My father did not have a happy childhood.
I’ll spare you the details, but the reason he didn’t end up at Holmesburg Prison can be attributed to tough love from the priests at St. Tommy More, a little more tough love in the Army, the all-encompassing love of his wife, Lucy, and a set of values that derive from that spark of the divine in most of us.
It had absolutely nothing to do with his parents.
My grandmother should never have been anyone’s mother, and my grandfather abandoned the household the moment he realized that having a good time was incompatible with having kids.
That’s what I was thinking when I heard about the murder of Officer Christopher Fitzgerald, the Temple University cop who was allegedly killed by an 18-year-old last week.
There were tears, there was anger and then came the thought that this young man’s demons were not just his alone. His parents had a role.
A child can indeed be a bad seed, but far more often, he or she is a reflection of the love (or lack of it,) values (or lack of them,) and experiences lived with family. As the child is father to the man, so does the father (and mother, and siblings) shape the child. To treat humans as deracinated plants that take no nourishment from the larger garden that surrounds them is blindness, foolish libertarianism and ignorance.
The youth who shot multiple bullets into the head of a 31-year-old cop did not come into the world destined to be a destroyer. He was likely a beautiful baby, “trailing clouds of glory” as Wordsworth wrote.
Children are clay, and the first imprints made in them are by their parents. My father had cruel sculptors for his tender years, people who treated the precious material in their hands as if it was trash. He had the ability to transcend that unjust beginning, that thwarted entrance into this miracle of a world.
Not all do. The boy (because at 18 we are still children in my opinion) who assassinated Officer Fitzgerald apparently had a troubled existence, which might have been rich in physical accouterments but lacking in the type of care and guidance that might have blunted the edges of some inner torment and disjointed thoughts.
It’s true that we don’t know everything about his upbringing, but to just completely discount the influence that his parents had on him, as a not insignificant minority of people did, is to guarantee that it will happen again.
I disagree with Hillary that it takes a village to raise a child if that means we are able to farm out parental duties to the villagers.
While neighbors and teachers and friends all play a role in forming a healthy and productive member of society, the first and most important people, the ones who are the alpha and the omega of all that amazing potential, are mom and dad.
My own father died when I was 20. My mother had to raise my four younger siblings, children under the age of 16, by herself. She did a magnificent job, and we were blessed.
But not everyone is given that gift.
In a world where social media is constantly firing away at the ramparts of protection for children and exposing them to influences they should never encounter, and at a time when depression is a greater pandemic than the one with the actual vaccine, parents are more important than ever.
They are like the 300 Spartans, trying to keep the enemy at bay at least until the child is old enough to function on his own.
Those who reject that theory do so because they don’t want to admit failure, or responsibility, or even the possibility that all of their good actions will be irrelevant. Perhaps in the smallest of cases they will be.
Perhaps there really are bad seeds. But the best antidote we have for that is good parents. It costs nothing, it’s plentiful, and it doesn’t need boosters.
And the resulting benefits are permanent: immunity to the harsh and debilitating influences of life.