I’ve blogged many times over the years about the disturbing “father factor” I’ve seen in virtually every shooting spree or mass murder that has made the news. In nearly every case, the shooter grew up in a fatherless home.
Following in the wake of the D.C. sniper, Sandy Hook, Aurora, Tucson, Chardon High School, and the Norway terrorist, the Santa Barbara case in the news today appears to be no different: a murder spree carried out by a lonely, angry, disturbed young man with a troubling family background.
At this stage, we don’t have a lot of detail about the “inner workings” of Elliot Rodger’s family life, but we do know that his parents divorced in 1999, and he, according to an article in The New York Times, seemed to be at odds with his family throughout his teenage years. And reports have shown that Rodger’s parents gave him lots of “things”: therapy, medicine, an expensive BMW. But did they give themselves?
I am not suggesting that his family life caused his violent behavior, but it is becoming more and more clear as these horrific incidents occur that a family life defined by instability and turmoil is a significant factor that must be considered as we figure out how to make such incidents less common.
But given Elliot Rodger’s clear hatred for women (and everyone else for that matter), there is another “father factor” that is important to consider here as well: the positive role that good dads can play in helping their daughters and sons navigate the world of dating.
Rodger, in his last video before he carried out his murders, suggested that he was doing what he did due to being rejected too often by the women he desired. It is understandable that such an act could cause young women to fear what the consequences may be when they turn aside unwanted advances from young men. How can fathers help their daughters get their heads around this?
For starters, it is important to note that Rodger said in his video that he thought he would be rejected if he asked a woman out. This was a young man who felt rejected; he was seemingly never rejected by an actual woman. So, young women and their dads should take heart that Rodger’s actions were those of a severely disturbed individual, not the result of a run-of-the-mill rejection by an actual woman.
That aside, it is the role of good dads to help their daughters find their prince without kissing all the toads.
Here is how dads can help:
- Be there: First and foremost, a good father’s mere presence helps daughters see what a healthy relationship between a man and a woman (her parents) looks like. Good dads model that relationship for their girls, allowing them to start learning about healthy relationships from the very start of their lives. Good dads also build their daughters’ self esteem, as various studies have found.
- Be proactive: As their daughters get older, good dads play an active role in their decisions around dating. Dad and mom should call the shots on when their daughter starts to date; it is their call, not hers. They are in a better position than anyone else to determine if she is ready to date.
- Discourage “bad boys”: Once she does start dating, good dads help their daughters avoid guys who appear to need “fixing;” so-called bad boys. They are bad for a reason. Despite the allure, dating should not be therapy, where your daughter is the therapist and her boyfriend is the patient.
- Encourage group dating: Good dads encourage their daughters to spend their first months of dating going on group dates so that they, a) are rarely alone with guys, and b) have their friends around to help them “vet” guys. There is nothing like having your peers give you an objective evaluation of a guy who may be more trouble than he is worth.
- Avoid unknowns: Good dads discourage their daughters from dating guys they don’t know. If a guy and a girl are interested in dating each other and they don’t know each other (e.g., don’t go to the same school or church, etc.), then it is likely they simply want to date each other based on looks alone. This is probably not a good recipe for those earliest years of dating.
- Don’t obsess over dating: Good dads encourage their daughters to pursue lots of different interest in their teenage years. They help their daughters focus on academics, friends, sports, and other interests, so that dating (or not) doesn’t take over their lives.
So, when it comes to the question of how to “safely reject” a guy, it can be as simple as following the same basic rules you follow in all other human interactions. Be respectful. Don’t humiliate people. And, if dads are following the above steps, it is likely that their daughters are confident, assertive young women who are surrounded by good friends and supportive parents. These are notoriously good insulators against violence.
Finally, it is critical that dads work with their sons to help them navigate the world of dating, too. It is clear that Elliot Rodger had no idea how to interact with members of the opposite sex. Good dads ensure that their sons are confident, respectful, and hold the best interests of others above their own. They teach their sons that girls are worthy of love, not lust, and model this behavior in their own lives.
When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. As someone who works in “fatherhood,” it would seem I see fatherhood everywhere in the case of the Santa Barbara murders. But it appears that in every aspect of this horrible incident, there are lessons good dads can take away to ensure that they are raising sons and daughters who will be less likely to be the perpetrators or victims of such crimes.
We dads certainly can’t control everything, but we can give our children what they need the most: ourselves.
What's one thing you're teaching your son or daughter about dating?