Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Meditations on a Facebook Murder

"Where was her father?" I wondered as I read the terribly sad story of Ashleigh Hall.

Ashleigh, age 17, was sexually assaulted and killed by a stranger she met over Facebook. Her mother is my age. Her father is... Hmm, no mention of a father.

Ashleigh had three infant sisters, but no mention is made of their father, either. I know it is incredibly retro to wonder, when a girl goes off to spend the night with a complete stranger, what kind of relationship she had with her father. But I have an old-fashioned, married-to-my-mother father, so I wonder all the same.

According to the British papers, Ashleigh befriended (over Facebook) a man she thought was a muscular teenage English boy, a labourer. The "boy's" Facebook page offered several pictures of "his" ripped "self" in his undershorts, taken by "himself" in a mirror. And the "boy" expressed a sexual interest in Ashleigh, which pleased her very much. Ashleigh had the baby face of a fat ten year old, only with eyeliner smeared around her eyes. Growing up in a thin-is-in society, one nevertheless fuelled on chips, must have been hell.

Well, Ashleigh told her mother one night that she was going out on a sleepover, and she never came home. Apparently the killer, when he came for her with his car, posed as his Facebook persona's father, the only father in the whole story. It's all so horrible and sad.

The Daily Mail (of course) writes in great detail of the contrast between the scrawny, bald, smelly, 33 year old killer and his handsome, ripped, young Facebook persona. But I think it would still have been horrid if Ashleigh really had been putting her life in the hands of a 19 year old labourer she had never met. Would she have done so if she had been thinner and prettier?

Maybe. Thin and pretty is no guarantee of dignity and self-worth, as I see every time I watch Marry, Snog, Avoid, a comedy/reality/science fiction show in which spray-tanned girls in sequins are made to wipe off their make-up and put on modest clothing. Their outrageous outfits and antics are, of course, their ploy for male attention. The camera captures these girls at clubs and on beaches, downing shooters and giving young men whiplash. So far I don't remember any interviews with their fathers.

Boys, you know I am fond of you, and if you are reading my blog, you must be the right sort. All this talk about fathers should emphasize how important I think you will be in the lives of your daughters, if you have any. If you monitor your teenage daughters' access to Facebook and forbid them from going to sleepovers, and if you occasionally shout, "No daughter of mine is going out dressed like that!", you could save their very lives.* And if you pay them even just that much attention, they might not be so obsessed with getting attention from other men.

For why are girls so obsessed with getting attention from other men? It makes me weep, it really does. In my teenage days, long before I was marriageable, I layered on the eyeshadow and wore the short skirts of the 80s in the hopes that My Ideal would see me across a crowded subway train and, noticing my huge, purple-shadowed eyes and long, white lace stockinged legs, fall madly in love with the Whole Me. But, other than asking boys from the parish or my brother's school on dates, that's as far as I went to get male attention.

At the time it never occurred to me that that this counted, but in fact I got plently of male attention. My father came home to dinner every single night. He asked about homework and when I had last gone to confession. He drove me to ballet class, and he drove the family to church on Sundays. He more-or-less left discipline and doctors' appointments up to my mother, but he was there, a benevolent absolute monarch with a crabby, hardworking prime minister.

If my father went away on trips, he brought back modest gifts, and my father's gifts tended to direct my interests. My lifelong respect for Latin springs from my father's gift of The Eagle of the Ninth. And my father's treats, like taking me to see Doctor Faustus on one occasion and the Canadian novellist W.D. Valgardson on another, likewise rippled throughout my life. Sadly, chemistry didn't really take, although I still appreciate the hours my dad spend with my brother and me over the chemistry set. My father is a practising Catholic, and it is the joy of my life that my husband is a practising Catholic, too.

"Fathers aren't really important," said a friend of mine, one day. She was a single mother with a two year old son, and she had battles royale with her ex-boyfriend.

"Yes, they are," I thought, but I didn't say it out loud. Her divorced father, an Italian war vet, had severe mental problems, and her son's father may have had control issues. It seemed kinder to say nothing. But it isn't in the long run.

Thomas Aquinas argued that premarital sex was a sin in part because of the damage done to illegitimate children. (Sophia Loren, for example, could not go to school because her father refused to acknowledge her.) Today we do not visit the sins of the parents on their innocent children, and shame over bastardy has been mostly wiped out. But children without fathers are punished all the same, and are left terribly vulnerable. Even if they manage not to be killed before birth, they are left to negotiate life with only their distracted mother and without a father's presence** to protect them from evil strangers.

