Dispatches from Amish Country

08.03.2012, 10:37 AM

Amber and I are at my parent’s house in supposedly idyllic Lancaster, Pennsylvania, for the weekend. While drinking my morning coffee, I scanned today’s headline in the local morning paper: “Police accuse man, 33, of killing his girlfriend.” The subhead says, “3 children in house at the time.” It’s not clear if any of the children are related to the boyfriend, but we do know that the 12-year old girl who ran screaming hysterically to the next door neighbors for help is the now-dead girlfriend’s daughter. Before killing his girlfriend, the boyfriend, who the police believe was drunk, punched the 12-year old girl and kicked her in the mouth. The couple lived in southern Lancaster County, which is known as a heavily working class area.

Then on the back page I found the headline, “Ohio teen played major role in high school drug ring.” The story, by the AP, says that the 17-year old boy from an affluent suburb outside of Cincinnati, was “one of the biggest drug dealers in the Cincinnati area.” He had been dealing drugs since at least 15, but managed to stay under the radar for a long time by selling pot out of his house. Where were the parents? The story doesn’t tell us if anyone else in his family knew about it, but we do learn that he was living with his single mother. Apparently, he had no dad around to look out for him.

Then, I opened the paper to the front page of the local section, where I read about a 36-year old area man who pleaded guilty to the shooting death of his then-estranged wife’s boyfriend. His 28-year old ex-wife said that “It was almost like if he couldn’t have me, nobody could.”

After telling my mother about the story of the boyfriend who killed his girlfriend, she told me that Ron, the biological father of my younger brother and sister  — my parents adopted them last year — has been on a drinking binge since getting out of prison. His wife, Gloria — who is also the mother of my adopted brother – called my  mom last night to tell her about it; she is worried about her husband. Gloria doesn’t live together with Ron all the time, because she has a one-year old daughter, Madison, by another man, and she is not allowed to be with Ron when she has Madison (which is every other week). But Gloria sees her husband as often she can. And of course, there’s no way to know whether Gloria is acutally obeying the state’s orders by not living with Ron when she has Madison. You can imagine that Madison’s grandma (the father’s mother, and incidentally, a long-time friend of my mother) must be worried sick for the safety of her grandchild, knowing that her grandchild could be in contact with an unrelated boyfriend who just got out of prison for drug possesssion and theft, lost his kids, and is drinking heavily.

Then, as I was getting ready to go downstairs to the basement and begin work, my adopted brother, Justin (Ron and Gloria’s biological son), pulled me aside, saying that he needed to warn me about something. He said that Ron has threatened to kill Gloria, and to stalk my brother and kidnap him. (My brother wasn’t being dramatic; the police actually found a letter from him saying just that). “I just wanted to let you know in case you see him,” he said.

That was my  morning. All sobering reminders of the worst that can happen, and often does happen, when families break down. And the interesting thing to me is that, for all the debates about the “good divorce” and “evolving family structures,” or the reminders about the majority of children who turn out just fine, that I hear about from elite sociologists and journalists, I rarely (if ever) hear family breakdown talked about in those terms among the ordinary people that I know in Lancaster. Instead, they talk about it in terms of … well, family breakdown. They tend to see it as a tragedy that calls for healing, not a new family structure that requires normalization. And, of course, we shouldn’t pretend that all instances of family breakdown lead to an egregious problem like murder, violence, etc. — but we would be naive to pretend that these things are unrelated in way too many instances.

*All names in my family’s story have been changed to protect their identity.


18 Responses to “Dispatches from Amish Country”

  1. Mont D. Law says:

    In all sincerity, since violent unstable men are the problem in virtually all these cases how would marriage make anything better.

    [And the interesting thing to me is that, for all the debates about the “good divorce” and “evolving family structures,” or the reminders about the majority of children who turn out just fine, that I hear about from elite sociologists and journalists, I rarely (if ever) hear family breakdown talked about in those terms among the ordinary people that I know in Lancaster.]

