Sunday, December 13, 2009

Of accountability and car-jacking

The "man" in Cormac McCarthy's novel "The Road" soothes his son's bad dreams in the midst of a post-apocalyptic living nightmare by telling him,
"When your dreams are of some world that never was or of some world that never will be and you are happy again then you will have given up. Do you understand? And you can't give up. I won't let you."
This week Detroit parents demanded that public school teachers and officials meet jail time and civil law-suits for their failure to teach basic math. Their outrage however seems ironic because it begs the question of accountability. These parents, unlike the man in the road, seemed to assume a dream-world where a passive approach to their children's educational possibilities is sufficient. Did they think that learning is a fast-food transaction where little money and less time can be spent to fill immediate needs? Did they think they could just send their hungry child's mind to seek processed gratification trading sustainable nutrition for salty goodness? Or did they try to satisfy the hunger for learning with some home-cooked lessons? If these parents are looking for culpability (and my personal understanding of the DPS would seem to indicate a high probability assigned to teachers and administrators) they need to consider themselves co-conspirators to these crimes.

I say this in the wake of my parents getting car-jacked yesterday. The criminals were, according to my Dad, between the ages of 15 and 18. They made a dash for my parent's Taurus as it was running in the driveway when my Dad went back into the house to see why my Mom was dawdling. My Dad looked to get control of the car from the teen driving it who, in an attempt to get away fast, gunned it down the drive-way hitting my Mom and shattering her legs. My Mom had surgery last night while my Dad did not sleep because his guilty imagination would not allow him to forget my mother tumbling and broken.

My parents are victims of a crime but my Dad's first response was to question his judgment in protecting his car rather than my Mom. His willingness to pose questions of himself in the midst of a tragic circumstance will sustain him but, his level of accountability seems lacking within Detroit's parents who too easily blame. The failure of Detroit's students is first their own; followed by the parents of these students and then by extension the teachers, administrators, and city, state, and federal officials but, when accountability begins with blame, an infinite regress from reality is practiced for the sake of fantasies that are neither true nor sustainable.

My siblings are pressuring my Dad to move from Detroit and he is struggling to fight them off. He wants to stay in his home. He doesn't want to give up.

I don't know what's best for him or my Mom. I don't live in Detroit so those closer to the situation have better information. I won't pretend to trade my 41 years for my Dad's 70+ and assume wisdom I have yet to earn but, I do fear for him and my Mom. I fear they will be victims again. I fear my Mom's long rehab on surgically repaired legs. My fears for my folks however are far fewer than those for the children of my hometown.

My Mom will heal and the pride that led her to confront hostile teenagers will sustain her recovery. My Dad's inventory of his failings will provide deeper wisdom and caution. But, what lessons will those teenagers learn? Will they be considered the criminals they are by their community and their parents? Or will they continue to dwindle in an apocalyptic half-light where parents' aversion to accountability ensures that persecution complexes lead to victimizing pain.

I'm not the praying type but I ask for your prayers. Please keep my Mom and my Dad in your thoughts. May their sense of responsibility keep them looking forward and struggling to find accountability in the midst of tragedy. Pray too for those boys who are now felons charged with larceny and attempted murder. May they not imagine righteousness in their actions but only dread for the pain and the hurt they've invited.


mud_rake said...

I am sorry for the physical and mental anguish suffered by your parents. I hope that the young punks who initiated the incident will come to realize that the consequences of their foolish actions go beyond the victim's loss of a car. Of course, this depends on whether they have an operating conscience; if they don't then they are no more than the chattel of society.

Did you see the Clint Eastwood film, Gran Torino? Your parents were reflected in that story. It is a powerful film, especially for those of us who lived in Detroit. It was especially poignant for my wife and me because we were fully involved in the Laotian Resettlement Program here in Toledo and Detroit. In fact, members of 'our' Laotian family were in Eastwood's film.

Allyson said...

Dear Chuck,
What devastating news!! I'm so sorry for the pain your parents are in right now. I will pray for your parents healing (physical, emotional & spiritual).

Chuck O'Connor said...


Thanks for your kind words. Happy Solstice to you!!!

I have to check out Gran Torino.

Allyson, thanks to you too.

Be well both of you.

Gianni said...

I too admire your Dad - rather than railing against 'injustice' and 'bad luck' he walked the path of self evaluation, gutsy stuff. Knowing you as I do, I see the apple hasn't fallen very far.

Parents today are completely culpable in their children's education, period. I hold very little responsibility over teachers and administrators. If my son was having a 'bad' experience with a teacher or I thought was being educated poorly-I would know it, seek to alter it and know the reason why. I know this to be true because I've done it and have seen the results-Too many parents send their children to school and simply think that asking 'how was your day?' or'did you do your homework?' sufficient as involvement in their children's education. And it's not only Detroit or inner cities, I see it in my son's rich suburban school. If more parents were involved we wouldn't need as much 'testing' and accountability models to rate our schools. The bad teachers would be out sooner because they'd be identified sooner and the average teachers pushed because they'd know someone was watching that had a vested interest. but I digress-
I'm angry about Mom and Dad and I have fear about the neighborhood they live in but I understand your Dad's reluctance to go. I bet if anything he's MORE determined to stay than before because leaving would seem a defeat. I know that is how you and I would feel but I'm sure they'll make the right decision for them and that you will counsel them well. We're close to them [location]so don't hesitate to let us know if we can help out in any way, you're family buddy.

