Last week, a young man named Peter John Henry was charged as an adult with the murder of his foster father Marvell Johnson. Henry is 16 years old. Marvell was 64. Two lives ended prematurely, one in death and the other in what almost surely will be a very long prison sentence if convicted. What makes this sad situation even more tragic is that Henry was a foster child. Johnson was one of those silent heroes in our community, a foster parent trying to give children with less than a good start in life a chance to heal and achieve some measure of peace for him or herself.
Being a foster parent is one of those callings that’s hard to fathom. You open your home and heart to kids with multiple problems ranging from birth-acquired issues such as Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder to life-acquired issues due to parental neglect and abuse or their own substance abuse. Despite a few exceptions, foster kids are a challenge, especially the foster children Marvell Johnson and his wife Sherry took in. They opened their homes to youth from the juvenile justice system.
For kids in state custody, foster parents are the boots on the ground in the fight to give them a second chance at a decent life. The judges see the children only during hearings and read about their progress through reports made by a variety of therapists and social service workers. Those workers and therapists, in turn, deal with these children through visits and phone calls. But full time, 24 hours a day, there are the foster parents. These are the people who take on the sometimes very difficult task of creating a home for children who have often already been scarred by life in ways most of us can’t imagine. They get to try to find reasonable ways to deal with children who are sometimes not only damaged by life but also have no idea what a real home is like. Foster parents take on the challenge because they believe that every child has the right to know what a home is really like, every child has the right to sleep at night without fear of who will come in their door, every child has the right to some happy childhood memories. Most realize that at best they are offering these children a safe place to be until they become adults because healing all the harm already done to them is nearly impossible. But they keep trying.
Marvel Johnson and his wife raised their own family first and then tried to help other children not lucky enough to be born into the kind of family his was. His 35 years as a volunteer DJ at local public radio station KSKA is a testament to his clear belief that if you are a member of a community, you participate in community life and try to give back to the community that supports you.
The young man who so callously took Johnson’s life will probably never be able to understand the impulse that leads someone to give themselves to others in order to make life a little better all around. That young man probably never had much of a chance himself. Now, angry with his foster father for taking away some privileges and high on Spice, he has ended his future before it began – a future that Marvell and Sherry tried so hard to give him.
At some point in his life, Peter John Henry learned that life is cheap and taking it is no big deal. I can’t imagine what he experienced that led him to believe that killing was a perfectly acceptable response to being grounded. Not that it really matters anymore, because he is no longer a kid in the juvenile justice system receiving treatment and help for his issues. He’s an adult facing possible life in prison where there are no social workers or juvenile probation officers or foster parents looking to help him.
Henry took a good life away from this community and, in doing so, took his own life away from himself. It is a double loss and a double tragedy. We’ll never know what further good Marvell Johnson would have done for kids in this state. And Henry will never know what potential there might have been for his future because he ended that future with one Spiced fueled night of violence.
All the annoying, loud, insulting half truths passed off as political ads by groups that have no obligation to even reveal who funds them. And let’s not even talk about the crap put out by candidates actually willing to put their names on the ads. Will this noise never stop?
Bird TLC today. Missed being there while I was out. Being up close with eagles and hawks and falcons, to say nothing of Kodi my crow, is addictive. I need my fix.
Officially back and at my desk striving once again to write like my heroes wrote. Or at least to make some money at it. Meanwhile, I forgot to note that Oct. 1 marked the 42nd anniversary of the day I arrived in Alaska and Oct. 3 marked the 42nd anniversary of the day I arrived in Barrow. Best decision of my life. Gave me adventures, friends and memories beyond my wildest imagination. And taught me that without a doubt, the arctic is the climate, land and sea that most soothes my soul.
I am rereading the entire Harry Potter series while traveling in Europe and flying to and from the U.S. What a wonderful world to fall into while elbows jab you and seats hurt your butt and your legs feel like size ten feet trying to fit into size two shoes. Your mind flies away from it all and you are safely back at Hogwarts battling the Dark Lord, which quite frankly seems easier than flying nowadays. Oh Harry, where’s my flying broomstick when I need it?
I sit on my balcony listening to the Mediterranean Sea crashing on the beach in front of the hotel and its soothing roar is broken by the sounds of wild parrots squawking and calling to each other. Our guide says they are not indigenous but escapees from an outdoor market that have successfully established themselves in their new environment. He adds that they are being aggressive towards local birds and something will have to be done about them.
We humans forcibly bring new life to a foreign land and then punish that life for adapting and thriving.
Have had free wifi In all the hotels we’ve visited in both Portugal and Spain. That’s the good news. Bad news is that I’ve become spoiled by fast connect times. Here, where the living is not as rushed as in America, you get a lot of time to contemplate life while waiting for your e-mail to load, assuming it actually loads and doesn’t just drop your halfway through the process. But that’s okay too because then you have the perfect excuse to just go back to your main goal of rereading all of the Harry Potter books before the vacation ends.
