Jul 27, 2011

I even love Macaulay Culkin

Actually I don't. I think he's annoying, a lousy over-produced child-actor, and at least on-screen quite a snot. So why did I cry when his character died?

Short answer - because I'm a dad. My wife's posting tonight describes it better than I can. Both of us posted yesterday about how we stepped up to stop a drunk driver - which required leaving our kids to witness the scary scene alone - to which one Mothering Magazine reader commented:
“Yeah, you did have a choice. You could have called the police. Clearly you could have gotten security if they got there so quickly What on earth were you thinking? This was terrible modeling for your children! To me this is the anti-mama bear, you chose to act in a way that traumatized your children!"

Sarah has already, as always, posted a beautiful response about universal maternal love. Being her loving husband, I always have a bit more to say, so here it is:

1. I'm amused that no-one wrote the response to me. Is it societally OK for Dad to abandon the wee ones to play superhero, but not mom? Would she chastise Arnold for leaving his kindergarten class to go stop the bad guys in Kindergarten Cop?

2. The "call the police and stay out of it" response is a pretty normal cop out (forgive the pun). Kinda like Grandma telling me to move home from Africa, get a real job and send money to Peace Corps to go do that development stuff (um, grandma, Peace Corps are just college grads just like me - someone else's grandkids.) This was a rare opportunity where there was no doubt about the need for intervention, no significant danger to taking action, and direct and immediate action was the only option - by the time we'd spoken to the 911 operator that driver would have already been on the road and we would have all just been praying that the police would catch her in time.

Yes the police are thankfully there for our protection, and in a more dangerous situation perhaps would have been the only option. But we Canadians especially have become so dependent on the police, the government, the experts, care homes, even the non-profit community, that it's become too easy to abdicate our civic duties. We teach and model for our children to "do the right thing," and sometimes that means doing it ourselves, not calling in someone else's parents or grandkids to take care of it for us.

3. That care-for-the-world heart-expansion that comes with parenting, which Sarah paints so beautifully, isn't just for moms. I hated Home Alone, and especially that child brat star, every time I saw it (video selections are limited at the African pastor's house where I lived then). Then years later, while we were pregnant with our first child in Texas, I suffered through another horrible Macaulay Culkin waste-of-2-hours-movie - My Girl. But when he died at the end of the movie I started crying. A child had just died, and I was a parent (to be) of a child, and John Donne's bell tolled and GONG!!! I was a parent. Part of the universal community of moms and dads and grandparents and aunts and uncles who care for and about the children of our world, and that love and care is so powerful that it gushes over the feeble white-picket boundaries of our little nuclear families.

When we left our children "home alone" to watch us struggle with that drunk woman, we weren't abandoning them. We were directly and actively caring for them and for all children. Yes it was a trauma for them, yes I wish it hadn't happened, and yes I wish that the police or security or another onlooker could have been there and allowed at least one of us to stay with the children. But not for a moment, then nor now, have I doubted that we were right in taking action.


  1. Sarah & Rick –

    I couldn’t agree more with you both about this situation. Furthermore, from my experience as a counsellor and having worked with children for over 20 years, I can safely say that trauma is not a permanent situation – we experience traumatic situations all the time – HOW THEY ARE HANDLED is what determines the level of traumatization. Your children exhibited all of the “normal” emotional responses to a scary situation (this in itself is a sign of excellent emotional health). You have taken time to be with them, creating space for them to have their various responses, and will obviously continue to do so… all the time nurturing your own selves as you process the incident. Healing takes place through this connection.

    Far more traumatizing to all children (who are so sensitive to what happens in the world) is the absence of adults taking action in terms of social responsibility and social justice. Children see the truth around them and are impacted every day by the hypocrisy and contradictory behaviour of the adults around them. When they watch others do nothing in the face of wrong-doing, they learn to do the same.

    What came up for me as I read your post was sadness and frustration that there were no other people willing to stand up to prevent this woman from driving – the lack of accountability of others and the absence of personal responsibility is alarming, and becoming far too prevalent.

    Good for you for being completely real in this circumstance, and being so vulnerable (and courageous) in examining yourselves in the public eye.

    I feel lucky to know you.

  2. Our society works because people take responsibility for it running well. We do not have enough police or cameras around for us to 'police' society. It is only because we cooperate and act in a decent manner that it all works.

    There are numerous times when people can and should step in - your situation of the other night was a good example of this. The police would not have shown up quickly and the security for the event are no more prepared or 'authorized' to take action than you were.

    People not stepping in is one more example of the alienation going on in our society. The more alienated people become from the idea of a common society, the harder it becomes to maintain the civil society we all want in our world.

    Your actions increased the social capital in yourselves, your kids, the people that saw what was going on, and now in the people that read about the event. You have added a bit of courage and responsibility into hundreds of people. You two are heroes because allowed people's faith in civil society to be renewed.