"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.