crimes with no father
by d.p. conway
Crimes with No Father
Parkland, Las Vegas, Newtown, Columbine, El Paso… Shall I continue?
Guns are not the problem. Fatherless homes are the problem.
We could debate gun rights, but we would be here all day. There are just as many ‘for’ as there are ‘against’ … and too many guns for that to change in our lifetime.
Let me pause before delving into this subject and say hats off to the real fathers, real stepfathers, unmarried fathers, or fathers involved in shared parenting, who are trying hard, who are being strong male role models that boys and girls alike need to see. Thank you for your service. We need you.
My belief: The root of the problem in most mass shootings, widespread in American society today, is the raising of boys who are fatherless.
Before I continue, I would like to offer the disclaimer that I am not a learned psychologist. I am a published author, who has spent years conducting research on the growing trend of mass murders in this country. The common thread is the culprit: a fatherless man.
I am also a victim of being fatherless. What follows is a layman’s perspective, a common man’s perspective, the view of one who was, himself, fatherless.
‘Fatherless’ does not necessarily mean that there is no father present in the home. Fatherlessness can mean that the father or stepfather who lives in the home is ineffectual. Perhaps he is distracted by social media. Perhaps he is disinterested. Perhaps he is a workaholic. Perhaps he is just selfish. Perhaps he is a live-in boyfriend, who does not have more than a passing interest or commitment to raising children. Perhaps he is ignorant of the need for the important role he is supposed to play.
Perhaps this father, or stepfather, or live-in boyfriend, was fatherless himself.
Then there are the circumstances where there is no adult male figure in the home. Our society has been left barren by a divorce culture, which has, in and of itself, discouraged millions from even trying marriage. Marriage: You know the age-old formula where a man and woman become a father and mother and devote their lives to loving each other, and to raising children.
Now, and in many cases, through no fault of their own, countless women and their children are living in single-parent homes. There are men in this situation as well; however it seems to be mainly women trying to do the job of father and mother, alone. It can work, but it is vulnerable, and in many cases, fragile, and despite best intentions, it can end up being a feeble attempt. Some women have found ways to overcome this situation by using the mantra ‘it takes a village’ approach by pulling in male role models from their community. But the bottom line is that it takes a man to help a young boy become a man.
So, what can happen to a boy who is fatherless?
That boy is at risk of encountering a difficult road to becoming a man. Becoming a man is not developing a man’s body. It is a psychological maturing process that begins during childhood. Imperative to this process is the presence of a father willing to put in the time to foster teachable moments. If one, or as is often the case, more than one of these three, Time, Teaching, or Presence is missing, vulnerable boys will experience great difficulty, delay, and sometimes outright inability in becoming a responsible man.
What is a responsible man? There are many views on this. But a simple definition for me is one who understands the importance of honest work, values love, honors and respects women… and is willing to sacrifice for what he loves, especially for his family.
Let me briefly define Time, Teaching and Presence as I see them.
Time is just what it says taking the time to do things with your son or daughter. It is sacrificing your desires to put their interests ahead of yours by giving them your time. It is going to their games. It is riding bikes. It is taking them to the store. It is sitting with them to do their homework. The list is endless.
Teaching is the ability to instruct children in things that are good not only to themselves but to the common good of society. For example, the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would do unto yourself. It is being able to teach them about important values, such as courage, kindness, humility, compassion. It is also being willing to teach spiritual truths drawn from whatever tradition you hale from, so not only their minds but their spirits are nurtured and set upon the right path. It is teaching the value of hard work, starting with chores around the house and yard, as their way of helping the family.
Presence is not what it sounds like. While it does have to do with being there physically, it is more about ‘how’ you are there, than it is ‘that’ you are there. Presence is how you act when you are present. It is your mannerisms, your temper, your language, your mood; not only in the big moments but in ebb and flow of the routines of everyday, ordinary life. It is crucial.
