Both/And

I have a friend who doesn’t understand. She thinks that, nine years after my husband’s arrest, his crime is still the biggest problem in our marriage, and my protests that, at this point, the registry affects us far more are a sad rationalization.

She asked me how we want to frame this for our oldest, when he is old enough to find out: Will we tell the story of his father once being one kind of man, but now another, or we will tell the story of the stupid list that ruined our lives?

The truth is: We will tell both. Because the truth is both.

My husband, like many men on the list, did wrong. He should have chosen better. He deserved to face some consequences. And, in the ensuing years, he has become a different man, as I’ve become a different woman. He has come to understand that sex is more than just a physical act, that the internet isn’t just a fun fantasy world where you can anonymously say and do anything you want with no consequence (either legally or morally), that he is accountable to more than his own desires.

We’ve learned lessons about sex–that it is best saved for a relationship of total commitment, that it can have consequences you never expected, that it is far more dangerous than you can imagine–that we hope our kids don’t have to learn the hard way.

And that is part of our story and part we will certainly tell our sons (and our daughter).

But there is another part to the story, a part it’s taken me longer to get to, but that more and more becomes the center of it. That part is about injustice, about the reality of living in a punitive state, about a society that currently incarcerates more people per capita than any nation in recorded history save Gulag-era Russia (and, if you add in those on probation or parole, we far surpass them).

That part is about a society that seems to increasingly pathologize and later criminalize what used to be seen as typical, if not ideal, male behavior. We see this expressed when almost 20% of boys in high school are diagnosed with ADHD, and we see this expressed when more and more young men in their late teens and twenties are being arrested for sexual offenses involving willing post-pubescent teens (or officers posing as such).

This too is part of the story, and it’s part of what we’ll teach our sons. That’s part of what I think responsible parents have to teach their sons–don’t download porn onto your computer because something illegal could be in there, don’t sleep with a girl 16 or under even if she initiates and you are the same age because it could be legally construed as a crime, a drunk yes no matter how enthusiastic is still legally a no–in the world we live in, where currently 1% of all adult males are registered sex offenders, a number that is growing rapidly and increasingly the growth is coming in the form of teens.

What my friend didn’t seem to understand is that we live in a society that doesn’t want people to tell stories of redemption and second chances, because it wants to deny that those are possible. We can’t tell the story of my husband being a man who made a terrible mistake without acknowledging that the state punished that mistake in a wildly excessive way. We can’t tell the story of my husband being a different man without telling the story of how the state will refuse to recognize the possibility of that for two and a half decades, how our culture would have us believe that such a thing is impossible.

We can’t explain to our children why their father can’t take them to the park or playground, why he can’t attend their sporting events or recitals, why they can’t have sleepovers, why people tease and harass and ridicule them, unless we explain how we live in a country that has decided that men in their 20s who make bad, wrong choices about sexual activity with willing post-pubescent teen girls should be punished forever, and that that is wrong, because we are a family that believes in second chances.

We can’t tell the story of our lives without talking about the injustice and unfairness of that stupid list. We don’t have the luxury of choosing between the two stories, because it’s all the same story: my husband both did wrong and was wronged. It will always be both/and.

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