After his son’s shamefully light punishment became a matter of national discussion, the father of the Stanford Rapist wrote the awful, misguided letter that has been attributed to him and has since been making us all shudder.
In the interest of what is best for all boys, all fathers, and all people, I am doing what I can here to replace that with the letter that his best self surely must have at least meant to write. Perhaps so that I never have to write something similar about one of my own boys. Since I know nothing of his relationship with his own son, I freely use details from my own life with my own boys as fodder.
To All People:
I write you today in shame and horror, in shock and disgrace. My son, my beloved boy whom I have raised to what I thought was young manhood and whom even this day I love with a blinding fierceness I will never lose, has done something unspeakable. He has raped. He has treated a young woman the way no person should treat another, the way no person should treat an animal: he used her as an object, abused her, violated her, destroyed a part of her. Then he tossed her aside. And then, cowardly, he ran away from his deed. To this day he continues to try to diminish the horror of his actions, to in some way ameliorate his responsibility. I am crushed by this continued resistance more than almost anything else.
I am his father; I cannot accede to this. I must speak out publicly so that he knows: despite my love for him; despite the fact that I am desperate for him to know that I will care for him and help him through this disgrace, help him find a place in society once again. Despite my guaranteed love for him forever, I am ashamed of what he has done and I cannot defend it. I blame him for it, and he must take responsibility. And as his father I too must take some public blame. I was the man in his life. If not his model, I was the man he saw most. If he was capable of this thing that he has done, if I either lived a life that allowed him to believe it could be okay, or if I have failed to see this violence coiled within him — and failed to point it out coiled everywhere within our culture — I have failed. I have failed him, I have failed myself, I have failed our community, and above all I have failed this poor young woman whose life his actions ravaged.
He claims that he was intoxicated and thus in some way less responsible for his actions. This claim makes me cringe in shame. I have shown him throughout his life. Yes, his mother and I drink alcohol — we do so at home, at parties, at events. He has seen us drink. He has seen us choose to walk home from friends’ homes rather than risk driving. He knows that we do not drink to excess, and that if we fear we have, we take steps to protect ourselves and others. Yet somewhere he learned that alcoholic stupor is an excuse, a mitigating factor. It is not. It is merely another failure of his judgment, a first small failure on a night when many other failures were to come. Alcohol is many things. It is never an excuse.
He claims that the young woman assented to his actions. I have told him — how many times? How many endless times? — that no means no, that any time anyone tells him to stop, that means stop. Not slow down: freeze-in-your-tracks stop. I tried to model this from his earliest days of tickling. He begged me to tickle him, and over and over I told him: if you say to stop, I stop. Right then. That’s how tickling is fun. If I won’t stop, it’s not tickling: it’s power, it’s violence, it’s abuse. This goes for your friends, for the cat, for girls, when the time comes, or for that matter for boys, if that’s where your desires lead you. No means no; stop means stop. Drunk or incapacitated? That means hands off. As Jimmy Stewart famously said in “The Philadelphia Story,” “there are rules about that.” That movie came out in 1940. The rules haven’t changed.
There are rules about that. Just as intoxication doesn’t limit but exacerbates your responsibility if a police officer stops your car, being intoxicated doesn’t limit your responsibility for failing to act like a decent human being with a woman. It exacerbates it. How did I fail to teach him that? And yet I failed.
My son has done something awful. Short of murder, it’s the worst thing a parent can imagine a child of theirs doing. All the times I fiercely scolded him — for teasing a friend not up to his athletic standards; for shaming a child not up to his academic standards; for excluding a child not socially acceptable. All that teaching — all that demonstration — was to prevent this. And it failed. It all failed. He has done the worst thing, the thing that cannot be forgiven or forgotten.
And yet I can still try to lead him. I tell him: Listen, to me, my son. I beg you, if you have never done so before, listen to me now. How different would this young woman’s life be if, instead of pleading your innocence, you begged for her understanding? If you approached her in shame and regret? If you said to her: “I have done the worst thing: I have disgraced myself and wounded you beyond repair. For my own punishment I am almost grateful — I cannot imagine looking in a mirror with anything other than revulsion, and going to prison for months (or the years I deserved) will take me far from my community, for which I feel unfit. My parents promise me that even the worst wounds heal with time, and though I in my very heart I believe I am unworthy of their kindness I still hold out hope that perhaps someday I may feel healthy again.
“For you I do not even know how to hope. I cannot give back to you what my rape took from you, and though I cannot even beg you to listen to me, I hope you will hear: I am ashamed. I have done wrong. I know that I have done something awful to you, and though I do not dare ask your forgiveness, I acknowledge my own shame and pledge never to approach you, never to speak to you, never to knowingly enter your life again. I cannot disappear from the world, as I know you must wish I would. But I can pledge to you that you are now, as you were not in the past, safe from me.”
She would still feel — be — ravaged, injured, broken. But would those words not offer to her at least some hope that the world might someday heal?
My son. My beloved boy, the infant I held, the child I gazed at, the young man I proudly gave to the world, hear me. I love you. I will always love you. But I have nothing more to teach you. You have committed an act for which you will be known forever. I beg you: accept that act. Do not run from it; do not try to diminish it. Accept it. You have committed a crime, and from the government you have your punishment. But until you accept your act as your own — not as some unfortunate consequence of alcohol or some other external cause — you will not heal. You will spend your life running from your life as you ran from the crumpled body of this woman you left behind a dumpster.
To my son, I say once again: Stop running.
And to everyone else: yes. I am his father. He is my son. I am ashamed of what he has done, but I will try to use my unquenchable love for him as a force to help him heal.
I beg for your help in that endeavor.
The Rapist’s Father