Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Can you hear his soul?

Recently, my wife, who is a family practice doctor, shared an interesting story with me. She was doing examinations on a 7-year-old boy and his 5-year-old sister. Because doctors visits, especially when shots are involved, can be a bit scary for kids, my wife at times lets the children listen to each other with her stethoscope before she examines them.

The little boy insisted on going first and he pressed the scope gently to his little sister’s chest. My wife explained the sounds that he would hear as he found his sister’s heartbeat. Now, it was his little sister’s turn. She quickly put the stethoscope on and pressed the listening device to her brother’s chest. As she listened intently, the little boy turned to my wife and asked, “What does my soul sound like?”

As they finished the visit, my wife spent some time speaking with the children’s mother. She likes to do this to get a better understanding of how her little patients are doing at home. For example, she asks if the children are eating and sleeping well and if there are other situations happening at home that could impact their health. Their mother quickly offered that their father, who she never married, recently moved out and moved on.

I suspect that my wife told me this story because I am fond of saying that kids have a “hole in their soul” in the shape of their dad and when a father is unwilling or unable to fill that hole, it can leave a wound that is not easily healed. Kids say the darndest things and I could not help but wonder if this little boy with his seemingly nonsensical question was saying something more profoundly about himself and expressing a more deep-seated need than hours and hours of therapy could ever reveal.

Several years ago, I came across this article, which I highly recommend that you read as well. It features an interview with Dr. Diane Schetky who served as an expert witness for the defense at the trial of DC sniper, Lee Malvo. In any case, when Schetky asked Malvo why he blindly followed Muhammad’s instructions, he said, “Anything he asked me to do I'd do. He knew I didn't have a father. He knew my weaknesses and what was missing.”

It’s worth recounting a bit of history about Malvo. He was born in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1985 to Una James. His father, Leslie, reportedly doted on his young son. However, Leslie Malvo worked off-island, and during his long absences, Malvo was“ inconsolable.” Over time, James suspected Leslie of infidelity and moved with her son to a small, rural part of Jamaica without telling him where they had gone. “Lee was devastated by the loss of his father,” according to Schetky.

Malvo met Muhammad when he was just 15 and was immediately drawn to him. So much so, he quickly began calling Muhammad “dad.” In fact, Malvo told Schetky “I was desperate to fill a void in my life…” And the rest, unfortunately, is history.

It doesn’t take much to see some similarities between Malvo and the little boy in my wife’s office. Am I saying that this boy and others who get disconnected from their fathers will grow up to be emotionless killers? Of course not. But what I am saying is that Malvo was once a young fatherless boy with a “soul” that few seemed to hear except a man who would eventually convince Malvo to be “heard” in a tragic way that ruined his life and ended the lives of so many others.


  1. I could not help but get teary eyed reading this story. I have a son who is now 20 years old that I have not seen in 1.5 years. I've have tried being a good father to him but failed. His mother and I parted ways when he was 4 years old. I had very limited visitation with him at first as per her request to the courts which was granted only getting to see him every other Saturday. He would beg her to be able to spend more time with me and, as time went on , she finally gave in to his request. We had a good relationship for quite a while. He would even come with me for the whole week when I was driving truck between the Northeast and Midwest. Then I lost my job driving, and my license, due to an accident. I fell into dispair because I couldn't get to see him for quite a while at a time. Then I fell in with the wrong crowd. During this time he started developing fears of things like thunderstorms, high winds and all kinds of weather. I finally got my act together and wanted to see him more again. He stopped wanting to go with me as often for fear of the weather and such, wanting to stay with his mother. Eventually, she let him drop out of school at 16 because of his fears. He stopped wanting to go anywhere with me at this point. We tried going to therapy with him but eventually he stopped going to that also and most times his mother wouldn't show up either. At this point, I was at a loss and didn't know where to turn. We would still see each other at his mothers place but I had a new lady in my life and that just didn't always work out well. I would still see him every so often but we were not as close as we used to be. My new wife and I would always ask him to come with us and he would from time to time but it was always few and far between. I even asked him to come work with me in my new business but it was always too hot, too cold, he was having a friend over or some other conflict. That was a year and one half ago. They moved and never left a new phone number or address so couldn't keep in contact. Tried sending an email to the last known address and still no reply. That is why this story tears my heart in two. I made many mistakes along the way and wish I had been more assertive in getting him help and being there for him more often. If I found him now I wouldn't know what to do. I can't fix things from the past. I would try to more forward from here but not sure how. I'm up for suggestions on what to do next.

  2. Thank you for telling your story here, I think it will help other fathers at various stages along the same path as yours. My only suggestion is to never give up on your son. And when you find him be honest and tell him all the mistakes you've made and you know now how they hurt him. You'll need to earn his trust again and then his love. Never give up!

  3. Thanks for the touching blog, Roland. As I was reading the parallel you made with Malvo, I couldn't help but think about what I've read about Michael Jackson and how his craving for love by the masses was his attempt at filling the void in his soul due to to the lack of love from his own dad. The point is that these things run very deep with so many people and our world is shaped so much by it. Looking forward to reading future entries.

    Dana Glazer


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