If a father is ineffectual, a boy can find himself, in fact, to be fatherless. When this happens, the risk is he can end up with an under-developed psyche, with immature, selfish, and even mental illness tendencies. It can be a boy trapped in a man’s body. That boy can reach adulthood damaged, and the damage can last a lifetime, and sadly be passed on to the next generation.
It is important to note that not every boy will experience this difficulty. For many, the transition will occur, sooner or later, but most will have to admit, it is taking a lot longer than it used to.
A young man needs to find his place in society. He wants to feel important. It’s about finding a job he enjoys. It’s about finding a career. It’s about being able to have a romantic relationship. To be an adult man, he will need to find the means to support love, to find the means to support a family someday. None of this is an easy road. This all can be overwhelming if he does not have a role model who has shown the way. To a fatherless boy, this could seem akin to building a rocket ship and flying to the moon. The inability to take these steps can be paralyzing.
The pressure can become so great; it can lead to delusional thinking. It can lead to deviancy. It can lead to passive-aggressiveness. None of them are desirable, manly, qualities.
Instead of working toward what is needed to grow into a man, he becomes stuck. Perhaps he is immersed in video games, maybe even violent video games. Maybe he has easy access to porn, and his view of sexuality becomes distorted. Perhaps he becomes consumed with the illusion of social media, staying absent from reality. None of it satisfies the most profound craving, the ancient instinctual need to transform from a boy to a man, not just physically, but also psychologically.
An example of this is one of my close family friend’s son who was only one step away from being the perpetrator of a tragedy like those mentioned above, the kind that the nation ends up hearing about. Only one or two ingredients were missing. Before I tell you his story, I would like to discuss mental illness briefly.
When a young man is fatherless, and is susceptible to mental illness, that illness, perhaps already latent, now has a breeding ground. Delusional thinking now has fertile soil. A passive-aggressive personality now has a place to become entrenched. Depression can set into a comfortable hiding place. Confidence, the right kind, has nowhere to grow.
A young man with a boy’s psyche, susceptible to mental illness, might think to himself, “I need to be powerful. I need to be counted, to be noticed, to be important.” Without the toolbox or skills to do these things the right way in society, he may decide to take matters into his own hands. In an effort to be noticed, to try to find an identity, he might say, “You can’t ignore me anymore. I will bring myself into the limelight.” This sort of self-declaration can take many forms.
But for some, if violent tendencies are present, and enough factors mix in just the right way, we can have a young man, who not only wants to thrust himself into the limelight, but one who is willing to declare his intent do so with violence. Even then, more factors are needed for one to do the dark deed. As you can see, from the article Ticking Time Bombs, by Megan O’Matz and Brittany Wallman, an alarming number of boys, and some girls, are marching straight toward the cliff. Most of them will stop before reaching it. I think most are crying out for attention, or time, or teaching, or presence. But which ones? How do we know?
I feel as though I can speak to this topic because I was fatherless. Yes, my father was always at home, but like so many fathers of his era, he was ineffectual. As I said earlier, the defining criteria to be a good father is the presence of that father, who is willing to put in the time, and who is willing to foster teachable moments. Unfortunately for me, none of these were part of the mix.
My father was at the home, but his needed presence was not there. As I said earlier, presence is not about ‘if’ a father is there. It is about ‘how’ a father is there: mood, temper, language, words, actions and interactions. I know he did not understand how much it was crushing me, but I endured brutal disciplining, mostly with the belt. Violent, unpredictable, bouts of anger were on display often.
As the oldest child of an immigrant, I got the brunt of his mood and actions. The physical brutality was not the worst. I also endured a lifetime of criticism, and worse, a lifetime of never getting what I needed: encouragement. I understand my father did not know how deeply he was permanently scarring me, although he did soften as the years went on, as my younger siblings did not experience what I did. I tried to get him to stop, to see me, to recognize my giftedness, but he could not. I was fighting back against a rough, unyielding, granite wall. It was deeply frustrating, all the way to my core.
