It was inevitable that the mourning of Friday’s massacre in Connecticut would be accompanied by a discussion of the ills of American society. It was to be expected, as well, that the horror of the 27 people shot dead — 20 young children, six adults, and the murderer’s own mother — would lead to renewed calls for stricter gun-control legislation.
Other topics examined since the shocking mass slaughter at an elementary school in a crime-free neighborhood, perpetrated by a 20-year-old male computer genius who lived in a mansion with his divorced mother, have been violent video games, mental illness, and the rise in the number of similar incidents of arbitrary killings by disturbed outcasts.
Since all the above are related to civil liberties granted by the Constitution, this issue, too, has been the subject of many expert-laden talk shows, as has the question of whether incessant news broadcasting doesn’t encourage copy-cats.
Yes, everything has been turned over and looked at every which way — except for one.
And it is the very question that always occurs to me personally when dastardly events are perpetrated. These include cases of horrendous domestic violence, much of which is committed not with firearms, but with bare hands, knives, kerosene, and various other means. The cliché worth repeating here is that it is people who kill, not guns. I mean, let’s face it: Even a fork can be a deadly weapon when in the wrong hands.
The question I find myself asking each time is: What the hell happened to fatherhood?
Cases abound in Israel of men killing their wives in a fit of rage and then committing suicide. They often do this in front of their children. But even when they don’t, it is clear that the fate of their soon-to-be-orphaned children is of no concern to them whatsoever.
Then there are the cases of mothers committing horrific acts against their offspring. One of the most brutal examples is that of Andrea Yates, a woman from Texas who carefully and methodically drowned each of her five children — the eldest of whom was seven — as soon as her husband left for work.
Yates, it would emerge in her trial, had a history of mental illness and suicide attempts, as well as bouts of postpartum depression. Because of this, her 2002 conviction for capital murder was overturned in 2006, after a jury found her not guilty by reason of insanity. Shockingly, she is now asking to be let out of the hospital for weekly visits to church. Not only might she be granted this wish, but authorities are not ruling out the possibility that she will be rehabilitated enough to re-enter society altogether.
Her actions were — for lack of a more appropriate word — satanic. As far as I’m concerned, she deserved the death penalty, or at least life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
But where was the father of those five victims — at the office? If a jury was persuaded that Yates’ history was sufficient to keep her out of jail, how could her husband not have known? And if he did, how could he have continued to enable her to have children? And once she had so many, how could he have left them alone with her?
The same question arises about Peter Lanza, the father of Adam, the mass murderer who mowed down the Sandy Hook pupils.
According to information gleaned over the past few days, Nancy Lanza, Adam’s mother, had paranoid fantasies about economic and social Armageddon. To prepare for what she believed was imminent danger, she acquired several assault weapons and taught herself and her sons how to use them.
This may have been one of the reasons behind the couple’s divorce in 2009. Another might have been the difficulty involved in raising a special-needs child. This is all speculation. What is certain, though, is that Peter Lanza knew his former wife had guns in the house. He knew that she had a weird world view. He also knew that Adam was a home-schooled social misfit.
How, then, could he have simply left and never looked back? Divorce is not an excuse for not being in touch with one’s son for two years. Nor is the fact that he remarried. His new home is located in another part of Connecticut, not in a different country, or even out of state. And a father has paternal responsibilities, however hard they may be.
Sadly, this is often not the reality on the ground.
I know a man who not only accused his wife of “psycho-babbling” when she insisted that their child receive therapy for erratic behavior and deep emotional distress that was clear to her and his teachers, but he put his foot down and refused.
Another father whose ex-wife phoned him in hysterics, screaming that she couldn’t deal with the kids any more, was told that she’d “made her bed,” so she could lie in it. That his children were watching their mother flip out did not cause him to rush to their aid. Instead, it made him hang up the phone in anger and threaten not to take them for the weekend if she didn’t behave herself.
And then there was the father of a childhood friend, who let his kids remain in the home of his ex-wife — a psychotic alcoholic — on the grounds that they were old enough (11 and 8) to choose where they wanted to live. It wasn’t until his new wife told him that he had to step up to the plate and rescue his children that he took them in.
I am in no way asserting that all men are bad fathers. I hope and believe that the majority is not represented by those who give fatherhood a bad name.
What I am suggesting, however, is that no amount of legislation is going to change what has gone wrong in the U.S. What is needed is a rebuilding of the cracked pillars on which a liberal society rests. But these pillars — personal responsibility and the celebration of the difference between men and women — have been on the chopping block for decades. This has been a boon to deadbeat dads. And unless it is rectified, the spate of senseless killings is bound to continue.
Ruthie Blum is the author of “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring.’”