A letter to my daughters — and my sons — about sexual assault

My beloved,

You are precious to me. My girls, you are vulnerable souls and fierce warriors. My boys, you are strong and protective, loyal and kind.

You are not however perfect. I would never place that burden on you. You are afraid, sometimes too concerned with the opinions of others, and you are prideful— you want to think you are unbreakable and invulnerable, that you got this life thing down.

photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

photo by Chip Smodevilla/Getty Images

These imperfections are part of what I love about you, but they are also dangerous vulnerabilities.

Men and women you know, friends, family members, have in the past two weeks cheered a national shaming of rape survivors. They shame for the same reason rapists rape, because they believe it gives them power.

They have blamed rape victims for the way they dress, for being drunk, for “putting themselves in a situation” to be raped. These people have even said they deserved it. I can’t convey to you how evil this is.

There is no “situation you put yourself in” that will ever make it ok for you to be harmed.

God, I hope you never have or ever will be sexually assaulted.

My daughters, I have given you practical advice. Don’t set your drink down. Be aware of your surroundings, never be alone with someone you don’t know and trust. Be alert to men plying you with alcohol and to their motives.

I have not suggest where to go if you need help, or stressed enough that you can trust my unconditional love, that there are people everywhere who will not judge you, or that you never have to be ashamed. You are beautiful spirits, the lights of my life. My hope is that you find people who light your life in the same way. It’s a father’s job to show his daughters what they deserve from a partner. I hope I have shown that you deserve respect, tenderness, love and safety.

My sons, I’m not sure I told you the most important thing.

Dont rape!

I don’t believe you would ever do anything so horrendous, but as I see people whom I thought I knew and loved joining the frenzy against survivors, I realize this is a more complicated command than you might think.

You may find yourself in a situation where a drunk girl seems compliant, it may even be your girlfriend—or wife—and suddenly what was black and white becomes gray. Or you may need to stand up and refuse to be a passive if unwilling accomplice to others.

You may have heard the expression, “No means no” as a standard for consent.

I call you to more.

“Yes means yes!”

That must be your code. An absolute, clear and uncoerced “Yes!”

But here is where it gets even trickier. You cannot stand by and watch other men do anything beneath your own code. Don’t turn your back on a woman in danger. Don’t let the repugnant stories and jokes about women go unchallenged, or tolerate the shaming  by shameless people.

It is often harder to stand up to your friends—and family— than your enemies.

But you must. Losing a friend or angering a family member is a small sacrifice for demanding respect for someone who could be your sister, your mother or step-mother, a cousin, friend or the love of your life. I have not been a perfect father. I have put you in harms away. I have been selfish. And most of your life I have not demonstrated the warmth and intimacy a man should show a woman. I have been given a second chance with your stepmother and I hope you are paying attention.

560DDB79-C7CC-4F33-B240-EDAFC2F7743FAround 35 years ago I was at a lake outside Maryville, Mo., I was 17, drunk, and staring in disbelief as a group of Northwest Missouri State University students tried to coerce an extremely inebriated girl into a “train,” a word that is supposed to make gang rape sound like it isn’t gang rape. I recall waiting for the right moment to step in and say stop, but the girl wasn’t giving in and I was scared. I like to believe I would have done the right thing.  But it was a long time ago. I’m not sure.

Make no mistake, if I did not ultimately  step in and stop them, I would have been party to rape.  The responsibility for that would not go away because “it was a long time ago” as we constantly hear from rape apologists. It would be a permanent blight on my character.

I was rescued from potential cowardice by a young lady, the girl’s friend, who waded into the pack of drooling men, and yelled, “Leave her the fuck alone!”

She gently spoke to her friend, helped her off the ground and took her away.

The circle of  men, and I use that only in the biological sense, flung up their arms and stomped away like petulant boys.

My dear sons, don’t lose your moral compass in  a moment that could devastate a woman’s life and define yours. Train each day by choosing to respect every woman you encounter. Make amends when you falter.

My dear daughters, surround yourselves with friends like that young lady at the lake—both male and female—who won’t hesitate like I did to wade in and protect you.

Please pay attention right now to what is happening in our country. Women, rape survivors, with the same decency and resilience I see in you, are rising up, casting off shame for the armor of purpose, righteousness, and power. Become swept up in this wave.

People who ignore and scoff at them,  who don’t listen and believe them, people who shame them,  do so at their peril.

I love you.


RAINN operates the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline: 800-656-HOPE


The hotline offers:

  • Confidential support from a trained staff member
  • Support finding a local health facility that is trained to care for survivors of sexual assault and offers services like sexual assault forensic exams
  • Someone to help you talk through what happened
  • Local resources that can assist with your next steps toward healing and recovery
  • Referrals for long term support in your area
  • Information about the laws in your community
  • Basic information about medical concerns

Also visit the Website of Planned Parenthood



The Divine Revelation of Suicide

Suicide occurred to me like divine revelation–obvious, certain and irrefutable. I was lying in bed next to my wife when I realized that all those well-meaning people who say it “is not an option” are wrong. Of course it is. I recognized so clearly that I had been granted too much life span. My capacity for joy, my talents, my ability to provide for my family had been finite. At 46, a bipolar episode and the subsequent depression had exhausted me. For months I had been crashing deep10563127_10202444202846230_1914226759642794028_n into sleep, or medicating myself with midnight Netflix.
Self-absorbed and terrified I devised the obvious way to slip out of the picture, a one-night relapse. Binge drink myself to death.
Instead, like I have done for years when the urge to drink has come over me like religious fervor, I told someone. This time it was my wife. I told her my whole plan. Inside my head, my self-worth was self-evident. As soon as I spoke, I recognized the path of destruction I was preparing to leave behind.
I haven’t considered myself a good father in the past year. I told my wife my kids love the idea of who I was before. She told me I was wrong. But even that is better than what I would be leaving behind.
I told my wife she deserved better than me. That’s when I experienced the truly divine revelation of what it means to be loved.
I am still battling the depression, with the help of puzzled doctors. Of course, the death of Robin Williams last week gave me pause. I mourned his genius but more important I wondered if he like me felt like his time had run out. I of course am no Robin Williams but I shared with him a history of addiction, which is a disease of loneliness. I was saddened by his death and the loneliness of it.
It is a common saying that the mind of an alcoholic is like a bad neighborhood, you shouldn’t go there alone.
In recovery we rely on one another to fight the cunning and baffling demons. We pick up a phone. We go to meetings. We talk to sponsors. With luck we have the support of family. Yet suicide is not uncommon in our ranks.
Some would call such an act selfish, for the grief and suffering it leaves behind.
I would not judge so harshly, because in my encounters with clinical depression, I have become self-centered and isolated, turning harshly upon myself to the point of obsession. I don’t think the Catholic Church teaches this anymore, but when I was growing up I learned that suicides went directly to hell. Some religious people still believe that.
Addicts often choose “spirituality” over religion. It has been said that religion is for people who don’t want to go to hell.
Spirituality is for people who have already been there.