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« Jail Time or ’Jane Eyre’? | Main | Pray for ’the least of these’ »

March 06, 2009

Define ’support’

Rihanna and Chris Brown So, it seems the abused has gone back to the abuser in one of the most high-profile criminal cases going on right now. I don't generally follow R&B very closely, but I was skimming the latest Washington Post story about Rihanna and Chris Brown over breakfast yesterday when this throwaway sentence pulled me up short:

And the father of Rihanna (real name: Robyn Fenty) said he would support his 21-year-old daughter if she decided to get back together with Brown.

Hold it right there.

Support has become one of the key catchwords of our culture, and to a certain extent, that's not a bad thing. "I support my daughter no matter what" sounds better, and usually builds a stronger relationship, than "I'll throw her out into the snow and change the locks if she doesn't listen to me."

However, we've tended to let the definition of support remain a little vague, and, as with most misuses of language, I think that's started to cause some serious problems. Support now is too often used to mean "I'll go along with whatever my loved one wants to do" -- even if, as in this case, it's insanely dangerous.

And when the speaker is a father whose daughter has been attacked, it strikes me as an especially bad thing to say. Fathers have a special duty to protect their daughters, and when they fail to fulfill that role, the results can be devastating. To quote my favorite chapter title from Dr. Meg Meeker's great book Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters, a dad's job is "Protect Her, Defend Her (and use a shotgun if necessary)." A girl needs to know that her father will stand up for her and keep her safe.

Personally, if I were an abuse victim, I don't think I can imagine anything more dispiriting than hearing my father say, "If you want to go back to him, I support you." (Thank God, that would be the LAST thing my father would say. The first thing would be "Let me at him.")

I've never been and never will be a father, obviously, so I'd like to hear from some of you who are. What would you do if your daughter wanted to go back to her abuser -- and how would the idea of "support" fit into it, if at all?

(Image © Matt Sayles for the AP)

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I am the father of two twenty something girls, both of whom are still single. If I managed to do one right thing, it was to love them and value them in a way that helped them value themselves. They are making significant life choices these days, and I don't necessarily agree with all of it, although (thank you, God) most of it. I cannot imagine that they would ever allow themselves to get entangled with an abuser. If they did, I would mobilize every kind of influence (short of the shotgun; that isn't something to joke about) that I could muster to separate my daughter from the abuser. But if I could not prevail, there really would be nothing to do but stand by to pick up the pieces - that is, "support" her.

Your characterization of the word as sometimes meaning "going along with whatever you want to do" reminds me of the "octomom"'s mother; didn't she tell her daughter, in essence, that what she was doing was insane, and that she *would not* be there to support her? But once the deed is done, that is no longer the best course. Sometimes we are stuck in a situations where we must "hate the choice, but love the chooser".

Joe Dalfonzo

As I understand the situation, the "deed is not yet done" which means that there is yet opportunity for the father to influence the daughter. One can't help but wonder what he will mutter through his tears as he stands over her casket. "She was such a good child and I supported her to the very end". There are very few things for which I have zero tolerance; abuse of women and children is at the top of that short list. Brown is a dangerous thug and a coward who should be expunged from society. And the father needs to stand up for and protect his daughter before it's too late. She needs protection and counseling, not "support".


What does "zero tolerance" actually look like, in the real world?

Joe Dalfonzo

It looks just like it sounds. It means that if this were my daughter, I would do everything in my power to stop this young woman from making a horrible mistake. And it means that if she continued to ignore my advice and put herself back into that situation, I would sever communications between her and the rest of my family. Like the father of the prodigal son, I would welcome her repentance and return with open arms but if she chooses to live with swine, my only recourse is to let her go and continue to lift her up in prayer, albeit from a distance.


I thought this quote in the article was disturbing: "He did something he shouldn't have done, but there's probably room for forgiveness for one time -- just one time."

Yes, there is always a place for forgiveness, as Catherine's beautiful book informs us, but forgiveness is not the same thing as stupidity. Forgiveness does not mean inviting repeat abuse from a questionably repentant offender.


Joe, I forgot to ask: who should expunge this guy? The father of the girl who might be hurt, or may any good Christian do it?

Anne Morse

For a really, really good example of a father who will do ANYTHING to protect his daughter, go see the film "Taken." Very violent (and not my usual film fare) but I couldn't help cheering on Liam Neeson as he risked his life over and over again (and took the lives of more than a few bad guys) in order to rescue his daughter from the human traffickers who had kidnapped her.

Joe Dalfonzo

David: As much as you would like me to say that I'm going to strap on my sidearm and waste Brown, I am not Charles Bronson and I wouldn't waste my time (or ammunition) on this coward. Our primary concern should be the victim and her restoration. Beyond that, ours is a nation of laws. There has been a criminal complaint (available for review on Fox News) and there is a legal system that will deal with it. I have learned over the years that justice may not always be swift (sometimes it takes a long time to take the garbage out) or even evident to us, but it is always certain. Blessings, joe


Glad to know we're singing from the same song sheet.
Blessings back to you!

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