WHAT. THE. FUCK.
Sadly, I said it twice.
My son, my wonderful, intelligent, honorable, hardworking son is caught up in a heartbreaking situation.
This is his first year of college and he’s hundreds of miles away. He worked hard to get into a good school, chose a fraternity that requires high grades to stay a member in good standing and focuses on community service. That’s the kind of man he’s becoming and these are the values of the people he’s sought out to associate himself with.
PurDude lived in a dorm first semester. His roommate was foreign. Although there was not animosity, there wasn’t a connection either. Some people just don’t click. PurDude made lots of friends both in classes and in his dorm. He and 2 other boys formed “The Jew Crew”. Despite the discomfort in his room, it was a fun time for him.
his side of his dorm room
When rush started, PurDude attended a number of functions. From the start he knew that there was a connection with one particular frat. They offered my son one of their first bids and although he checked out other fraternities, PurDude knew this was the right fit for him.
Once he was a Brother, we decided that PurDude would move into the frat for 2nd semester. He’d be taking some extremely difficult required classes that make or break Computer Science majors. I felt that it would be best for him to be in a more comfortable environment, and he would have a private room at the frat. We jumped through all kinds of hoops with the school, which required us not only to pay 60% of the dorm fee for a room he wouldn’t be living in, but 60% of the food he would not be eating. Absurd, but the frat deducted it from his room and board and ultimately we felt that this would be the best stress-free living environment for him. He moved in one week before coming home for winter break.
setting up his private room in the frat
While home, I reveled in the pride I saw in him for his association with this school, this frat and these friends. Especially with him so far away, to see him embraced, to see him thrive, I can’t even express how that feels as a parent.
About a week after returning to school, spring rush had begun and there was a party at his fraternity. Because PurDude is underage and because I had driven his car 700 miles up to him in October, he chose to work the party as a Sober Driver. These brothers are available throughout the night to drive anyone who’s been drinking at the party wherever they need to go.
A week after the party, a brother, a good friend of my son’s, was removed from the frat, banned from the school, taken away, arrested for rape.
Yes, you read that right.
The alleged incident took place the night of the party.
The frat was shut down by the university pending an investigation into an unsanctioned party and underage drinking (not the alleged rape, that is in the hands of the city police and prosecutor). Until further notice they were no longer a frat. Spring rush was over, the lights went out and these boys were left to come to terms with a devastating explosion in their lives.
Obviously there’s much I can’t discuss here and now. What I am able to express is the frustration, the sheer helplessness a parent can feel when their child is caught up in something out of his control. When he’s hurt, when he’s distressed at what the alleged victim and her family are going through, when he’s questioning his ability to judge character in friendships, when his reputation is on the line, when he doesn’t know if his school will support or judge him harshly, when he’s grappling with how to take responsibility for what may have gone on in his home.
When you know that your child will forever be profoundly changed by what has, is, and will continue to happen. When he could very well be collateral damage.
And you are just plain not there.
I don’t want you to misconstrue what I’m not addressing here as my diminishing the gravity of the legal charges. Hardly. I’m crushed by the thought of it. What I know of the incident and the aftermath is haunting me. But I'm not going to publicly comment on these elements of this specific incident and this is why:
*Rape: because there’s nothing to discuss. It’s not an issue with sides where you take one or the other. It’s wrong. Earth shattering wrong.
*Allegations of rape: because it’s not my place. I hope everyone directly involved gets the legal, medical and emotional help they deserve. But the bottom line is that although I’ve read stories, the media does not get everything right. Although I’ve heard stories, word of mouth is not the absolute truth either. The police will continue to investigate, there may or may not be a trial. This is how our system works and it’s not fair to anyone involved for me to publicly speculate.
*Underage drinking, whether or not it does happen on college campuses and did or did not happen in this in this instance will be determined by people other than me.
In that first phone call there were so many things I wanted to say to my son, so much I wanted him to know and to understand. It is beyond frustrating that I’m not able to have these conversations face-to-face. That he’s so damn far away the first time that life really seriously kicks him in the face.
All of us.
Like most parents of teenagers, we’ve had conversations about alcohol and how it impairs judgment. About how it impairs your ability to see that you’re impaired. This is true whether you’re underage or of age.
We’ve also discussed rape. Many people think that these are difficult conversation. To me they’re not. They’re actually easy because there’s no grey area, it’s a simple matter of right and wrong.
But when you take rape out of the realm of the hypothetical and into an actual allegation, an actual arrest; when it involves friends on both sides of the equation, what the hell do you say then? This is something, as a parent, that you have to acknowledge that you will never, ever make right. On any level.
That day one of the things I wanted him to know was that the friendship he had with this boy was real. I personally met this boy and his family and found them all to be friendly and fun and personable. Now he’s accused of rape. How could my son wrap his head around this when I can’t? I wanted PurDude to know that people are complex, not all good or all bad. Whatever happened here, good people can do bad things, even horrendous things that can change the course of their lives. And others’ lives. That doesn’t mean that the friendship wasn’t real. I needed to validate my son’s period of mourning. Because he truly is mourning the loss of a friendship.
Of course my son grew up knowing about consequences. If I had a penny for every time I’ve said “there are consequences to your behavior” I’d be rich.
If there was a rape, there will be consequences. If there was underage drinking, there will be consequences. If the party wasn’t sanctioned, there will be consequences. Many of these charges are disputable but, again, I’m not going there.
Consequences are not always fair. There’s collateral damage too, and my son and his friends could well be just that. They could end up not being a fraternity. They could end up without a place to live. Their personal reputations could be called into question. They will forever be associated with this incident. The way they felt about their school, their frat, their friendships and themselves has changed. How do I help him make sense of this?
I can’t. I can only tell him that when you’re caught up in circumstances beyond your control, what you do from then on is who you are. Your understanding of how to negotiate life, your character, your strength, all are built on the foundation of these hardships.
There have been many conversations since that first one, we’ve video chatted in order to see his face as we try to support him through this time. There are texts and calls as he continues to try to: focus on class work, interview with the campus investigator and with the attorney hired for the frat, come to terms with the loss of a friendship, actively support the family of the alleged victim, as he goes through the university trial and sanctions, struggles with the details as they become public, deals with the media presence at his front door, the limbo that is his life for the forseeable future.
But all through that first night, as I grappled with that to say to him next, how to best help him pick up the pieces and try to form his life and his self image into some semblance of a whole picture again; as I decided to fly down there, then acknowledged that this instinct had to be suppressed, I came to terms with a truth. This is his to deal with. He can and he will because he is equipped.
Much later that night, just as I was putting my head down to try to catch a minute of sleep, I picked up my phone and, with tears in my eyes, texted my son:
I love you. I’m very proud of you. Always.