Son of the beast

What do you do when your Dad is a monster?

Ariel Castro's son, Anthony Castro, has decided that his Dad belongs behind bars for the rest of his life. And that furthermore, he plans never to visit him.

The elder Castro is the Cleveland man who pleaded guilty to having imprisoned three women for 10 years. He is a sick, sick man. But my first reaction to Anthony was judgmental: OK, so your Dad did these horrible things, but can't he get a visit once in awhile? Isn't he still your father? Also, when asked what he would have thought had his Dad had received the death penalty, he responded, "It would've been tough to accept just because death penalty cases are ... you end up in court a lot ... and so they come back a lot more often." That sounded a little more utilitarian than I thought was appropriate. Kind of like: I'm glad he got life because it would have been such a pain to have to keep going back and forth to court if he had receive death.

But after reading the article, I thought better of my reaction. Anthony had visited his father at his home, and always came in through the back door. Though noting some weirdness -- the doors leading to the attic and cellar were locked and the windows nailed shut! -- he didn't think much of it. Perhaps his Dad's extreme strictness and violence (he beat his son with a belt and often "beat up" his mother as well, leaving her crumpled on the floor) made his current odd behavior seem normal, if not positively benign. Perhaps there is also a measure of guilt about not connecting the dots.

The revelation of the father's role in the crime seemed to hit Anthony hard. "I was shocked because of the magnitude of such a crime. I don't think I can imagine anyone doing that, let alone to find out it was my own flesh and blood, my father." He says that his family has endured a "nightmare" since May, but added, "nothing to compare to what the girls went through."

You might have caught a whiff of narcissism in Anthony's story -- a bit too much about how this tragedy affected him and his family, and not all that much about his father's victims. But I guess that's natural when you find out that a) a close relative committed a horrible crime and b) your own life and social standing have been irrevocably marred by the crime. We all expect that our lives will move on on trajectory of reasonable happiness. But being robbed suddenly of your future, and having your present imperiled by the courts, the media and vengeful champions of the victims might easily make it hard to care for others.

Should Anthony find a place for his father? If not today, then someday? Christians are called to forgive, and to love our enemies. But experience has taught that some people seem to be sinks of evil. Coming into contact with them can throw us off our stride for days for weeks. We lose our equilibrium. Our thoughts spin out of control. We become rude, nasty and ill-tempered. We come away exhausted.

We are caught between compassion and self-preservation. It's times like this that being a follower of Jesus is at its most challenging. Those who are graced with a personality that can endure the psychic bombardment of people whose minds and souls are sick are invaluable. They wear their own spiritual lead-shielded suits, capable of withstanding the gamma rays of the twisted. It would be unkind to expect everyone to have the same invulnerability to evil.

Let's pray that Anthony Castro and their family find the balance between caring for their Dad and caring for themselves. And, sadly, that might mean never seeing him again.