By now, I don't have to repeat the story. Though it keeps unfolding, the basic facts are known. Father starts sexually abusing daughter at age 11. At age 18, father lures daughter to basement, drugs her, rapes her, and imprisons her, telling his wife that she'd run off to join a religious cult. For the next 24 years, he keeps her in the basement; has seven children by her, brings three upstairs, adopts and raises them with his wife; imprisons three more in the basement with his daughter, their mother; and incinerates the body of another in an oven, after the infant dies in the basement. Meanwhile, he went on occasional sex tourist vacations.
Joseph Fritzl was a married man, and a successful business man, who fathered seven children with his wife. He fathered seven more with his daughter, Elisabeth. Under no circumstances would he be considered a good parent, given all that has come and is still coming to light. But he is (apparently) heterosexual, and (obviously) capable of reproducing.
Felix, the youngest of the Fritzl "basement family," is the same age as Parker; five years old. And when I read his words upon seeing the moon for the first time, and reports that he squealed when he felt the sunlight on his face, I remembered that this five-year-old boy had never seen daylight before. I thought about how and where he'd spend his days and nights. One of the reasons I can't read stories like this without difficulty is because when I read about a child being mistreated, I can't help but imagine, well, what no parent (or almost no parent) wants to imagine. Even now I can't write the words, because it becomes it's too heartbreaking. And the story is one that doesn't need any more heartbreak added to it.
I thought about how we spent the weekend as a family. Parker had his swimming lesson and a birthday party to go to on Saturday. And we went as a family to "Super Fun Day" at the pre-school Parker will be attending in the fall. We ate lunch in the cafeteria, watched Parker participate in the various activities, and bought him two balloons before we went home. On Sunday, the whole family went to A Day Out With Thomas at the B and O Railroad Museum. We toured the exhibits, had lunch under a tent outside, rode Thomas as a family, and bought Parker another engine to go with his wooden train set.
Now, we can't marry. We aren't heterosexual. And we certainly didn't bring Parker into the world, by conceiving and giving birth to him. But in one weekend out son saw more daylight than three of the Fritzl children had seen in their entire lives, before their release. The same goes for Dylan, who just turned five months old, and has seen more daylight and more life than the three babies found in a freezer in Germany.
Meanwhile, the HRC Back Story blog reports that the Tennessee anti-gay adoption bill prohibiting adoptions by unmarried couples, which was under consideration in a Senate committee, has been tabled.
Imagine waking up to a news report that your state's attorney general had issued an opinion that there is no legal barrier to gay and lesbian couples adopting children. When you get over your initial excitement, the questions begin. Who asked for the opinion and why? And what's coming next? In less than 24 hours after the attorney general's document appeared, the TN House minority leadership began talking openly about a renewed effort to pass an adoption ban. That was October 2007, three months before the Tennessee General Assembly convened.
Fast forward to April 29 of this year when SB3910 banning unmarried, cohabiting couples (straight and gay) from adopting children is referred to summer study, essentially taking the bill off the table for the rest of the legislative session. It was a long seven months. How did we get to the end game?
The other story that caught my attention was the story of the children who were removed from the 400+ children removed from the Texas religious sect
It turns out that 31 of the 53 teenage girls at the FLDS ranch are pregnant or have had babies. Most of them are mothers. One of them gave birth in custody, with state troopers and sect members standing outside the maternity ward. Another 16 year old girl identified a 49-year-old man as her "spiritual husband," who beat, choked and sexually assaulted her after their "spiritual marriage;" a "marriage" that was probably consummated on the bed the men used to have sex with underage girls after their "weddings," which authorities discovered in a "towering limestone temple." And now it reported that some of the sects boys may have been sexually abused, and some have at least suffered broken bones. My guess is that there were no "weddings" for the boys involved, given the fundamentalist bent of the church.
I though, too, about the three children removed from the religious sect in New Mexico, and how the sect's leader was eventually arrested on "sex charges." No surprise, since God apparently told him that he was to have sex with seven virgins. (And who's to say he didn't? Did God stop speaking after John put that last period in Revelations? Or does he speak exclusively to the likes of Pat Robertson, Oral Roberts, and John Hagee?)
