to us for our wedding ...

i dunno ... i will be giving a call even though i don't want to.

Anonymous said...

Interesting that you mentioned Lois Wilson...Bill beat alcohol but apparently never overcame his sex addiction. Poor Lois put up with a lot.