Monday, March 30, 2015

Lewinsky, Schilling and Fathers of Daughters

I’m an avid fan of TED, the self described “global community, welcoming people from every discipline and culture who seek a deeper understanding of the world.”  If you haven’t checked it, I strongly encourage you to do so.  You’ll find it to be a source of learning that is beyond comparison.

When last I logged in, a trending talk was titled “The Price of Shame”.  The speaker is Monica Lewinsky.  I admit that some sense of morbid curiosity compelled me to click through.  I am not alone.  When last I checked, more than 1.7 Million people had viewed her talk. 

Her presentation was intelligent, dispassionate and courageous.  Describing herself as “patient zero of losing a personal reputation on a global scale almost instantaneously”, she asks her audience if any among them never made a serious mistake when they were 22 years old.  Of course, no one raised his or her hand. 

Public shaming as a “blood sport” (her description) must stop, she avers. 

Of course, we know what she’s talking about.  We are all astounded by news reports of young adults and teenagers committing suicide after being verbally assaulted online.  A study by Walter Torres, PhDand Raymond Bergner, PhD in the American Journal of Psychiatry reports Individuals who have been subjected to the most severe and public of humiliations frequently experience feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. Lacking the ability to make effective appeals on their own behalf, they have no discernible way back, no avenue to recover and have a better future. Furthermore, their status as a nobody in their former community can be excruciatingly painful and may sometimes become intolerable.”  The result can be extreme violence and/or suicide.

As I listened to her, I found myself thinking of Curt Schilling.  The World Series winning pitcher with the Diamondbacks and Red Sox made news earlier this month when he outed the online attackers of his daughter, Gabby.  He had tweeted his congratulations to his daughter who will pitch softball at a college in Rhode Island next year:  Congrats to Gabby Schilling who will pitch for the Salve Regina Seahawks next year!!

The responses as described by Mr. Schilling were infused "with the word[s] rape, bloody underwear and pretty much every other vulgar and defiling word you could likely fathom began to follow."

Schilling’s response reflected anything but “helplessness and hopelessness”.  He turned the tables on the attackers by publicly identifying them.  The Huffington Post reports that some were fired or suspended once their employers learned of their antics. 

Ms. Lewinsky’s father also came to her defense in the wake of the Clinton scandal.  He defended her truthfulness in a televised interview with Barbara Walters and later threatened to sue NBC when a character in the popular TV show Law & Order: SVU used her surname as a verb to describe a sexual act. 

Fathers play an important role in the lives of their daughters.  Aside from their traditional role as provider and protector of the household, the relationship has impact on daughters’ self-esteem.  "How Dad approaches life will serve as an example for his daughter to build off of in her own life, even if she chooses a different view of the world," says Michael Austin, associate professor of philosophy at Eastern Kentucky University and editor of Fatherhood - Philosophy for Everyone: The Dao of Daddy.

I have seen this dynamic at work.  My brother-in-law has played an important and sustained role as father, surrogate father or adjunct father to my wife, our niece, his daughter and now plays an important role in his 6 year-old granddaughter’s life. Clearly, there were many other influences on their lives.  However, what they have in common is that each of them are engaging women who exude confidence who approach life with a sense of humor and passion.

What is required of us is to make sure our children know that we love them, that we care enough to come to their defense and that we will.  It’s time for fathers everywhere to stand up and take action.  It’s time to follow the example of courage and LEADERSHIP exhibited by Ms. Lewinsky and the Schillings, Curt and Gabby.



  1. One word: outstanding. Parents, especially those with daughters, should read John's excellent piece on protecting our young women and standing by them even in the most difficult of times. Raul Mas

  2. John, I had to write you to say how much I enjoyed reading this- as a father of a little girl it makes me think even more about the impact that my actions/behaviors have on her. I hope that you are well. Take care.

    Douglas E. Roberts