That is the sarcastic answer to an ancient question lately revised in the matter of the Penn State University athletic department having enabled a coach to serially molest young boys for decades – the question being, ‘How you separate the men from the boys at ____?’ Understandably, a large portion of the public is upset to furious about this, and those who are Penn grads and/or college football fans, and/or Joe Paterno fans are particularly distressed and/or seriously disillusioned.
The very saddest outcome from this appalling state of matters is something that I had meditated upon five years ago, when it was the matter of the Capitol Hill pages and a one Representative Mark Foley, who was forced to resign once his apparent inability to keep his hands, metaphorically speaking, off the junior staff became public knowledge outside Washington.
I noted that the long-term and most damaging after-effect was how this kind of predation – after the immediate damage is done – screws up any chance of a teenager having a good mentorly relationship with an older person not their parental unit. Any cross-generational friendship will be looked at with grave suspicion – and that is so not a good thing.
We came to the point several years ago – after the various scandals in the Catholic Church – of having to consider the possibility of an apparently friendly overture from an older man to a teenage boy or child as potentially the first move of a chicken-hawk. This just has to poison the pool just that much more, adding one more smidgeon of crappiness to a teenager’s lot in life, or to that of a child from a dysfunctional home. Being a teenager is an awkward age, for a variety of reasons; being physically nearly an adult but emotionally nearer to being a child, craving respect and responsibility, but not really getting much of a chance for earning either, the utter pointlessness of much that is taught in a public school setting . . . and then add to the fact that the average tweener or teen is stuck with their peers, by custom and institutional practice for much of each day.
Picture it, if your own memory of middle or high school is not painfully vivid in your memory: stuck with inane conversations, pointless rivalries, even more pointless academic curricula, bitter feuds, bullying and mind-games. Feeling ill and over-grown, flushed with too many hormones, and no outlet – and even if you are one of the lucky ones who do get along with your parents – they are, after all, your parents.
For a lot of teenagers, a friendship with an adult not their parent is a lifeline, and an anchor to sanity, a connection to a real world outside the confines of high school and their peer-group, a reassurance that they can connect with the real world. I have always had a conviction that teenagers – in order to get through the worst of it – need more than anything else, the companionship and example of adult friends who have common interests and enthusiasms. It tends to take the younger generation out of an insular round of strictly teen-approved interests, encourages them to connect and to get away from that sour view expressed in my own youth of “not trusting anyone over thirty.”
One of our joint enthusiasms, when my daughter was in middle school and we lived then in Ogden, Utah, was a regular meeting of the Salt Lake City Chapter of the Dr. Who Fan Club. Thirty or forty Whovians met socially once a month at a certain member’s house to watch an episode of Dr. Who on video and chat about their mutual liking for the series. (I rather liked the Whovians by the way; they were much more cerebral and grounded than the Trekfans. One felt that they had fairly successful and interesting lives, and their appreciation for The Doctor was merely an amiable eccentricity, not an overwhelming obsession.) Anyway, it gratified me as a parent to notice my daughter’s social assurance, and that of some of the other younger Whovians. At fourteen, she was much the youngest; I think the next youngest was sixteen, and the ages of the other members ranged well up into the seventies. But everyone always had a wonderful time at meetings, interacting as equals and friends, and I thought it was marvelous for the youngest fans, in that they were tacitly reassured that there was an escape over the walls of the teenage ghetto, and a wide world full of interesting friends on the other side. And at the very least, I am sure they came away from the meetings of the Whovians with the assurance that they would not be trapped in the teenage wasteland forever.
So the mentoring aspect in society is critically important, for boys and girls alike: How the heck and from whom – are you going to work out what being an adult really is – if all you have is your teenaged idiot peers, and the crazy-house hall of mirrors that is the media? Who can you pattern yourself after? What if your parents are dysfunctional and you do not get along with them? I had friends in the military in that situation, who were able to find another mentor to pattern themselves upon, and thereby have a chance at becoming reasonably well-adjusted and functioning adults. I have mentored a friend of my daughter whose parents were perfect studies in rotten parenting skills, and any number of young female airmen along the way. Adult friends and mentors are the fallback position, the rescue, and second chance at becoming a well-adjusted and functioning adult. That sexual predators can inject themselves into this situation, can extend a pretend hand of friendship and respect, while all the while be looking for their own sexual interests – this is an obscenity. It casts a more-than-decade-long shadow of suspicion and distrust on those – mostly male –volunteers willing to involve themselves in youth betterment-programs as well as discouraging any well-inclined adult from opening themselves up to potential accusation.
So, thank you, Coach Sandusky, and by extension those personnel in the athletic department faculty at Penn State U – who covered for your insatiable need to get your rocks off by molesting children – just thanks. You’ve proved yourself to be a really putrid, manipulative and exploitative human being, if the published indictments are anything to go by. And everyone else in the chain of command that is accused of enabling this? Well, just thanks again. Hope you feel good about having kept your job secure by keeping silent. In addition to having facilitated the serial abuse of kids, you have also put another obstacle in the way of well-intentioned men and woman wanting to do their bit for the larger community in ministering to kids and teenagers with issues and problems. Again, just thanks.
(cross-posted at The Daily Brief)