    This is sort of confused, since you are conflating two completely different issues in a pretty egregious way and then personally attacking professionals who disagree with you as out of touch elites. This also allows you to attribute positions to these elites and the people of Lancaster don’t actually hold.

  2. La Lubu says:

    David, with all due respect, you speak of the “sobering reminders of the worst that can happen, and often does happen, when families break down.” Yet, in all the examples you presented, it appears that the original sources of the family breakdowns were substance abuse and violence. Be frank with me. In your younger brother’s situation, was his biological father clean, sober and nonviolent prior to family breakdown? Or rather, was it alcohol/drug abuse and violence that led to both the family breakdown and his prison term?

    Also, am I the only person reading this who assumes that Gloria took up with another man and had a child by him with the hopes that he would protect her against Ron? Because really….who else is going to? If Ron kills her, the headlines will emphasize their relationship as a “romance gone wrong”; violence as indicative of love.

  3. Anna says:

    In answer to the two previous comments, isn’t the main reason these women have these bad men inextricably involved in their lives that they had children with them out of wedlock in the first place? That’s certainly how my aunt got herself into a lifelong relationship with my violent, criminal, drug-addicted uncle who deliberately encouraged her in becoming a full-blown alcoholic. Yes, she’d had bad boyfriends before he came along, but getting pregnant with his baby is what committed her life irrevocably to the destructive dance they’ve been in ever since.

  4. David Lapp says:

    Mont D Law, My point was not to say that getting married is a magical solution. I don’t believe that. I was simply making a point about what often happens when families break down. When the natural family falls apart, there are often complications. Also, I’m not sure what “two different issues” you have in mind that I’m conflating. To me, the “good divorce” debate (among those, yes, out-of-touch elites) and the discussion (again, among out-of-touch elites) about whether cohabition and single-parent families are simply instance of “evolving family structures” are both instances of, yes, out of-touch-elites forgetting about the complications that often occur when the natural family breaks down.

    La Lubu, Yes, you are right in saying that alcohol/drug abuse was a primary cause of the family breakdown (I’m not sure about violence). I’m definitely not arguing that family breakdown causes family breakdown. I take your point to be that emphasizing getting married as a solution to family breakdown is no solution. To which I absolutely concur. We have to help people heal from alcohol/drug abuse. But of course it’s also true that one of the things that leads many young adults to becoming so despairing to the point that they abuse drugs and alcohol … are the wounds that come from an absent father or fragmented family.

    I would also say that, while telling adults to “get married” is no solution, a big part of our focus should be on strengthening the virtues that foster success in marriage– such as good work ethic, thrift, commitment, unconditional love — so that our children and our children’s children have a better chance in succeeding at marriage. If we conclude that family structure really doesn’t matter, we’re kidding ourselves. It’s much simpler when it’s mom, dad, and their own kids. Then we don’t have to deal with unrelated boyfriends who punch 12-year old girls, jealous husbands who murder their wives’ lovers, and fathers who are angry that they’re separated from their kids (to cite the stories I cited in my post).

  5. La Lubu says:

    Anna, I was under the impression that when David used the word “marriage” in reference to Gloria and Ron, he was referring to an actual marriage and not the common-law version; perhaps I am wrong in that assumption.

    Regardless, one of the toxic cultural messages I see in my environs is a form of tunnel-vision “loyalty”—-that one is obligated to remain “loyal” (meaning, standing beside/behind) to those that one has had any kind of commitment to (whether spoken or unspoken—as in, past-practice) regardless of any independent or mitigating factor. That loyalty is valued for its own sake, despite what harms manifest from that loyalty. So, in the event of substance abuse (for example), one is still obligated to remain with and stand behind that person, even if there is no mutuality (the substance abuser will not admit he/she is still using, or that there is any need to quit) and despite the harms that result from this (theft, car accidents, coming up with bail money, etc.). It’s not just a romantic-relationship dynamic, but *any* relationship (friends, cousins, etc.). Leaving a toxic situation doesn’t just mean having to deal with the fallout from that relationship itself, but colliding head-on with the background cultural messaging that insists that staying is the answer.

