Monday, March 10, 2014

Peter Lanza's Regrets Look Like Causes


"I wish he'd never been born."

According to writer Andrew Solomon, that's what Adam Lanza's father admitted about his own son.

Granted, Adam Lanza is the troubled young man who killed his mother in their home, and then 26 other people at Sandy Hook elementary school in affluent Newtown, Connecticut, over a year ago.  Not exactly anything for a father to find worthwhile about his son.  But still:  to wish he'd never been born?

I've heard a lot of parents confess to the media that, despite the atrocities their children may have perpetrated against humanity, they still loved them.  It's what parents do, even if they can't sanction the behavior of their children.

Throughout his interview with Solomon for the New Yorker, however, Peter Lanza virtually bristles with contempt that Adam was ever his biological offspring.  To his father, Adam apparently was one big nuisance, a "normal, little, weird kid."

"Let’s keep in mind that you expect Adam to be weird," Adam's father repeats to Solomon, as if it was normal for a father to use such a derogatory term in relation to his child.  Especially a child that wasn't just endearingly odd, or extraordinarily gifted, but downright emotionally disabled.

"You can’t mourn for the little boy he once was," Adam's father rationalizes, but to hear Solomon tell it, the elder Lanza was never particularly fond of even the little boy who didn't speak until he was three years old.

"You can't get any more evil," he says of his son.  "How much do I beat up on myself about the fact that he’s my son?  A lot."

Not that it's ultimately Peter Lanza's fault that his youngest son holds the record for killing the most people in a school.  Obviously, there are reasons for why Adam Lanza did what he did, and various contributing factors, plus certain lifestyle choices that he made for himself, all of which set the stage for Sandy Hook's tragedy.  But it's also obvious that Adam was brought up in a family environment that was crippled to a certain extent by what sounds like misplaced devotion by his father.

In any divorce, there are two sides to the story, and Adam's mother initiated her lucrative divorce from his father because their marriage had "broken down irretrievably and there is no possibility of getting back together."  Yet we know that her husband, an accounting executive for a GE subsidiary, worked 60 to 80 hour weeks, earning a fabulous salary in the process.  Perhaps hindsight is the only way to see where all of those long hours at the office could have been better spent trying to invest in both quality and quantity time with his troubled son.  Nevertheless, since Adam was a patient of several doctors and specialists all during his growing-up years, it shouldn't have taken his slaughter of 27 people to indicate that his needs likely wouldn't have been met by a workaholic father who moved out of the family home... and had a girlfriend shortly after his divorce was final.

Asking for a writer from the New Yorker to interview him for his side of this story, Peter Lanza had his prime opportunity to set the record straight about public misperceptions about his parenting style.  And maybe he tried, with his recollections of assorted weekends with his boys, even if he admits to hardly ever seeing them during those many weeks during their growing-up years.  He was earning all that money for the family, and according to our society, that's not morally questionable.  After all, America has plenty of kids being raised in the homes of harried corporate executives, and how many of those kids turn into mass murderers?

And just as every divorce has at least two sides, every child has two parents.  To blame Adam Lanza's father exclusively is to ignore this basic fact.  And although his father appears fairly gracious to his late ex-wife in the New Yorker, it's difficult to envision her as somewhat clueless regarding the depths of despair to which her son had sunk.  Then again, whereas Adam's father seems to have been intentionally distant, and perpetually playing catch-up regarding updates about his youngest son, Adam's mother may have been so personally involved in his problems that she couldn't see the forest for the trees.  Between the two of them, perhaps it could have been hoped that a satisfactory middle ground could have been achieved for Adam's benefit, but to simplify his case so arbitrarily isn't fair to his parents.  Here again, hindsight shows us what went wrong, but isn't particularly useful otherwise.

While it is possible that Peter Lanza and the mother of his children did everything possible to raise their son to the best of their abilities, it's obvious that something didn't click along the way.  We don't have Adam's mother here to give her side of the story, but we do have an engrossing narrative from his father, expertly crafted for a prestigious magazine, and that narrative is more narcissistic than paternal.  Yet few people seem interested in casting blame on Peter Lanza.  For one thing, it seems cruel, considering all he's gone through.  For another thing, hardly anybody seems to know him.  Then, too, basing allegations on an article despite its pedigree in the New Yorker could be derided as hubris of an exceptional impertinence.

So let's take Peter Lanza at what he says is his purpose for telling his story.  And that purpose is to, in some way, perhaps warn other families who might see similarities between his experience and their own.  The problem with that, however, is that many people in our society today are much like the former Mr. and Mrs. Lanza.  They view long work hours as the price we pay for financial success.  They view whatever family dysfunction that may arise from their dedication to corporate America as something to hide, or something to try and escape from through divorce.  They view divorce as one of the potential drawbacks of workaholism, and wealth as something that should minimize whatever fallout comes from divorce.

Peter Lanza even told Solomon that when he and his wife separated, "the funny part is that the separation didn’t really change things for the kids very much."  Oh?  And how could he judge such a thing?  And how does that square with what Solomon references in his preceding paragraph, when Adam told a psychiatrist that his parents, even before their separation, "were as irritating to each other" as they were to Adam himself?  Even if the Lanza's separation "didn't really change things very much," apparently that was hardly a good stasis.

Sure, we could blame Adam's mother.  We could blame all of the behavioral experts who never forced him into an asylum.  We could blame guns, which is the scapegoat upon which lots of liberals are focusing.  And we could blame his father.

But we Americans have more to do now than simply cast blame.  We need to wake up, and forget the notion that this was simply the Lanza family's failure.  We need to stop blaming guns, even though blaming guns is a whole lot easier because they're not people.  People like Peter Lanza's superiors at that GE subsidiary where he worked, for example.  As he struggled with his wife - and then his ex-wife - to raise Adam, how many of Peter's bosses stepped up to the plate and told him, "take off whatever time you need to work with your son; we can see he's weighing on your heart."

Come to think of it, how many companies dangle enormous salaries out there for their hard-working employees to burn the midnight oil over?  And how many of us assume that enough hard-earned income should buy our way out of these types of problems?

One of my friends evaluated all of the media coverage being devoted to the Sandy Hook tragedy and wondered how intense the reporting would be if a similar incident had happened anyplace other than "Currier and Ives Country," as he put it.  Suburban Connecticut pretends to be rural and quaint, but it's an elegantly cloistered world of supersized paychecks, supersized work loads, and supersized egos.  For somebody like Adam Lanza to actually grow up in such an environment and do what he did anyway likely sends shock waves - and guilt - through a lot of parents there, but they're so focused on what they expect from themselves, and their careers, that they can't see what their children truly need.

Ironic how 20 children and their educators paid for it with their lives.


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