*I believe 100% in parents backing each other up. So if your husband doesn't like your daughter's outfit, you officially don't either. And vice versa. Of course, neither you nor your husband has the right to strangle her to death over her clothes, or to get her brothers to do it for you. Just thought I'd add that in memory of Asqa Parvez of Missassauga, Ontario. Golden mean, people. Golden mean.

**Ashleigh's body was identified by her grandfather. Okay, there was a real father in the case: her mother's 69 year old father. But now I am really wondering where the father of the one-year-old half sister is. Why wasn't he the one to identify the...? Ah, never mind.


Lemons said...

I think fathers are even more essential for the upbringing of girls than for boys. This might sound a little freudian, but I think the parent of the opposite sex, in most cases, shapes how a child is going to choose a spouse.

I love my dad. He's worked hard all my life, and shaped my interests. He was a Marine Sniper-- I like guns. He loves history-- my minor is history.

And he's brought me (and my six sisters. I only have ONE brother) up with the phrase "Boys lie." Now, I just roll my eyes at this most of the time, since of course, girls lie too. But he's been the biggest influence on how to act around boys, and how to guard my heart.

Some would say he's a scary, cranky old man, and others would say he's the loud life of the party. And they'd both be right.

But to anyone who says fathers don't matter, I have adjusted how I feel about guys in my life according to my dad in pretty much all ways. And on the occasion that my dad likes and respects a man I'd like to choose as a spouse, that makes that man 100x better, because I know if my dad had it his way, we'd just all acknowledge that no man is good enough for me at all. Ha!

Seraphic said...

Lemons, that's great. I think everyone who reads this, who has a great dad, should tell us about their dad. And if their mum had broken up with their dad, but did't stand in the way of them having a healthy relationship with their dad, I'd like to read about their mum too.

Seraphic said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
theobromophile said...

And if their mum had broken up with their dad, but did't stand in the way of them having a healthy relationship with their dad, I'd like to read about their mum too.

My parents divorced when I was in diapers. They shared custody of my older sister and me, but my father had primary custody; my mum saw us on weekends. (Her parents took us during the summers, which was wonderful for them to do and for my father to encourage. Worked out well for all involved.)

While my sister and I grew up spending our afternoons at the local Y and were latch-key kids in elementary school, my dad did work incredibly hard to make a good life for us. Not only does he work incredibly hard at his job so that we can live in a safe town with good schools, he also made sure that we ate dinner as a family every night. He coached my basketball team when I played basketball. He went to almost every single one of my track meets in high school - about 100 of them. (In fact, the only one he missed was the very last one. When I gave him my uniform to wash - he does the laundry - he pulled the hip number off of it and kept it, then gave it to my stepmum to put into a scrapbook for my graduation. Awww!)

For the record, I also have a very close relationship with my mum. I'm incredibly fortunate: even though my parents split up, they do think that healthy family relationships are important.

Alex said...

Fathers are extremely important for boys too, though. Statistically, a disproportionately high percentage of violent crimes are committed by men who had no relationship with their father, or their fathers abused them. I wouldn't be surprised if the perpetrator in this case didn't have a relationship with his father. That doesn't excuse these crimes in the least, but if the father of the perpetrator abandoned his family or abused his sons, he has blood on his hands as well.

sciencegirl said...

My dad is great. He's hot-tempered and a great listener. He always pushed me and believes in me. He and I watched old movies & talked about books together that no one else in my family was interested in. He has never been into science, but he always asks me about my research, over and over until he can repeat it all back to me. He is loving and good to my mom, and treats his adult children like adults. He is the one who made me the rugged individualist I am today (ahhh, at least I can live up to one American stereotype), and taught me to yearn and to take pride in standing on my own two feet. He was super protective of his kids, and got even more so when he started doing child advocacy -- I got to go to exactly 2 sleepovers in my life, one of which did not have any men in the house. He taught us all the virtue of charity and the virtues of righteous anger (and sometimes not very righteous at all anger), apologies and forgiveness, and the importance of a good sense of humor. Crazy like a fox, and sometimes just crazy, my dad (and my mom too) definitely did not leave any of their children craving attention. Sometimes I would hear about children wanting their parents' attention, and I would think "HOW LUCKY! Those kids are crazy! I wish mine would leave me alone!" Now that I am no longer a teenager, I am really glad they didn't. I know that this blog is mainly read by singles, but if there are any parents reading this, I hope this thread reminds you how important you are and to keep on doing that great job even though your kids will not be so appreciative at the time!