    I think a more useful, healthy means for determining which relationships can be saved and which can’t means stepping outside that “bubble” and asking the following: if this person were a stranger, would I be willing to tolerate this behavior from him/her? What if this was a platonic relationship? Would this person’s employer tolerate this? Is the behavior legal? How do I feel after being with this person? Are there objective harms from maintaining this relationship (ex.: do I miss or arrive tardy work? Do I miss school or work deadlines because of dealing with relationship difficulties? What level of chaos/instability carries over into the rest of my life?). How do I treat other people after being with this person? What is the balance of give/take in this relationship? Has this person ever harmed me? Himself/herself? Other people? Has the phrase “walking on eggshells” occurred to me (or been voiced by others) when in this person’s presence?

    I think is important to recognize and affirm basic standards of human treatment and mutuality from others that we deal with. That reciprocity is an important part of those standards. That we are under no obligation to maintain harmful relationships, and to recognize the limits of our powers. As parents, it is most important to remember our prime directive is to protect our children.

  6. Mont D. Law says:

    (To me, the “good divorce” debate (among those, yes, out-of-touch elites) and the discussion (again, among out-of-touch elites) about whether cohabition and single-parent families are simply instance of “evolving family structures” are both instances of, yes, out of-touch-elites forgetting about the complications that often occur when the natural family breaks down.)

    To me this is the conflation. You are arguing that natural family breakdown is at the root of all the problems these families face and that somehow people discussing good divorce, single motherhood and cohabitation are contributing to these families problems. I don’t think you have or can make that case. Instability is the cause of these women problems and this instability can not be solved by a stronger marriage culture. I’m sure those out of touch professionals have plenty of advice about how to deal with the kind of instability these woman face they just don’t see a stronger marriage culture as part of the solution. In fact, in the past, these women would have married these men and simply lived with the abuse. As has been pointed out many times, the strategies you suggest will not produce the results you want. Which is why professionals don’t support them. The first decision you need to make is do you want to make these women’s lives better or not.

  7. La Lubu says:

    (sorry, previous comment seems to have disappeared into the ether)

    La Lubu, Yes, you are right in saying that alcohol/drug abuse was a primary cause of the family breakdown (I’m not sure about violence).

    *cough* Excuse me? Every story you cited that involved a couple contained an example of violence or a history of violence. Why are you downplaying that? I mention it not to be a personal attack on you for not seeing it, but as a bright, shining example of the extent to which our (meaing: USian; you and I don’t share a similar personal cultural background, but we do share the overriding dominant culture) culture downplays interpersonal violence and romanticizes/lionizes male violence (in general) as a virtue.

    First story: “Police accuse man of killing his girlfriend” (man punched and kicked 12-year-old daughter of the girlfriend he is charged with murdering during the course of said murder; the daughter escaped). Third story: man pleads guilty to murdering the boyfriend of his soon-to-be ex-wife. Fourth story: Ron, a drug-addicted ex-con, is stalking and threatens to murder his wife, Gloria, now that he is out of prison.

    David, are you really trying to say that these men went from zero-to-murder (last one is still, fortunately, at the “only” threatening murder stage) because of family breakup? The breakup of which was caused by their own choices, their own behavior?

    This is what is meant by “abuse culture”. A culture that never holds abusers responsible for their abusive behavior. That is always quick to offer excuses for such behavior: it was the drugs. it was the booze. it was the stress of the breakup. it was the stress of losing a job. it was the stress of getting arrested/going to prison. it was the stress of growing up in a dysfunctional family. it was this, it was that. But Maude forbid it was ever the choices and behavior of the abuser! We live in a culture that insists that the narrative of abuse is “loss of control.” We know, empirically, that is not true. Abusers have a great deal of control. They carefully choose the who, when and where of their abusive acts in order to minimize getting caught.