Even as I write this, and I am 56, my whole mind and body shudders.
He didn’t spend time with me either. He worked 50 hours a week and spent evenings and Sundays reading the newspaper, then watching the news. On Saturdays, he spent much of his time down the basement in his workshop or out in the garage, working on things that needed to be fixed. I was rarely asked to help, but if I did accompany him, it was only to hold the light or hand him a tool. Silence reigned and I was never truly involved. You might think this is harmless, but because of what I needed, it was very harmful. I spent my childhood alone.
To him, my childhood endeavors were perhaps minuscule, but knowing what I know now, these were pivotal moments where time was vital to helping me grow. I was ignored in most aspects of my life. I had no father cheering me on sporting events. There was no one to take me to/from school, games or practices. I walked more than a mile each way, in good weather or bad. But it was all done alone because he didn’t have the time.
He also did not teach me. I didn’t know that it wasn’t happening. How could I? But I received no guidance on school, on why education matters, on the value of sports and training, on the importance of developing skills for a job or career. I received no spiritual teaching. When we did go together somewhere, it was silent car rides. I was taught nothing about girls, nor how to ever possibly relate to the opposite sex. He also taught me nothing about himself. There were no lessons a father might naturally share with his son from his own life. I don’t know for sure, because I know nothing about him, but I can only conclude that he, too, was fatherless.
All this physical and emotional abuse, though unintended, left me permanently empty, anxious, fearful, inwardly angry, with the inability to be in social groups of people without great difficulty. I was utterly unprepared emotionally for the world around me. Somehow, at the age of 22, I met a girl who introduced me to a relationship with God. We got married, started having children, and I pulled out of it, though not for long. You see, these wounds are not magically resolved, they have to be worked through, and it can take forever.
I need to tell you that my father is a good man. He was hard-working, humble, and honest. He took care of my ailing mother, in a wheelchair, for the last seven years of her life. I forgive him because I know he did not mean any of it. But forgiveness does not fix everything, unfortunately.
Five years after marrying and having four children, I fell into a deep depression. That depression dominated my adult life. Even to this day, I daily battle with little confidence, low self-esteem, and a nonexistent self-image. Luckily, I am not a violent person. Had I been during my late teens, well, who knows…
I want to finish telling you about that close family friend who was only one ingredient away from becoming a tragic national news story. At the time his story starts, he was a 20-year old boy in a man’s body. He was a casualty of divorced parents and was wounded psychologically. He was susceptible to mental illness, possibly genetically. He had no friends and was the silent type, unable to carry on a conversation. Bottom line: He did not have the knowledge, motivation, or skills to move forward in life amidst the mounting pressure society was putting on him to become a man.
He had been away from our life for a few years, but when he reappeared at age 20, he was jobless, living with his girlfriend in her parent’s home, with no real plans to advance his vocation or career. In truth, he did not know how to become a man more than physically, because his father had been absent from his life. He too was fatherless.
One day he came to visit me and sat in my living room, after being kicked out by his girlfriend. I was happy to see him, but felt uneasy, as he was nervously looking around. He seemed disturbed, periodically wide-eyed, holding his head in his hands. I asked him how he was doing, and he seemed at a loss for words. He then managed to say with a hint of desperation, “I want this.”
I was confused and a little concerned. I asked, “What do you mean?”
His eyes widened further as he nervously looked around my living room, saying, “This!”
It took me a second, but I realized he meant a home, a place where he could live with his girlfriend, and engage in life. He seemed very delusional, and I politely talked a little more with him, wondering what I was seeing. He abruptly left on foot, as he had no car.
An hour later, I got a call from the local police. They had arrested him, wandering near the mall. He was incoherent, ultimately being let out later that day with only a ticket.
