It was a Friday morning like any other in Berkeley, Calif., during the spring of my freshman year. A friend barged into my dorm room and declared, “We need to drive up to Lake Tahoe today and rent a house for the summer.” So we did.
A few weeks later four guys and two girls were splitting $300 a month rent six ways for a summer home on the lake’s south shore. Like hundreds of other college students, we worked just across the Nevada state line in the casinos.
One balmy July night after dinner the guys I lived with and a few other friends went out for a walk. As we wandered through the surrounding neighborhoods we stopped to talk with a father, perhaps in his late thirties, who was playing softball in the street with a few kids, including his daughter. She was 15.
We were all 19. A few of my friends were brutally handsome. A few others were brutally fit. And that 15-year-old girl wanted nothing more than to get to know these newfound neighbors.
She pleaded with her father to let her join us on our walk. The dad, to his credit, slammed the lid on that idea. So she pleaded even more passionately with her dad. “Plleeeaase…..!!!!” she begged. This went on for several minutes. By the end, she was nearly in tears. And her dad stood firm.
As safe as his daughter would have been on a walk with us, her dad had the good sense to keep her away from six unknown guys.
We went about our walk. And I’m sure that girl thought her life was ruined—by the dad who probably steered her down a pretty good life path.
Fast forward about 15 years. A woman I came to know through an interview for my book was a student at the University of Oregon. She dated a player on the university’s football team. He physically beat her up. She is one of the most sensitive, caring women I have ever known. And she was beaten up by a man twice her size who supposedly loved her.
Fast forward another dozen years or so. Kelly Goodman, then a 21-year-old student and single mom who worked in the U of O football team’s equipment room, was by her account raped by a standout who went on to a professional football career.
Dial ahead yet another dozen years, and who-knows-how-many rapes at universities around the country, and The University of Oregon last season suspended Brandon Austin, Dominic Artis and Damyean Dotson, three Duck basketball players accused of sexually assaulting an 18-year-old woman in March. In the police report of the incident the young woman tells of one of the players boasting to a friend about how physically hard the three had been in their sexual conquest.
These are just a handful of incidents, and those close to home. The violence perpetrated upon women by men around the world is staggering. It’s on college campuses everywhere. It’s in the U.S. military.
It’s in the news again right now, with professional football player Ray Rice slugging his fiancé in the face and knocking her unconscious.
It’s in India, where reports of gang rapes are commonplace. It’s in countries where religious zealots feel so threatened by educated women that they put a bullet into the head of a teenage girl—who miraculously survives. It’s Boko Haram kidnapping hundreds of Nigerian school girls. It is everywhere. It is sheer insanity. This violence against women is insanity. It is the human race at war with itself.
As I write this I have just finished a long walk at Black Butte Ranch, a setting much like Lake Tahoe.
This time, I walked alone. Now I have a 15-year-old daughter. And I cannot help but wonder where all the fathers are, whose sons need them growing up? Whose daughters need them for a lifetime? Where are the men who will hold accountable these wild animals from the species homo sapien who belong in cages?
Every decade, more sons and daughters in this country grow up without their fathers. It’s now at 24 million American children who live without their biological fathers, and counting. Twenty four million.
I think back to that simple act of strength by the father we came across on a summer night in Lake Tahoe. Like 15-year-olds everywhere, my daughter is surrounded by boys who mix two parts testosterone with the common sense and decency of bark dust.
I watch, and listen, and cannot help but wonder. Where are all the fathers who demand a world of common sense and decency for their daughters, and who hold their sons accountable?
They are too few. And too far between.