    It is really frustrating to me that you offer as your prescription “good work ethic, thrift, commitment, unconditional love”. None of those traits prevented me from being abused, either by my former husband or by my alcoholic father. Those traits did nothing to help me escape the violence, either. In fact, the “commitment” and “unconditional love” assisted in prolonging the abuse; I was convinced that I was a horrible person, abysmally selfish for…..not wanting to be hit. Not wanting to be called vile names every night. Not wanting to give up on my dreams. Wanting a peaceful life. To leave was to “give up”, “be selfish”, “be a failure”, “be a bad woman/bad wife”. Real women stick around. Are tough. “That’s not abuse.” Abuse means broken bones, a trip to the hospital. Regular punches and kicks; that’s not abuse. But yet…it still felt like abuse to me. Even the spittle, that felt like abuse, even though it didn’t do any “real” harm.

    Every man I personally know who was/is an abuser, learned it from his married father. Can we talk about that? About the myth that “marriage” is synonymous with “healthy relationship?” Can we talk about the fact that people expect wives to endure behavior that people would never expect a girlfriend to stick around for?

    But most importantly, can we talk about why abusers aren’t held personally responsible for their behavior, and why the prescriptions often revolve around changing the behavior of the people they abuse?

    Something happened this week at work that really floored me. A guy came around the jobsite, looking for a couple of folks. Those folks (men) quickly hid away, and directed others to deflect this other fella that was looking for them (it became apparent that the real reason this guy came around was to “borrow” money, hence the hiding). Anyway….This Guy launched into a lengthy story of his travels and travails, which most recently consisted of revolving-door trips to the county jail, being evicted from his apartment due to nonpayment of rent for a couple of months, having a hard time finding a job because of his felony record and lengthy prison term, having had his pension and associated benefits terminated due to his conviction (he was a public servant, convicted of theft and fraud), and even his kids don’t want to see him (his youngest is going to college this fall). And he spoke about all of this to all and sundry, in a loud voice, as if being frequently arrested, evicted, sent to prison, etc. was just a normal, everyday part of life. He bemoaned the fact that his landlords didn’t give him a break, how they should be more understanding (they are also retired public servants, the type that were honest and kept their pensions and keep rental property on the side as a retirement plan cushion)….

    Now, it was crystal-clear to me that This Guy had some type of drug abuse problem. After he left, the folks that knew him told me the backstory, which included booze and cocaine, a gambling problem, and the theft of his son’s scholarship money (that threw a big wrench in his now-grown son’s college dreams). Hey, this isn’t the norm, but yeah…These Guys exist. That’s not what floored me.

    No, what floored me was the deep level of compassion that folks showed for this man. They indulged him for over two hours. After he left, they talked about how wrong it was that his children and ex-wife didn’t want to have anything to do with him. How his landlords didn’t have to evict him and sell his property for back rent. How he was a “really great guy” and “a really hard worker” (*cough* that stole taxpayer money to the tune of damn near a hundred grand), and how he just “fell on hard times.” How he shouldn’t have been fired from his job; he just should have been given the opportunity to pay it back, since he didn’t mean to steal…..

    And y’know, here I am, I single mother. The downfall of society. I get scorn heaped upon me in various ways, with the end result being I’m pretty circumspect in how/where I conduct my life. Hyperaware that I have to be on my “A” game, most importantly so my daughter won’t bear the brunt of negative stereotyping. I have never, will never garner the level of compassion that This Guy, who from all observances has not changed his tune one whit since getting released from prison, who still seems to believe that the world owes him a living for doing Maude knows what. Really. Perhaps it’s petty of me, I know. I shouldn’t “go there.” But dammit…..I am one of many people picking up the pieces of a Guy Like This. I take responsibility and get no credit for it. They take no responsibility and get every benefit of the doubt.