A month later, he was arrested again. He and two minors got high, and broke into his work, stealing the petty cash. A few days later, they broke into a gas station and stole thousands of dollars worth of cigarettes. The police found out because one of the minors was selling the cigarettes to his freshman classmates. But our family friend, who never had any criminal ambitions, suddenly was in trouble.
Shortly before his trial, he came over. I asked him to talk to his lawyer and try to get into the military or into the trades, where he would be around a community of men. I thought it could help him.
He looked at me and shook his head. I pressed him, and he replied, “I don’t need those.”
I asked why not.
He reluctantly replied, “I did pretty good. Didn’t I?”
I was confused, so I asked, “I’m sorry, I don’t follow. What… are you talking about?”
He replied, “I got thousands-of-dollars-worth of stuff. I think I did pretty good for myself.”
I was utterly stunned and replied, upsettably, “Do you understand that you might end up in jail!”
Unable to continue the conversation, in a passive-aggressive tone, he said, “Never mind.”
But I had heard him loud and clear. He abruptly left. I was worried.
A few days later, he was arrested again. He had purchased a gun that he imagined he would use in robberies. He brought the gun in his backpack into a local college. He showed it to one of his friends, trying to show what a ‘big man’ he was to have a gun. His friend smiled, said he had to get to class, and wisely called the police.
I know for sure he had no intent to harm anyone. His thinking was so delusional that he didn’t even realize the peril he put himself into by bringing a gun to school. He truly believed that by having a gun, he could become a criminal, “doing pretty good for himself.” In his mind, he could make enough money to “have a home, and all of this.” He could provide and win back his girlfriend and begin a normal life with her.
This boy trapped in a man’s body desperately wanted to become a man and was unable to do so. He was genetically suspectable to mental illness. He did not have the presence of a father willing to put in the time to foster teachable moments to give him what he needed to become a man. He was fatherless.
He was just a few ingredients away from becoming a proverbial mass-shooter. The only things missing were violent tendencies and anger. He went to jail for five months and then was put into several-year-long probation and mental health counseling program. We were all lucky that it ended the way it did.
I have written three books about mass shooters, but not in the typical journalistic style. While the books do examine the facts, circumstances, and motives of each shooting, they also bring in a fictional component, though minor, of Angels, Demons, and the After Life. The purpose of my books is to bring light out of these dark tragedies.
The first shooter I wrote about was Stephen Paddock, the Las Vegas shooter. He was fatherless. His dad, Benny, was a low-level Chicago mobster and bank robber. Stephen was 12 when he was told his father was dead, but in reality, his father was sent to prison and ended up escaping. I believe Stephen developed severe passive aggressiveness and anti-social behaviors that stunted his life. He was haunted by the inability to live up to his hulking 6’4” notorious, criminal father. It drove him to thrust himself into the limelight, and murder 58 innocent people. I explore this more thoroughly and imaginatively, in my book Who Trespass Against Us: The Untold Story of the Las Vegas Shooting.
The second shooter I wrote about was Nikolas Cruz, the Parkland shooter. He, too, was fatherless. A loving couple adopted him, but when he was seven, his stepfather died leaving him with no father figure. His mother was ill-equipped to deal with his worsening deviant behavior. She lived her life mostly depressed and isolated. She did not understand the need to have male role models in Nikolas’s life. But with him, there was more. He had violent tendencies from a young age. He was also prone to mental illness. He frequently said, “there is a demon in my head, telling me what to do.” This is all explored in my book called Parkland: The Untold Story.
The third shooter I wrote about was Adam Lanza, the Newtown shooter. He was also fatherless. His parents argued mercilessly when he was just a boy. His mother divorced his father a few years later, and she too ignored the wisdom of ‘bringing in a village.’ Adam Lanza was vulnerable to mental illness, and dark forces moved in. I explore his story, contrasting his downward spiral with the uplifting upward spiral of the heroic principal who lost her life defending her little students. That moving story is in Book 5 of my After Life Series, called The Innocents, which will be published later this year.
