Thursday, July 15, 2010

Doubling Down on Parental Will

A transfixing murder trial is under way in Miami-Dade Circuit Court, a parricide, where the adult son is charged with murdering his mother and attempting to murder his father (leaving the father blind in the process), using a hit man.

The father is a trial lawyer, and I know him. Sometime during the late 70s, he represented a plaintiff against the SCL railroad, and I defended the railroad. He would have been in his late 20s and I in my early 30s. I remember him as someone good to litigate with: tough, but courteous, and you could trust his word. He went on to build a successful career as a trial lawyer, if one can at this point apply the word "success" to any part of his life. Now his nightmare continues, because he testified yesterday against his son at the son's first-degree murder trial.

Watching such a trial through the eyes of a newspaper reporter is seeing through a glass quite darkly, of course. But here from this morning's Miami Herald (link requires registration) is the reporter's summary of the father's testimony:

In heartfelt, charming and often chilling words, [the father] testified:

*That his son . . . enjoyed all the love, and support of his well-heeled family through the years - including many family trips, generous allowances and help finding work.

*About why he shipped his son, then a teen, to a tough reform school in Samoa: "He wanted to set the rules, to show he was the boss: We'd take him to school, and he'd go in the front door and out the back. With the passage of time, it became more and more difficult."

Of course, the son is not the only one on trial in that courtroom. Dad is on trial as well. If the jury rules against the son, then the son will pay the price. But I'm interested in the father. This seems like the Prodigal Son story gone very, very bad. Admittedly, we are viewing this nightmare through the lens of hindsight. However, if I had dropped my teenaged son off at the front door of a school that he insistently did not want to attend, and each time he left out the back, then much before I sent him to Samoa, I hope that I would have simply given him a big hug, some money, and let him go.

There is a point that a parent reaches with a child where the idea that the parent has control of the situation between them is simply a fiction. Raising children, in fact, can be seen as a progressive loss of the sort control that comes from direct coercion and even from clever manipulation (often - maybe almost always - you want to leave the weapon of manipulation untouched). If he wants to go out the back door, there is a point where a parent simply must let him go. That can be the loving thing to do, and often is. Doubling down on parental will does not necessarily end in murder, but it can end in destruction, whether the destruction is that of the spirit of the child, of the child's ability to relate well to others, of the child's potential happiness with his life's work, or of God's particular call(sometimes upsetting to the child's parents) for that child.

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