    I need someone to explain that to me, like I was two. I mean, keep it real simple. Talk to me like I’m stupid. And while you’re at it, throw in an explanation of why it was better for me to get hit by my father at the age of 12, rather than some stranger. How having your father hit you somehow magically does less damage than some other guy. (“Then we don’t have to deal with unrelated boyfriends who punch 12-year old girls… Because if we think that marriage (or working hard, or thrift, or love, or faith/hope/pixie dust) offers any panacea for abuse, we’re really kidding ourselves.

  8. David Lapp says:

    La Lubu,

    When I said that I wasn’t sure about whether the violence predated family breakdown, I was simply referring to the fact that in Ron and Julia’s story I don’t know whether the violence started after the breakup of their family or before. I have no interest, none in the slightest bit, of lionizing male violence, and I think we as a culture should do everything within reason to stigmatize it.

    Whatever the case, I am interested in strengthening whatever virtues there are that will increase the chances that the men our daughters and granddaughters enter into relationships with, will be good men who treat their girlfriends and wives with the utmost of respect. When I say that I’m interested in strengthening marriage for the next generation, that’s what I have in mind. Not strengthening marriage merely so that marriage rates go up and divorce rates go down. Strengthening marriage so that more men and women experience loving marriages.

  9. David Lapp says:

    La Lubu,

    I should add that I take your point that strong marriage cultures can exist side-by-side with violence and sexual abuse. My mother, who left the Amish with my father when she was 30, just reminded me of this the other day by telling me some stories she has recently heard about sexual abuse of children by older, married Amish men. There’s no telling to what extent sexual abuse of children happens among the Amish, or for that matter, violence towards women, but whatever it is it’s too often, and it’s a great injustice that the men who perpetrate these henious crimes are usually never held accountable. And of course all of this among the Amish, who in many ways have a very, very strong marriage culture (divorce is non-existent).

    To me, though, when I talking creating a strong marriage culture, I assume that one of the norms within that marriage culture is love. Because that, to me, is what marriage is: a promise to LOVE one’s spouse for better or worse, for richer or poorer, etc, and to love and nourish the children that come from that loving union. In my book (and here I take my cues from the Christian tradition) abuse of spouse and children is a grave offense against marriage and the family. By the Christian definition of marriage, then, to the extent that we have a strong marriage culture, men will hold to strong norms of love and fidelity and child-centeredness.

  10. La Lubu says:

    I don’t know whether the violence started after the breakup of their family or before.

    I believe you. Abusive behavior almost always takes place in private, behind closed doors. Abusers choose the time and place; it allows them to maintain not just the veneer of civility, but gives them strong social support while they abuse—plausible deniability. If there are no witnesses, or strong physical evidence (black eye, broken bones) there’s no abuse, right? Sure, it’s possible that Ron was a nonviolent man prior to his separation……but this would be an extraordinarily rare occurrence. Nonviolent people simply don’t send death-threat letters and stalk people. There are a lot of divorced people in this nation; very few of them act out in this manner during or after their divorce.

    And that’s just from the parts you’ve chosen to share. Death threats and stalking are bad enough.

    If you are really interested changing the current enabling culture of domestic violence to one that insists upon abusers having to be accountable and responsible for their own actions…..then please—read “The Gift of Fear” by Gavin DeBecker. He does an excellent job of meticulously describing the various ways in which people, and most especially women, are trained to ignore red flags, ignore their own intuition, and downplay past practices of unacceptable behavior.

    Because the fact is, we treat domestic violence differently. If someone relates a story about dealing with a road-rage driver who follows them for miles, gesturing obscenely and screaming mostly unintelligible threats….our natural reaction is one of support and belief for the person telling the story. Even if the person dealing with the road-rager never reported the incident to the police. It doesn’t work that way for domestic violence. We get gaslighted with disbelief.