Speaking of which, the Quidditch World Cup is about to begin…
The view outside my hotel window in Lisbon is a medieval castle high on a hill. If only I were a princess… and I wouldn’t need a prince, just my puppies and birds.
I listened to Sean Hannity on Fox News last week talk about how his father not only disciplined him with a belt but also once punched him in the face when he was doing something wrong. Hannity claimed that he was just fine, grew up great, doesn’t need therapy, and is happy with the way he was disciplined. I’m betting the child he once was would have a different take on that. Mostly I wish he could have met my father.
Neither my father nor my mother ever really hit us. Oh we got the occasional swat across the bottom but it was just that. In fact, it was more of a “move it along” swat done with their hand over our clothes. And it happened so rarely that I barely even remember it.
Discipline in my family was handled through respect and love. My mom did most of it. She had a way of speaking loudly when she needed us to really pay attention. And pay attention we did. She never hit. She never threatened to hit. But we somehow knew that it was best not to push her.
The worse punishment that could ever happen though would be to have dad look at us and see disappointment in his eyes. It was devastating. My father generally thought his children were pretty amazingly wonderful and we never wanted to do anything to cause him to think otherwise. Mom, on the other hand, was pretty sure we had our flaws and worked on us to iron them out. But with dad it was a mutual admiration society. He was, and remains, one of the finest men it was ever my privilege to know. He never had to raise his hand to us because as kids and adults, we would have done just about anything possible to make him proud of us.
Adrian Peterson, the football player who was suspended from his team for a felony child abuse arrest, beat his 4 year old son with a tree branch so badly the boy’s body had welt marks and open lacerations on his thighs, lower back and hands. What in the name of all that is human could a four year old have done to deserve that? Yet Sean Hannity suggested that we are becoming a soft nation in which a parent cannot legally discipline their child without facing criminal charges. He added that he hoped that Peterson would get off on the charge and that it wouldn’t ruin his football career. I heard him make these statements and thought that maybe he should have gone into therapy because there is something very sick and sad in his statements.
If Adrian Peterson has any real interest in making a family with his children and raising them correctly, he should start by winning their respect and love through the way he lives his life. That’s what my dad did, and his values still reverberate throughout my generation. My two siblings and I are probably more honest and decent than anyone would have expected us to be and it’s because the man we grew up with was also decent and honest. I’m not trying to downplay my mother’s influence. This was the fifties and sixties. Men worked and fixed things around the house. Women raised the kids and cooked. My mother was always the active disciplinarian in the family and she still influences every part of our lives. But when we transgressed enough to be sent to our rooms, it was the look in our dad’s eyes that broke our hearts.
If you’ve reached the point when beating a child is the only answer you have to a discipline problem, then you’ve already lost the game. You have clearly so lost your child’s love and respect that they simply don’t care what the consequences of their behavior might be. And, most importantly, when you are talking about a four year old, you are talking about a child who has not yet developed to the point where a beating means anything other than pain and violence. The only lesson being learned is that one human being can inflict pain on another human being if they are bigger and stronger.
Yep, I wish Adrian had met my dad. Then he’d know how a good father raises decent children.
I figured out how to post from my iPad. Well, this may make me rethink not blogging while I’m in Europe.
It certainly doesn’t resemble the place where I grew up anymore but every once in a while I’ll catch a glimpse of something iconic to my childhood that still exists and suddenly I’m a child again.
Hello, Lucy the Elephant.
I arrive on the East Coast today. Get to see my brother who has been very sick but now insists he’s ok. I’ll be the judge of that. And then on to Spain, Portugal and Gibraltar. And so, for the first time since I started this blog, I am taking a two week hiatus unless I figure out a way to blog from Europe. And given my technological expertise, that’s a pretty slim chance. This Thursday my regular column will still appear because I am nothing if not anal-retentive and so have already filed it with the paper. But that will be about it unless I get much better on my iPad between now and two days from now.
See in when I get back.
Thank you for the first ad of this never ending political campaign that has a sense of humor and doesn’t make me want to take a gun to my tv set. If people haven’t seen it yet, it features his mom and his wife. It’s not going to upend the campaign or anyone’s idea of either candidate, but at least you can watch it without wanting to scream. A little more humor from ALL the candidates would be very welcomed.
But I want some of whatever it is that the Fox News Team takes to make them so hysterically funny while they keep the straightest of faces. They do know they’re funny, right?
Got called last night for a Public Policy poll. One of the questions they asked was, “Who do you think started the fight that involved the Palin family? The Palins? The other family? You’re not sure?” Seriously? This is what is getting polled? Too bad they didn’t offer me “Don’t give a rat’s hairy behind” as a choice.