Vox Cantoris said...

Two musts for men:

1. Fathers, hug your son's or some other man will!

2. Fathers, be the husband you want your daughters to marry!

Not my quotes but sage advice from a psychologist I once heard on EWTN.

May Ashley now find the love of the real FATHER that her earthly one failed to be.

Anna said...

Vox, I completely agree with #2. I have somewhat the opposite experience with my father that most people here have had.

I need to say first off that in the past couple of months I've been able to realize that maybe my dad didn't learn HOW to show love. Maybe he was never taught how to treat the women in his family with respect, or how to be a cheerful person. I know he has a good heart somewhere, but it's so hard to see it sometimes. It makes me sad that what I look for in a man is in many ways opposite of my dad.

I don't want to go in too much detail here. Yes, women use their fathers as a gauge for the men they will marry...in my case, for the most part, I'm using mine as a gauge for what NOT to marry.

littlegreengardengal said...

I'm very fortunate that my dad is still married to my mom. In fact it is probably one of the best things that has ever happened to me. My parents weren't perfect (of course no one is), they got married very young and so were young parents and I'm sure that made it harder, but I know they always tried to do what they thought was best for us. And I always knew they cared about me.

One of the things I appreciate most about my dad is how he is a nurturer. If I call him with a problem with my house or such, he will either come over to help me with it ("I was in the area..." - he lives and works over an hours drive away) or if he can't come by he will describe in detail how I can fix whatever it is and will email me weblinks of diagrams, directions, etc. for whatever I am working on. If I have any kind of crisis I can always call him and he will calm me down and help me figure out what to do. He taught me to be a hard worker and to not give up when things get tough. I have so much respect for my dad.

Kate P said...

May the poor girl rest in peace. My gosh.

My parents will be married 39 years next month. My dad and I didn't have the best of relationships when I was growing up, but he worked hard to provide for the family. He also is a church musician and has taught me about using one's talent to serve God and about being generous (not to mention frugal). So now we do music together for church; he really helped me develop my singing.

The Sojourner said...

Oohh, good dad stories! Must comment!

My dad left home to join the Army when he was 17, departing what was (with all due respect to my grandmother and dearly departed grandfather) a highly disfunctional and emotionally toxic environment. When he was 23 he met my mother (who was 19 and just out of Basic Training) and promptly married her. (Promptly=They knew each other for less than 3 months, something my mother doesn't recommend even though it worked out for her.) They've been married for almost 24 years.

My childhood memories involve serious conversations about random mathematical/scientific topics (once he kept me up past my bedtime teaching me binary). One thing I hope to replicate for my own children is that he never dumbed things down for me; and I understood a lot of things that you mightn't have thought a 9- or 10-year-old could follow.

There were also bedtime stories. My dad's a fantastic storyteller; any creativitiy I have I inherited from him. He was the first person to take me seriously as a writer (when I was all of 14 and my favorite thing in the world was clattering away on the computer). I've tried to return the favor by harassing him about how he could write a novel if he tried. (He seems to think he's too old to start one.)

Thirdly, he was perhaps the person who did the most to foster my Catholicism, a funny thing for an ex-Protestant agnostic. (Please note that the contributions of my Catholic mother, who had a habit of dragging my sister and I to Confession when we were particularly bad, were also extremely valuable.) When I was 13 he decided that he wanted to investigate Catholicism so he brought home stacks and stacks of books, just about every Catholic-related book he could get his hands on, and read. Since I'd read my way through the entire children's section at the library I was bored and read all the books in my dad's stacks. And I fell in love with the Church, and have stayed in love with her. Meanwhile my dad converted in 2004 (when I was 14); I still consider that Easter Vigil one of the best nights of my life.

Also, he's 6'1" and knows how to handle a gun (ex-Army, recall), so if he didn't approve of a boy he'd make sure the boy knew it. (He and the Cobbler get along quite well; they talk about computers and philosophy and stuff.)

Yay for good dads. :)