    Here’s a couple of links on early warning signs of abusers and the signs of domestic violence. Popular culture has normalized the most extreme examples of domestic violence as being representative (think: “Burning Bed” or “Enough”) and this has trained people to not think of the more common forms of DV as being DV.

    I also recommend “The Sociopath Next Door” by Martha Stout, PhD.

    You seem to be operating under the assumption that anyone can become an abuser or commit other egregious acts of destructive behavior given certain circumstances. That is not true, and it is a dangerous myth to perpetuate. Harmful people did not become harmful people because they weren’t given enough teaching or examples of working hard, being honest, etc. They are making active choices in their lives. They know they’re “doing wrong”—it’s why they take the time to hide the bad behavior they can, and manipulate others when their facade starts to drop.

    One of the best things we can do for our daughters is to teach them to value their intuition, recognize red flags and manipulation, instruct them to use a person’s actions as their base for assessment, teach that certain behaviors are absolute dealbreakers, and offer them full support in maintaining that barrier on dealbreakers—including support for divorce.

  11. La Lubu says:

    To me, though, when I talking creating a strong marriage culture, I assume that one of the norms within that marriage culture is love.

    But what does that mean? What does it look like?

    That’s why I think any focus on “a marriage culture” needs to start with a behavior-based definition of marriage. That certain behaviors are necessary in order to have a marriage, period—let alone a successful one. That other behaviors are strictly antithetical to marriage, and if present, effectively mean that anything we think of a “marriage” is also not present.

    Every.single.abuser insists that he/she “loves” the person he/she is abusing. Every.single.one. Many of them will even tell the person who is the target of his/her abuse that he/she is “doing it for (their) own good” or “because I love you” or “because (you) make me”.

    So, paeans to love or good citizenship are utterly worthless in recognizing abuse or ending it. I recommend keeping it on the observable level. Go take a look at that spreadsheet on the DV link, and start thinking of its opposite. Notice what’s missing from that spreadsheet? Anything about the abuser’s state of mind. Why? Because we can’t observe the abuser’s state of mind. We can observe his or her behavior. We can also be mindful of our own state of mind, since we have access to that.

    So what would a spreadsheet for a healthy relationship look like? Maybe it would look like (under partner’s supportive behavior): “your partner respects your privacy; gives you quiet time alone when you need it, doesn’t listen in on phone conversations, open your mail, or read your journal”, “your partner shows affection on a regular basis”, “speaks highly of you to friends and family” “give you hugs when you’re feeling low” “cooks you breakfast and does the dishes”.

    Maybe (under your inner thoughts and feelings): “you feel uplifted after spending time with your partner” “you feel like you can talk about anything with your partner”.

    Since there wouldn’t be a section for Partner’s Controlling Behavior, maybe there would be a “Partner’s Expectations for You” section, with traits like: “partner makes requests using ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, and expects the same” “partner wants you to fill the gas tank when it gets below 1/8 tank” or “partner expects you to put dirty plates in the sink or dishwasher”.

    Instead of a violent behavior section, there would be a Loving Behavior Section that would consist of actions like: “hold your hand; enjoys your physical touch” “fixes things of yours that are broken” “remembers your birthday and anniversary”.

    See what I mean? “Love” can mean anything an abuser wants it to mean. We need to point to specific dysfunctional behaviors and unequivocally say, “that’s not love.”

  12. Mont D. Law says:

    [In my book (and here I take my cues from the Christian tradition) abuse of spouse and children is a grave offense against marriage and the family.]

    Except that is not Christian tradition in any kind of meaningful way. So unless you want to define a huge number of Christians as not really Christian this is not really a useful paradigm for solving the problems you want to address.

    If you want to protect your daughters then teach them that love isn’t unconditional. Teach her how to use birth control. Make sure she has it and uses it. Teach her that abuse is not just hitting and to recognize all the other kinds. Make sure she gets an education that will allow her to support herself. And yes, get her an abortion if she needs one.