You can go down the list of mass shooters. There are so many who were fatherless. But what of the instances where the mass shooters had domestic violence charges in their background, like at the workplace shooting in Aurora, Illinois, or at the church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas? Were they fatherless? When a man has demonstrated his willingness to physically harm a woman, it shows he has not received any fatherly Teaching. He probably never had his father’s Presence or Time either. By my definition, that man is fatherless.
What about terrorism-related shootings like the recent one in Pensacola, or the Orlando Pulse Night Club shooting? What about the office party shooting in San Bernardino, or the racist-driven church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina? Were these shooters fatherless? Yes.
When a boy is raised in a home that disdains people of another race, that boy is fatherless. Likewise, if a young man becomes immersed in an ideology that detests the people of another nation, like so many in the Middle East who have a deep-seeded hatred for Israel and America, this too reflects a lack of true fatherly Teaching, Time and Presence.
So, what is the solution?
We need more effective fathers. We need more male role models. We need fathers to have the right presence, to give their time and to bring their teaching.
We need fathers to turn off social media, turn off the TV, close down the man cave, and start spending time with their sons, and daughters too. We need fathers who are interested teaching their sons and showing them by example, the importance of character in a man’s life, like hard work, honesty, courage, kindness, sacrifice,
gentleness in dealing with children; and the importance of respecting and honoring women for their unique gifts.
We also need women. We need men and women alike to realize the needs of boys around them and make a plan to fill whatever gaps there are in this all-important transition from boyhood to honorable manhood.
My friend and editor pointed out that for many single mothers, ‘it takes a village,’ and reminded me that fatherless girls are not unaffected. They have not so far become killers, but they must deal with the life-defining issues that can be destructive not only to themselves but to those around them. She is right. Girls need those positive male role models too, but it seems the boys are most at risk. As girls become women, they seem to be instinctually communal and instinctually maternal, and I believe these dynamics help them to psychologically mature more naturally.
I mentioned earlier that landmark study, Ticking Time Bomb by Megan O’Matz and Brittany Wallman. Their findings were startling. They studied over 100 students, in Florida alone, who had been processed in the court system under various laws related to violent threats to their schools or communities.
There were both boys and also girls on the list. When you read these stories, you will understand, we are in trouble.
Why? Because if one state has 100 of these troubled youths, that means there are thousands upon thousands in the country that at any moment could act upon their violent tendencies. It is not time to sound the alarm, because the alarm is already sounding, all over this land.
What is even worse, is that in reality, there are millions and millions who will struggle all their lives, because of the deep empty hole being fatherless leaves within.
What can we do? It is up to each of us. The fatherless children need guidance. Look around at the people in your circle of life, and see who might need help, then find out if you can help. The fatherless need Time. They need Teaching. They need Presence. You can’t do it all if you are not the father, but you can lend a hand: Be part of that ‘village effort.’
To the objections of my siblings and my wife, I helped our family friend after he got out of jail; not twice, but three times. We let him stay with us as he stumbled through lost jobs. I think the third time may have been the charm, as three important things occurred. He became homeless for a week and realized he had to change. I then found him a job in a plant in the midst of a community of men he interacts with daily. Lastly, and most importantly, his father, realizing his son had become homeless, finally got involved. His real father is now managing his finances, driving him to work daily, and spending time with him.
This young man, and yes, I think I can say that now, has a smile on his face for the first time since he was a child. It is still fragile, but we are all trying and… I think he is going to make it.
Maybe you can make a difference too. Don’t be afraid to ask how, and above all, be willing to take a chance.
Crimes with No Father is written by D.P. Conway. He is a CPA in Cleveland, Ohio who is overcoming 20 years depression by becoming a writer. His book “How to do the Father Thing. When to start. When to stop. And Everything in Between” will be available later this year.
His books and writings can be found on Amazon and at dpconway.com