Gandolf said...

Hi Chuck such very sad news,im so very sorry to be hearing this,my condolences to both your parent and you and family !, i understand how much of a huge worry this must be for you right now.I surely hope n wish for a fast recovery for your dear parents,its the worst extreme shameful thing that this sort of thing actually happens to our elders in our communities.

Something has been lost in our communities.We just often dont have the same respect and love for each other anymore.I think it has something to do with humans feeling of becoming more like "chattel of society" that Mudd talked about

Take care and very best wishes to all


Barb said...

Thanks for popping in at my blog, Chuck. I have family here today and will thus read more closely your article later --as I have to peel potatoes! meanwhile --prayers for your family --and the boys who committed the crime.

An awful tragedy here locally--just around the corner of my church. A boy was killed by Amtrak and a girl's leg may be lost --I guess they didn't see it --they were on foot on their way to school, best friends. I hear that another train passed and they started to cross not seeing the 2nd train. A school bus witnessed the accident. the mother of the boy has worked for my husband for years --a much loved son, one of 2 children she had.

This is when Christians are glad for the hope and comfort of Easter resurrection through the Christmas child. The best comfort in the world is the belief that the divine Christ raised lazarus and Jairus's daughter --proving His power -- and God raised Christ --from the dead.

mud_rake said...

is the belief that the divine Christ raised lazarus and Jairus's daughter --


Chuck O'Connor said...

Yeah Mud,

I didn't find much relief in Barb's beliefs either. I'm sure it helps her get through the night but, I find the certainty of the supernatural pretty silly.

Barb said...

Sorry for your stomach upset, Mudly. BTW, 450 people came to our church musical --some were repeats and i am counting the 40 or so participants. Sorry you weren't there!

Resurrection hope is not silly, Fellahs, if Jesus Christ really did raise 2 people from the dead --and rose himself.

It IS inevitable comfort to be told by such a person that belief in him will also raise US from the grave to an eternal paradise. I have the good sense to believe a resurrected man --one who could change water to wine and heal 10 lepers, the lame, the blind, the deaf.

I just read your paragraph on your mother's crushed legs, Chuck I'm so sorry to hear this. Things like that happen so fast; your father must not blame himself. It was those kids entirely. There are always "if only I had....'s" to every tragedy.

What you say about responsibility of parents of delinquent and failing students is right on--and part of the reason that I am a republican --because the party believes there is a certain amount of truth to people being responsible for their own circumstances --and capable of pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps --and choosing to do right instead of wrong. Family values ARE VERY important --kids just don't do well without intentional, careful, vigilant, moral parenting. A society that aborts their young --and also thinks it unimportant for children to have a mom and dad in the home --which thinks it doesn't matter if kids have 2 parents of the same sex --such a society will have more children running over the legs of the elderly. Yes, we are to help such children and do all we can to be generous and have compassion in our public institutions as well.

I took some kids to see the 3 D A Christmas Carol at the theater--6 kids, in fact. 3 girls and 3 boys. And some kids really do lack basic good manners when they get together. "Gimme, gimme --why can't we go play video games?" A spoiled generation --even among the poor. I wanted to teach them something about the film before going--but they were rudely inattentive riding in my car.

I'm just sick when I hear of kids who don't know their fathers --kids who only know men who have made 4 babies with 4 different mamas and can't afford all of them --and the mothers can't afford sitters for their babies with the low-skilled, low-pay jobs for which they are qualified. My friend thinks she will have the baby's daddy sit with her 11 year old daughter's help --ain't gonna happen and I wouldn't trust him if it did with my daughter since he's impregnated at least 3 women so far--and the daughter is beautiful.

Chuck O'Connor said...


Your beliefs seem to bring your comfort.

Thanks for reading.

Rob R said...

This is grievous chuck and I pray that your parents will come through it stronger. I hope they will also find healing through forgiveness of the hoodlums.

Chuck O'Connor said...

I'm with you Rob.

I don't have hate for those young men but fear for them.

If they continue with the decision-making that led them to jump my folks, they will probably be dead soon.

Thanks for reading. I'd love to hear your take on the "Buddy Jesus" piece.

Peace and Merry Christmas to you.

Jay said...


I am so sorry to hear about all of this on so many levels. This is aweful. I don't know if you need a chuckle today, but for some reason Don Rickle's line has been running through my head all day (maybe I've been listening to too many from Congress spouting to the cable news programs): "I'm not saying you're stupid. Saying you're stupid would be an insult to stupid people." I'm not sure why I'm posting that here = horribly inappropriate - but that is me - just wanting to make you smile. Love you buddy - looks like I may be closing on some sort of job soon = if I'm not stupid!

Rob R said...

Hey chuck, I will take a look at your article and comment on it some time soon.

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