December 26th, 2012 by Ned Holstein, MD, MS, Founder and Chairman of the Board
After our tears dry for the twenty little darlings and seven others who were mowed down by Adam Lanza, we begin to ask “Why?”
There is always a dominant narrative to explain the unthinkable. Now it is mostly about the absence of effective gun controls, or about mental illness. Or, we hear about the effects of violence on television and video games.
We don’t hear about the effects of fatherlessness, especially on young men. We don’t hear that the most reliable predictor of crime is neither poverty nor race but growing up fatherless. We don’t hear that a large majority of violent criminals were fatherless. We don’t even hear that young male elephants go on violent rampages unless they are kept in line by the old bulls.
The Daily Mail reports quotes several of Adam’s former classmates to the effect that his problems got much worse after the separation. “He was always weird but the divorce affected him. He was arguing with his mother. He was a ticking time bomb waiting to explode.”
Several news organizations have combed through the divorce records for tidbits, but none of them have reported obvious issues of importance. Was Mom stable and capable of helping and of overseeing Adam (apparently not)? Was she careful about keeping her guns out of Adam’s hands (apparently not)? Did Dad try and fail to get custody? Has he remained active in Adam’s life (probably not: he chose to move 40 miles away, and we have heard almost nothing from him since the tragedy.)? Was he more capable of keeping Adam in line than Mom, or of seeing that he got help? Was Adam’s distress after the divorce about losing the love and guidance of his Dad, or what?
The fatherhood narrative is absent from our society and from this terrible story.
It was also absent from the awful stories of mass shooters Jared Loughner, James Holmes, Seung-Hui Cho and Jacob Tyler Roberts. Of this group, only Roberts was without a father, but we still need to understand what it is about fathers that inhibits violence in young men.
In fairness, most rare and awful events are the result of numerous influences acting together. The accident happened because the driver was intoxicated and the brakes were worn and the pedestrian was careless and the road was slippery and the lighting was poor. No one factor explains all. If just one of these factors had been different, there would have been no accident.
But fatherhood is not even on society’s list. This is especially sad because a simple change in divorce laws towards shared parenting would take a big chunk out of this factor at no cost. This is a much cheaper fix than a bureaucracy to enforce new gun laws or more mental health services, not that these might not be good ideas.
The dominant narratives shut out the other narratives. There was a time in America when the dominant narratives would have told us that Adam Lanza’s soul was possessed by the Devil. Or that his actions were God’s punishment for our sins. Or, in the nineteenth century, we might well have heard that Lanza was not raised with sufficient discipline. Or, in the twentieth, that this tragedy was the result of that ole’ devil drink — either Adam’s or his mother’s.
The dominant narratives of the age close the door on other truths. They are not remarked upon, analyzed, or investigated.
Our job as a movement is to put the fatherhood narrative front and center. That is my job and your job. It may be one of the most powerful ways to help troubled kids — and prevent mass murder.
It is possible that with reformed family courts and more fathering, Adam Lanza and his victims would be alive today. We just don’t know, and we never will know.
NPO publishes blog articles to inform and to stimulate conversation about issues of importance to NPO's mission. All blog articles express the opinions of the authors as individuals and do not necessarily reflect the views of National Parents Organization, its Board of Directors, or its executives.