    Support programs that hold abusers responsible. Insist that your local government treat domestic violence seriously. Recognize that gutting public education and the social safety net is just going to make it worse. Support comprehensive sex education and schools for unwed mothers.

    Understand that the natural family is not always a safe place for women and children and it never has been. Understand that this has always been a bigger problem in poor and working class communities and that the larger that portion of the population gets and the fewer resources we give these woman and children the bigger the problem is going to get .

  13. StraightGrandmother says:

    Very good discussion and I would like to offer to La Lubu what no one else did. I read your story and I feel sorry for you. It is horrible, horrendous. I feel bad that you ahve gone through so much abuse, well it seems like msot of your life.

    However now you are protecting your daughter and not exposing her to that life. Props to you La Lubu! Props to you!!!

    And on somewhat of an ironic note isn’t it amazing that Ron and Gloria did not have to pass any type of morals test to get their marriage license. They were not studied this way, that way, and sideways to determine if they were “good enough” for that marriage license.

    But two loving women or two loving men who are the ones who are adopting children like David’s brother, do so without any of the social benefits of marriage in 37 of our States. No family leave act for both parents, as in all but 13 States there can be no two parent adoption only one parent adoption. The second parent is invisible to the law.

    Two loving mothers raising children in a low conflict home, not good enough for a marriage license, but Ron and Gloria? Step right up to the counter.

    Would David’s, now adopted by his mother and father’s, brothers have been better off raised in a low conflict home with two loving fathers or two loving mothers or with Gloria and Ron?

  14. George says:

    I agree entirely with StraightGrandmother’s Props to La Lubu, who is always clear-sighted and eloquent and humane. And, of course, I also agree with StraightGrandmother’s probing questions about why Ron and Gloria can get a marriage license but may partner and I cannot.

  15. Alana S. says:

    I’m with you David.

    I’m at a music festival now. With baby V. I got into a conversation with an older woman (she approached me ’cause I had V on my lap). She said how she wished her 40 year old son were still a baby.
    We started talking, I asked her what her biggest regrets were and what she would have done differently.
    She lamented at how many problems her grown son had. He was addicted to drugs, etc. She just kept repeating “He has problems”.

    single mom.

    thing is, she divorced the father. I asked her why.
    She married him because he was good looking and she wanted to make beautiful babies with him. But apparently he had poor character.

    I asked her if there was anything she would have done differently.

    “you can’t assume they’ll figure it out and get over it. You really have to guide them through whatever they’re struggling with.” she said.
    “but I was a single mom, I couldn’t do it. I didn’t have the time!”

    raising kids is tough. everyone has to take responsibility.
    and we have to keep things simple, clean, and with a clear purpose.

  16. La Lubu says:

    StraightGrandmother (and George), thanks. But, I want to be clear that I haven’t had to deal with abuse since I was 25 (I’m 45 now).

    And I’d also like to mention something that doesn’t often get mentioned, about the dynamics of marriage vs. cohabitation. When I was married, I was expected to stick by my husband through thick and thin…even if that “thin” included abuse. I was expected, by all and sundry, to continue being his workhorse, his household servant, his lover and to bear anything he had to throw at me with grace and silence.

    Now flash-forward to my next serious relationship (unmarried, but we had a child). When I kicked him out for refusing to enter a drug-treatment program (he was not abusive, but the warning signs were there, and I didn’t feel like waiting around to see them manifest; the other associated behaviors with drug abuse are bad enough)…..wait for it now…..no one thought I was doing the wrong thing. No one thought I didn’t give him enough chances or enough time. I got strong moral support from my family, my co-workers, my friends, everyone.

    Because we weren’t married, see. Girlfriends are not expected to put up with the kind of behavior that wives are. Think about that for a moment. Think about why the institution of marriage is privileged over the living bodies of human beings that are being harmed in a bad one.