Bedtime routines are pretty much the same in our house. After he puts on his pajamas and brushes his teeth, the hubby and I take turns putting Parker to bed, and the other works on getting Dylan to go to sleep. For Parker bedtime means that he gets to pick a story or a book to be read to him at bed time; usually one of the books he gets from the library, which we visit every three weeks. After the story, if it's Daddy's turn to put Parker to bed, then he gets to pick a couple of songs for Daddy to sing to him. These days, he's partial to "When You Wish Upon A Star," but his favorites include "Route 66," "Take the A Train," "What a Wonderful World," "It's Not Easy Being Green," and "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." "Rainbow Connection" and "I'm Going to Go Back There Some Day," from The Muppet Movie are also on the bedtime playlist. Then he gets a good night kiss and I always tell him "Daddy and Papa love you," before I close the door.
Last night was special because Parker went to the dentist for a regular check up. Not only did he do a "super job" at the dentist, but the dentist gave him a toy car, some new "sparkle" toothpaste, and a toothbrush with one of the Power Rangers on it. Needless to say, we broke in the toothbrush last night.
Parker and Dylan get the usual medical check-ups. Fortunately, neither of them has been very sick (knock on wood). Parker did have a respiratory problem, but we took him to the doctor, got a prescription (and a nebulizer), and it cleared up very shortly. Dylan has been doing great so far, and weighed in at 15 lbs during his last well-baby visit, though I'm sure that he's upwards of 16 lbs by now. (Based on how often I have to change arms while holding him.)
As a parent, if my kids need medical help, it doesn't even occur to me not to get it for them. So, I can't wrap my brain around the parents who prayed while their daughter died, instead of taking her to a doctor. (I don't have problem with prayer, per se, but after you say "amen" and get up off your knees, you'd better get your keys and get your kid to a hospital.)
Family and friends had urged Dale and Leilani Neumann to get help for their daughter, but the father considered the illness "a test of faith" and the mother never considered taking the girl to the doctor because she thought her daughter was under a "spiritual attack," the criminal complaint said.
"It is very surprising, shocking that she wasn't allowed medical intervention," Marathon County District Attorney Jill Falstad said. "Her death could have been prevented."
Madeline Neumann died March 23 -- Easter Sunday -- at her family's rural Weston home. Her parents were told the body would be taken to Madison for an autopsy the next day.
"They responded, 'You won't need to do that. She will be alive by then,"' the medical examiner wrote in a report.
An autopsy determined that Madeline died from undiagnosed diabetic ketoacidosis, which left her with too little insulin in her body. Court records said she likely had some symptoms of the disease for months.
I have to admit, I'm confused. I know, as I've said before in this series, that none of these parents are exemplars of heterosexual parenting, or of parenting in general. I know it's blatantly unfair to suggest that all parents heterosexual parents are like these parents, and that's not what I'm doing here. But the primitive arguments used to deny equality to families like mine requires that I ask: besides being heterosexual, and capable of reproducing, what makes these people more qualified for parenthood than the hubby and me?
"Looking beyond the fact that any inquiry into the ability or willingness of a couple actually to bear a child during marriage would violate the fundamental right to marital privacy recognized in Griswold, 381 U.S. at 484-86, 493, 85 S. Ct. at 1681, 14 L. Ed. 2d 510, the fundamental right to marriage and its ensuing benefits are conferred on opposite-sex couples not because of a distinction between whether various opposite-sex couples actually procreate, but rather because of the possibility of procreation."
-Judge Glenn Harrell, Jr.
You can tell me that their crimes disqualify them as good parents, and I'd agree. But, in most cases, they can stop abusing their children, after which they will still be heterosexual and capable of reproduction. The hubby and I, though we've never abused our children (unless you count the act of parenting them itself as abuse), are still a same-sex couple; two gay men. We're not heterosexual, and we cannot reproduce with one another. We can't bring children into the world, as the heterosexual parents above have proven they can. But by any estimation, we've done a pretty good job of raising them so far.
The last time we visited Parker's pre-school, one of teachers said she remembered when we came there with Parker as an infant. She remarked about how well Parker has grown up, and was happy to see that we are raising Dylan too. I think I know what she sees when she looks at our family now. She sees a family with two devoted parents, and two thriving children.
What other people see, I can only imagine. And I can only wish I didn't have to care.