How can we best live our lives when we and our children have suffered injustice?

Dr. Ned Holstein addressed the ancient question of how best to live one’s life after suffering serious injustice. Ned’s remarks were offered at the September 24 meeting of Fathers & Families near Boston. Over 80 people attended to hear Dr. Amy Baker on the subject of parental alienation, to honor Dan Hogan for his service to the fathers’ and children’s movement, and to hear Ned. His attempt to answer the question of injustice in human affairs follows. The meeting was lively, with good energy and high resolve to end injustice to our children.

The Answer to an Ancient Question

September 24, 2007

About five years ago, the Boston Globe ran a headline story claiming that the leading cause of death of pregnant women was murder at the hands of their male partners. The story was occasioned by a Massachusetts Department of Public Health special report, accompanied by a press release. As a doctor, I was dubious about this claim, so I looked up the DPH report. It did not surprise me to find that medical causes of death far outnumbered any other cause, and that motor vehicles and drugs came next, with domestic violence making a modest contribution. The Massachusetts DPH never distanced itself from the Globe story, despite its own research report that contradicted the Globe.

Two years ago, PBS ran a so-called documentary called “Breaking the Silence.’  Its central claim was that two-thirds of fathers who seek the custody of their children, even shared custody, are secret batterers. There is no research basis for this claim whatsoever. I know, because I asked the authors of this travesty for their sources, and then I studied the papers they cited, and I found that this slander was a complete fabrication.

About the same time, I learned that Australia Airlines and New Zealand Airlines will not seat unaccompanied children next to men. Instead, they will ask the men to switch seats. This is profiling, and it occurs in the absence of any data whatsoever showing that men have ever molested children on an airplane.

Recently, the state of Virginia erected billboards showing a picture of a grown man holding the hand of a child. It instructed citizens to report men holding the hands of children to the child abuse agency, since, apparently, if you hold hands with a child, you are likely to be a sexual pervert.

And, about a month ago, Steve Patterson of Fathers & Family alerted me to the fact that an esteemed organization, the Massachusetts Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children  —  or MSPCC – was running an ad on television intended to inspire the public to support the fight against child abuse. Its style was that of a trailer for a horror movie. Filmed in creepy black and white, the camera angle was that of a child hiding under her bed, and then in a spooky garage, and then in a frightening basement. Every ten seconds or so, the screen dissolved to black, and titles appeared in stark white:  “Where would you hide . . . . if you were ten years old . . . . and your father was coming home  . . . . and he was angry. . . . . very angry . . . and he was looking for you . . . . like he did last night . . . .  and the night before. . . and the night before that…’  I”m sure the average viewer now mistakenly believes that fathers commit most child abuse, whereas the opposite is true.

The fathers” movement targeted three of these outrages and got them taken down.

But we cannot escape the larger point:  We live in a society in which respected institutions such as the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, the Boston Globe, the State of Virginia, two international airlines, the MSPCC and PBS are content to stereotype fathers as vicious villains, stereotypes that are unfounded lies.

And when we are not vicious, we are foolish, egotistical, narcissistic idiots. Just watch prime time television, and you will see a parade of male buffoons far more offensive than the ditzy females served up in the fifties. At least Lucy was a lovable ditz, not a repugnant narcissist. This is well documented on and by a study several years ago by the National Fatherhood Initiative.

Does this slander matter, or is it harmless fun? Yes, it matters. We need to remember that family court judges are ordinary human beings. They watch the same shows and read the same newspapers that everyone else does. Few of them are intellectuals, and they were never trained in child development, or how to understand research data, or how to identify a good study vs a bad one. That doesn”t seem to stop them from considering themselves experts on these topics, taking their “wisdom’ from the corrupted images of men perpetrated in the media.

So it should not surprise us that the treatment we receive in family court as fathers and men reflects the ugly stereotypes we are seeing from respected authorities such as PBS or the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. It is little wonder that we are treated as selfish, dangerous, indifferent to our children, cheaters, workaholics, or philanderers, since that is how we are widely portrayed. Most crucially, we are treated as a stereotyped class of underlings, not as individual human beings to be judged on our merits. Why is it surprising, then, that so many loving, caring and wise parents, especially fathers, are deprived of their children?

At this time of year, we always read of those parents who take their first child to college. They carefully put the sheets on their kids” dormitory beds and neatly arrange their clothes  — a momentary nostalgic return to the childhood years that have fled. The new collegians are desperate for them to leave. They depart. They look over their shoulders at their beloved child, overflowing with emotion.  They arrive home, open the door  — and the house is silent. The doors do not slam. The phone does not ring. No backpacks are plopped down on the floor. The cereal has not been devoured. And they feel empty. They gaze at the photographs of their boy when he was three.

And they know that what was, is no more, and can never be.