    David, you say: In my book (and here I take my cues from the Christian tradition) abuse of spouse and children is a grave offense against marriage and the family. But unfortunately, that is not true. You no doubt personally feel that way, but that is not how Christian communities practice. My mother stayed married to my father because she was taught that divorce was a sin so grave she would go to hell for it. Divorce is a mortal sin. Beating your wife and kids is not—its a venial sin. Christianity is filled with historic examples of domestic violence as proscriptive, fully endorsed and preached by the leaders of various churches, including from the pulpit. The Catholic Church still has a patron saint of battered wives (St. Rita), and in 1994 (a year after my divorce from my abusive husband) beatified Elizabetta Canori Mora, for her endurance of abuse. The position of various Christian denominations in practice has been to look the other way on abuse, and to sternly reprimand women who choose to leave, rather than stay and vie for sainthood.

    My father didn’t become an abuser because he had a single mom. He didn’t; he had a married mom. My ex-husband didn’t become an abuser because he had a single mom. He didn’t; he had a married mom. My daughter’s father didn’t grow up to literally throw his life away on drugs because he had a single mother. He had a married mother. I could make my fingers tired typing in examples of all the men I know from my family, work, my union, neighbors, etc. who had the same scenario. You know what was the common factor in all the cases, besides the fact their parents were married? An alcoholic, abusive father.

    We don’t talk about that in the US. We don’t consider substance abuse to be a public health crisis (which it is). When we’re not brushing it under the rug, we rest on the Puritan notion that it’s a matter of personal moral character, and that if people just pulled on their own bootstraps a little harder, it would all go away. If we take a good look around, we can easily see that strategy isn’t working. We take the same attitude toward interpersonal violence. We actually do give props to men who choose violence as their go-to solution for conflict resolution, rather than choosing nonviolent means. There is a certain amount of conflation of masculinity with willingness and ability to use violence. Most of that violence isn’t directed at opponents of equal ability to counter that violence….but we don’t talk about that, either.

    Mostly, we’re comfortable perpetuating myths. I’m not. I’ll keep talking to the wall until it falls down, but I am not going to remain silent in the face of these myths. Pace.

  17. David Lapp says:

    La Lubu,

    Thank you for the book recommendations. I’m completely with you when you talk about pointing out that a person can say that he loves all he wants, but if he is abusing a person, that’s not love, and people should be held accountable for that.

    When I talk about “love” being a norm of marriage, I mean the practice of real, objective love. Beating somebody or verbally abusing somebody is clearly, no matter what anyone says, anything otherwise.

    George and La Lubu,

    You know as well as I do that citing instances of individual professing Christians who have failed the demands of their religion by hating and abusing their wives is, logically, no proof against the claim that the Christian tradition holds men to the highest standards in marriage. I wish I would have a book in mind that I could recommend that shows, historically, the Christian tradition’s contribution to making marriage more humane, but I can’t think of such a book off the top of my head.

    For now, I would point you to Sacred Scripture itself, in particular, the words of St. Paul. After he famously instructs wives to be subject to their husbands, he has very strong words for husbands. The assumption is that marriage is a relationship of mutual love and respect. Can you point to a non-Christian contemporary of St. Paul who would have said something so extolling of marriage, and so demanding of men, such as calling men to practice the same kind of self-sacrifice that Jesus demonstrated by suffering and dying on a cross?

    “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, 26 so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that He might present to Himself the church [a]in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. 28 So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; 29 for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, 30 because we are members of His body.

  18. La Lubu says:

    David, I’m not talking about individual Christians falling short of the beliefs they claim to adhere to. I’m talking about various denominations of Christianity, as an administrative body, either (a) upholding abuse as a necessary form of discipline to be dealt by husbands to wives, fathers to children, and (b) not holding abusers accountable nor assisting the abused—the traditional practice of regarding abuse as a private family matter.

    Christian churches and the authorities in them have a lot to answer for in that regard, in much the same way the Catholic Church has a lot to answer for regarding the protection of priests who raped children—sweeping evidence under the rug, and vigorously fighting any legal responsibility to their victims.