A Man's Home is Not His Castle

I recently ran into an old friend not seen for years and we fell into doing what guys do in these modern times; exchanging tales of family horror.

When last I’d left him he was on a long rebound from bad first marriage, and in mid-life found a beautiful woman, married her, and together they had the daughter they both craved. A child couldn’t have asked for better parents; bright, caring, educated, reasonably well off, no private coke, alcohol or porn addictions, nice house in the country. It was a story that, after some high drama, had resolved into a happy climax.

Then, he said, time went by, the beautiful daughter reached adolescence and fell in with an older boyfriend who introduced her to cocaine, and pretty soon the loving parents were calling the State Police to throw their beautiful daughter out of the house. In the midst of one midnight fracas my friend had to make the terrible decision about whether to file assault charges against his own child.

In a stunning moment, a State cop hardly old enough to shave stood, arms folded, and looked my fifty year old friend in the eye; “Listen, a man’s home is his castle,” he said, brow knitted “You’ve got to take charge here.”

No doubt the young policeman meant well, and maybe in his world men still have castles and take charge when the chips are down. But I’m willing to bet that by the time he reaches forty he’ll change his tune; he understand that, as a man, the only thing he can hope to be charge of is directing traffic at the county fair.

One can wonder whether the shocking prevalence of kids from what used to be known as “good families” who end up in a free fall toward downward mobility has anything to do with the fact that men have either been locked up in the castle’s tower or tossed from its buttresses. Because probate court judges, for reasons we will not speculate about here, make sure that Dad gets a good sound whacking when divorce time comes fathers become the silent partners in family dynamics. While Mom runs with the wolves Dad walks on eggshells, too timid to lay down the law even for himself, praying that the judge doesn’t sentence him to two years sleeping in his car.

Don’t get me wrong; though I have written a book about fathering and believe intimate parenting to be a world expanding experience for your basic up-tight guy (like me), and a boon to children, at bottom I know that a healthy family is one in which Mom has both feet planted firmly on the ground. As the Indians said, “Mother earth, Father sky.”
But when kids see that Dad has been reduced from sky-walker to eggshell-tip-toe-er, there has to be an effect. One local Probate Court judge couldn’t process the fact that a friend of mine actually had physical custody of his adolescent son; he continued to insist, “But is he participating in visits?” For this judge, like many others, that is the best, and only, thing that a father can be; a visitor.

The pathological and poorly informed rulings of Probate Court judges have made fathers visitors even in the homes in which they live. Kids sense this, and I’m convinced that much of their acting out is an unconscious expression of anger at the degradation of their fathers by a malevolent system. Both sons and daughters “go warrior” in an unconscious effort to show Dad what real freedom is like. Unfortunately, in the process they all too often throw their own young lives away.

Judges have failed to do the necessary research to understand that the vast majority of divorces are filed by women who are in no way subjected to domestic threat or violence or exploitation, that a large majority of child abuse, including child murder, is perpetrated by mothers, that domestic violence, in all its forms and levels of severity, is carried out at least as frequently by women, and that the overwhelming majority of victims of violence are male. Due to their lack of awareness of the literature, they work to protect children from their protectors (fathers) and end up increasing the likelihood of abuse.

And even in those families in which a father continues to live in the home, everyone, most of all the father, knows the fragility of his presence. What modern father hasn’t heard some form of the following statement from an adolescent offspring in the midst of a tantrum; “Dad, if you don’t let me do what I want, I’ll call the Department of Social Services and have you arrested”? Dad knows the fundamental truth; one false move and he’s gone.

Maybe judges think their working toward some kind of social justice, or maybe they think they’re doing the best they can. Maybe they don’t think at all. What they don’t understand is that dragging the father from the castle doesn’t strike a blow for gender neutrality or fairness; it hurts children, even those children fortunate enough to have a father in the home – for now.

Meanwhile, my friend continues to sleep lightly in fear of his own offspring. He knows, whatever young cops may think, that any law he laws down in his castle isn’t worth the paper it’s written on, for in the castle there is no king. And the smell he catches as he lays there awake comes from the smoke of his dreams burning.