How much worse when this happens before its proper time, when the children are young, when it happens to a loving parent who has done no wrong, when it happens simply by order of an ignorant judge, influenced by degrading media portrayals of men, and empowered by blind laws. This we never read about.

And here is the ultimate wound: it is done, they say, because it is in your child”s best interest– to be torn away from you! These amateur psychologists have concluded that your child is harmed by your loving care.

Many of those who do this to us are haughty and arrogant. The haughty are worse than those who sin, because the haughty believe they are free of sin. And they are ignorant. They do not see that they are injuring children. They do not see that they are ruining lives. They do not see because they do not wish to see.

And I must tell you that these same people are feted —  they are celebrated. Dinners are held to honor them. They receive awards. They sit on distinguished panels, and respectful drivers are sent to pick them up. Their opinions are sought. They are full of honors.

And so this brings us to an ancient question:  Psalm 94 asks, “Lord, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked triumph?’ And Job asks: “Why do the just suffer and the wicked flourish?

So there is nothing new about our dilemma. Show me one time in all of history when the wicked did not flourish!

Wise philosophers have struggled to answer this question for thousands of years. We tonight will not solve the question of why the wicked flourish.

Instead, we must struggle to repair our lives, to fill the gaping hole, just as millions of victims of injustice over the millennia have had to do. We are one with people of all ages who have suffered.

How do we do this? How can this be possible? The sorrow is too great. The anger intrudes into our thoughts every day.

It helps to remember that the past is gone  — for all of us, for every human being. No one can live in the past. It simply does not exist  — for anyone. It slides out of our grasp. We must stop trying to recover what once was.

And the future is equally elusive. We cannot grasp the future even though so many of us frantically pursue it.  If only we can get the next promotion, or work hard enough to get the next raise, or be elected to office, or buy just the right car, or make the furnishings perfect  —  or win the next court battle  —  then we will be happy.

But when the future comes, it is no longer the future  — it is the present. And it is still we who inhabit it. We have brought ourselves along, bearing all our inner conflicts.  And we are still pursuing the future, or trying to grasp the past.

The only place we can live is the present. Right here. Right now. No other time or place. What was, is no more, and can never be again. For any mortal human. We must be here now.

There is a story about the famous violinist Yitzhak Pearlman. He was the featured soloist at a very big, very important concert, attended by a huge crowd of those who glitter. He lurched out on the stage on his crutches  — he had suffered polio as a child  — made his way to his chair in the front, sat, picked up his violin, and nodded to the conductor that he was ready. The orchestra began to play, and after a few bars, Pearlman”s violin joined, soaring over the orchestra like a heavenly angel, the sound unbelievably sweet.

Suddenly, there was an unmistakable “ping’ as one of his strings broke. The audience expected the orchestra to stop, for everyone to wait while he re-strung his violin.  Instead, Pearlman nodded to the conductor to continue, and he played through the entire sonata with only three strings. Where he needed his fourth string, he improvised brilliantly, sometimes moving far up the third string, sometimes going down an octave, sometimes inventing an entirely new line as he went. It was as beautiful as anything the audience had ever heard.

Afterwards he was asked, “Why didn”t you replace your fourth string?’ He answered, “My heart demands to make beautiful music with however many strings I may have.’

And that is what we must do. We cannot try forever to recapture a past that is gone. We cannot be the captive of an imagined future when we will have four strings. We must play our lives with what we have. We must make music with however many strings we have, we must sound the trumpet we have, and we must ring whatever bells remain in the tower.

And there is something else that we must do. We must help others. There is no more certain way to heal ourselves than to devote ourselves to helping others. A woman of 96 years had lost her parents, her husband, all her brothers and sisters, three of her four children and even two of her grandchildren. She had outlived her money, and she had lost most of her hearing. Her friends were amazed that every morning she arose promptly, dressed and went out in good humor.

They asked her where she went. She answered, “To the soup kitchen to serve soup to the homeless. I have many friends there, and my life is rich.’

That is why we must unite together to help others. The greatest beneficiary will be you. You can help those who will go down the same road as you unless we do something about it. To be perfectly honest, I do not know for sure how long it will take to revive the angel of justice. Perhaps it will be in time to help you, and perhaps it will not.

But I do know that you can help those innocents who do not yet know what will befall them if we do not help. I do know that we will right the scales of justice. I do know that the little children will not forever have their hearts broken by a judge ordering that they need not see one of their parents; that the one they love will be there to protect them from the neighborhood bully; that he will wrestle with him, letting him win, and then tuck him into bed; and that he will secretly let him steer the snowmobile like a big boy.

You can help these victims of the future, prevent them from re-living what you and your child have lived in the past. Let us live together today, in the present. Let us be here now. Together we will clear a path, make the rough way straight, and remove all obstacles. Together we will sweep away injustice. We can do this. We will do this. We will win. Help others today and tomorrow, and God bless you.

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