Phillip Garrido is technically “a father.” He allegedly kidnapped Jaycee Dugard when she was 11, sexually assaulted her, so that she subsequently gave birth to two children. Some have had difficulty attaching the term “father” to Garrido. One news report I saw said, “He allegedly “sired” two children.” These children (both girls), are reportedly 11 and 14. We do not know if Garrido also sexually assaulted the children.
This week I would like to discuss a difficult subject and ask some difficult questions. Because I am using the case of Phillip Garrido to guide this discussion, we are considering fatherhood. However, I believe the same points can be raised regarding motherhood.
Here are the questions:
At what point is a father not a father? At what point does a child not need both parents? At what point does a father’s treatment of a mother justify the termination of his parental rights? Should criminal behavior be considered in custody/visitation cases? At what point is a father so mentally ill that children should not see him? Should a child’s wish to see his/her father play a role in these decisions?
I’ll say up front that in the extreme case of Phillip Garrido few if any one will argue that a court should have the girls brought to visit him in prison. For most people the question of whether Garrido also sexually assaulted the girls would be a deciding factor. For the sake of this discussion we will assume that the question of sexual assault cannot be proven one way or another and that the girls won’t talk about that. We are going to make that assumption because in the vast majority of cases I know of that is the situation.
At what point is a father not a father?
State laws say that a rapist does not have parental rights. O.K. that makes sense for stranger rapes, but what if the rape occurred within the context of a relationship? What if a woman is raped, feels humiated then decides to continue a relationship with the “attacker” so although a rape occurred on Tuesday she consented on Friday and we don’t know which act resulted in conception.
What if there is coercion within the relationship. The man says, “Unless you take care of me sexually, I’ll divorce you and get custody of __________ (an existing child).” Out of fear the woman consents to sex sort of and gets pregnant again. In this case coercion is psychological as opposed to physical.
Now if you think that coerced sex is rape. What about covert coercion? I mean conning? What about the woman conned into the relationship? In this case her beliefs about the man and the nature of their relationship that caused her to consent were all based on lies. Had she known the truth, she would never have agreed to the relationship or to sex. What then?
At what point does the father’s treatment of the mother justify the termination of his parental rights?
In many cases the family courts have tried to separate the relationships of the family believing that a man’s treatment of his partner has nothing to do with his relationship with his children. It appears that even Phillip Garrido provided for these children in that they were supported financially. He also claims he nurtured and loved them.
If you say that kidnap and rape of the mother justifies termination of parental rights. I can tell you of a case where the woman initially consented to the relationship. The man who is a psychopathic con artist, eventually held her prisoner. She gave birth during that time and is now fighting to have the man’s parental rights terminated. He was arrested and is in prison for assaulting a sibling, the woman’s other child, but he is still “a father”- according to at least one judge.
Does a woman held prisoner have to constantly try to escape in order to “prove” she was not a “willing victim”? The victim in Garrido’s case did not apparently attempt escape. Are we to say she voluntarily lived with Garrido?
At what point is a father so mentally ill that children should not see him?
It is clear that in addition to being sexually deviant, and personality disordered, Garrido is also psychotic (delusional and hallucinating). Should children be protected from parents with psychosis? If so why? People with cluster B personality disorders have difficulty with interpersonal relationships and when the disorder is severe are not capable of placing another person’s welfare above their own. What then?
Should criminal behavior be considered in parental rights cases?
There are many children who are ordered to visit parents in prison. Why are these girls an exception? (Provided that they were not assaulted).
Should a child’s wish to see his/her father play a role in these decisions?
Garrido’s victim’s family members are quoted in the news as saying that the situation has been difficult for the girls since “He was their father.” Children have a natural tendency to seek to be with those who have raised them. Why do we use this tendency against them? Why do we think this is always a good thing? Shouldn’t concerned healthy adults make a decision based on reason, instead of a primitive drive children have?
We all have to stop denying that the above questions exist, put our heads together and come up with a just system for dealing with these questions. In the United States, I am afraid this should be a Federal Issue. It will be very difficult for us to fight to change the laws in every state separately. To say that a child always needs both parents is clearly absurd, as Garrido’s case shows us. If we look at each aspect of Garrido’s case we see there are some clear guidelines that can be developed to deal with situations where:
One parent harms the other.
One parent terrorizes, coerces and/or imprisons the other.
One parent is a criminal.
One parent is mentally ill.
Although cases where a child has two disordered parents are common (and most tragic), cases where there is one relatively healthy parent should be the focus of change. I assert this because by forcing a parent to deal with a disordered other parent, we condemn that person to suffer during what should be the happiest most productive years of their lives. Let’s face it, 18 years is a long time. Also since the psychiatric disorders are partly genetic, these children need the best, least stressful upbringing the least disordered parent can give them.
Please use the comments section to weigh in on your answers and post your own story with regard to these questions.