Father Figures

By Kersley Fitzgerald

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Have you heard about the young rogue elephants? 60 Minutes did a story on them in 2008, and David Tereshchuk made a documentary somewhat later. In the 1980s, a reserve in South Africa found their elephant herds were overcrowded. The older male elephants were too big to be moved, so they were killed and the females and younger males transported to other parks. The lack of adult socialization not only prevented the adolescent males from learning how to act, they matured too early, both physically and sexually. Packs of adolescent bulls ran amok, destroying fences, attacking safari trucks, and killing white rhinos. The bulls were filled with raging hormones and didn't know what to do with them, which made them aggressive. The park rangers culled the most dangerous, but this wouldn't solve the main issue. The solution was to bring in older males — father figures — to teach the younger males how to live.

It wasn't easy. Park rangers had to find large, mature males, tranquilize them enough to keep them calm, but not completely out, and move them. The change was decisive. The younger bulls became more calm. Their testosterone levels decreased, and their early entry into adolescence stopped. And there were no more rhino deaths.

More recently, in another reserve, rangers saw the same problem, but the park was too small for the addition of an older male. So Jock McMillan had to step in. He approaches the young elephants and acts dominant among the bulls. When they push him, he slaps their trunks and scolds them. When the elephants are more gentle, he rewards them with affection. And it seems to be working. The delinquent elephants have been compared to modern fatherless sons since the story first broke. Dr. Wade Horn fleshed out the similarities in his article "Of Elephants and Men."

With humans, however, we see the work of generations. We not only have boys without fathers, we have fathers without fathers. Some take their responsibility seriously and vow to give their children what they never had. Some fathers never get past their own delinquent adolescence and teach their sons that this stunted emotional state is what manhood looks like. Such is the case with Dan and Brock Turner.

In January of 2015, "Emily Doe" and her visiting sister went to a party at Stanford University. Since Emily had graduated from college she had stopped drinking heavily. So the intended few social drinks incapacitated her before she was aware of what was happening. She woke up in the hospital, battered and sexually assaulted. Witnesses had come upon the attack and caught her assailant while he fled. Later, the assailant said he had gone to the party looking for a hook-up. He told the officers that Emily liked it. He had never intended to take her to his dorm, which was why they were found behind a dumpster.

He blamed the situation on the fact they were both drunk. He was starting a program to talk to high school and college students about drinking and sexual promiscuity. Drinking ruined his life and he regretted drinking and wished he'd never been drinking. Drinking got him kicked out of Stanford, took his chance at swimming at the Olympics, and ruined his life.

The root of the assailant's continued self-centered attitude became evident when his father's statement was publicized. His father mourned the changes in his son. That he will "never be his happy go lucky self with that easy going personality and welcoming smile." That he now suffers from anxiety, fear, and depression. He's lost his appetite even though he's a good cook and used to love steak. The guilty verdicts (three felonies; unanimous votes) shattered him and his family. He'll never swim in the Olympics. The fact he has to register as a sex offender will limit where he can live. He has never been violent — including on that night. According to his father, the assailant is paying too steep a price "for 20 minutes of action."

By the way, the assailant got six months in jail and three years' probation.

Sometimes young men are criminally delinquent because they have no significant male role models, and sometimes they're criminally delinquent because their significant male role models taught them to be so.

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Published 6-8-16