Terrence Howard is the actor who portrayed Col. James Rhodes in the 2008 film Iron Man. He’s an accomplished actor with a long list of credits, and his role alongside Robert Downey Jr. is arguably his highest profile role. Aside from acting, Howard has also earned himself press coverage by threatening to kill the 14 year old boy his teenage daughter was dating, because Howard didn’t approve of him.
However, rather than censure for this murder threat, Howard was praised. The uncredited writer/moron who covered this story for the entertainment blog “celebitchy dot com” characterized Howard’s threat by saying ”to me, that makes him a great dad right there.” The un-named hack writer, apparently female, enthused further to say: “Maybe I’m old fashioned, but it makes me happy to hear that some dads are still involved in their daughters’ lives, and care enough to threaten the crap out of some boy. Isn’t that a rite of passage for everyone? I honestly believe one of the reasons my dad sucks is that he never threatened anyone on my behalf.”
The idea of the murderously over-protective father continues to find currency in our culture, as well as an element of popular entertainment.
The comedian Bruce Cameron published a list of what he called “8 simple rules for dating my daughter”. At least 3 of the rules include threats of murder, and all but 2 include threats of grievous bodily harm. This list has been plagiarized, repeated and embellished by numerous other comedians, commentators, sermonizing priests and others so many times that dozens of versions can be found by Googling the term “so you want to date my daughter”.
In 2011 a man named Dale Boyer uploaded a video to youtube which contained a public lecture to any young man with ambitions of dating his daughter. In this video, the daughter, an attractive young woman in her late teens or early twenties sits next to her father nodding and agreeing with Boyer’s admonitions. Speaking to his daughter: “I have reminded you every single week, all your dates must be approved by me. If they touch you, I will cut their wanger off”. Boyer expands on this, adding, “If they put their hands where they don’t belong, I will cut their wanger off, and go to prison and get three hots and a cot”.
The daughter interjects, saying: “don’t mess with me”. The father continues, adding “don’t F*** with me, because I am a christian man.” as his daughter smiles in agreement. He stopped short of saying the word “fuck.” He figured threatening to mutilate his daughter’s boyfriend was okay, but saying fuck was going too far. Well, fuck him.
Now my story. At age 17-ish, I very briefly had a semi-girlfriend who was a classmate. The romance, if it can even be dignified as such was ended by me, following my first meeting with her father. He showed me his shotgun, and made it clear, in front of his daughter that he would use it to kill me if I made his Daughter, and my friend, Tanya cry. This implied threat was not if I had sex with her, which several weeks into a high-school crush in the mid-1980s I had not gotten around to yet. He also wasn’t talking about some hypothetical violence done against his daughter, no, the threat of death was offered on the mere event of her crying.
At the age of 17, my brain was a-slosh with hormones, and I didn’t have the developed sense of self I now enjoy, but even then, whether it was a romance or a friendship – I discontinued the relationship that had been placed under condition of a threat of death. I did not, at the time have the skill or faculty to explain my reasoning to anyone. Not even Tanya, who had, until then been a friend. She raised no objection to the threat which I took seriously.
As I saw matters, If I explained to her that she was being immediately dumped – I might be creating the condition for fulfilment of the threat. In my mind, this had consequences beyond the possibility of my own immediate demise. My own father was likely, in my mind, to respond to such event with the retributive killing my girlfriend’s dad, and maybe her too. To be clear, even to my 17 year old hormone-demented mind, this was an intolerable possibility to be avoided at any cost. It must be noted, looking back that my old man was capable of such response. I was also unwilling to inform my dad why Tanya was suddenly vanished out of my life, because news of the threat against his son might also have provoked violence from him, either against me, or against her father, an equal chance in my 17 year old judgement. It even briefly crossed my teenage mind to consider whether, in the event of a man in his early 50s coming after me with a shotgun, I might get the better of him, resulting in my incarceration rather than my own death. So, I cut off contact – avoided Tanya at school, didn’t return calls, and weathered my own self enforced exile in silence.
I never discovered what effect this had on her, as we never spoke again – although in the following year, several large and athletic white knights at our school sought me out, and I lost those fights.
However, although I didn’t break off that early romance with a great deal of grace, I was correct to do so. Since then, our culture of acceptable violence against men, particularly young men has grown more pronounced rather than less.
Which brings us to the point of this discussion, which might have been usefully given the title: “advice for a young man, from an old man”.
Here’s the advice, for young men, listed here in several parts.
First, value yourself. Value your health and your life. Put yourself first. This should not be taken to mean be a self absorbed douche-bag, rather, recognize that you have value as a human, and do not allow anyone to devalue your humanity.
If you are threatened with violence or death, take those threats seriously. This has two components. The first is to not minimize threats or laugh them off – because while in many cases such threats are empty, rhetorical and not followed through, a skimming of the news shows that young men die at the hands of white knight fathers who still cling to moronic traditionalist views of their daughters as fragile flowers on behalf of whom everybody else must suffer and die.
The second component of this is that our society treats violence against men as if it is normal. If this is going to end, it starts with you. There is no reason to quietly abide threats of violence or death, just because everyone else is a moron and thinks it’s acceptable. Fuck anyone who says or who implies by their silence your life has less value because you’re male.
So, if you find yourself on the receiving end of some fatherly threat of death over possible offence to your girlfriend, and she abides by this condition on your relationship – then she is part of the problem, too. It might seem that explaining your position as a person whose life should not be threatened over trivialities is a good course of action. Some people might even advise sitting down with her to point out why continuing in a relationship under threat of death is impossible. This is not what I’ll suggest. If a girl accepts, without complaint the dire consequence against you in any event of her discomfort, drop her without ceremony, notification or apology.
When you’ve been shown the gun, there is no more civil discussion, there is only the choice to exit or to return fire. The argument for the human rights of men and boys wont be won by escalating the violence already directed at men and boys. But the other side of a culture of violence against men and boys isn’t passive acceptance of that violence, it’s a loud and firm rejection of it. Just say no. Say fuck no.
So that’s what I’m saying to younger men, anybody who puts a condition of the threat of violence on your relationship with them, throw them the hell out of your life. Demand the respect as a human being of value that everyone except you gets by default.
To everyone else, there’s another suggestion on offer. Abandon the conceit that you are not complicit in the world’s problems, that men, particularly young men should be your goat to be heaped with sin and driven into the desert.
To fathers of daughters who would smugly issue a threat of death or violence against young men, satisfied in your supposed protection of your little princess, consider what you’d do if the threat came from some other kid’s parent, targeting your rotten spawn. Don’t be such a moron. If your daughter is sexually mature, seeking male company, your job is not to protect her from real world. If she doesn’t have the judgement to make those decisions, then you are already a failure as a parent. Don’t compound it by giving her the at-one-remove use of lethal force to enable her asshole behavior.
To daughters on whose behalf protective violence is wielded, grow up, or get used to the choice between males in your life with so little self worth they’ll tolerate their own total disposability in deference to your fragile emotions. Or get used to a growing culture of men who totally wash their hands of you as an enabler of violence against them.