I just finished reading a book called WE by Charles Lindbergh. It was an autobiography of his life, up to his historic flight from New York to Paris. I became curious about the rest of his life as I’d remembered that he had been thought a Nazi sympathizer. So I pulled up Wikipedia. After a bit of research on the web, I discovered that his Nazi sympathies were mostly speculative, but he was definitely an appeaser and thought the US should not get involved in the war. He felt that the Germans were so advanced in their Military, especially in their aeronautics, that we and other countries didn’t stand a chance. He was also accused of anti-Semitism, another thing difficult to prove. One can have negative opinions about certain characteristics of the Jewish people and not be anti-Semitic, much as one can feel that Catholics should be allowed to use birth control without hating the Catholics. But the one thing I read about Lindbergh that was a huge shock (he’d always been sort of one of my heroes) was that he had three German mistresses (two of them sisters) in the later years of his life and had fathered seven children by them. In addition, he was a staunch eugenicist, someone who believes in the improvement of the human species through the control of hereditary factors in mating. He believed in the natural selection and in the existence of good genes. It sounds eerily similar to the Aryan race, the white supremacist ideology.
This startling revelation caused me to think about my father. A friend of mine who went to the same high school I did in the mid-fifties lived on a farm. He said he remembered the night Dad flipped a switch and the farmers all had electricity. My father was the superintendent for a construction company that built electrical substations. My friend said Dad was a hero to all of the farmers. Another friend said that her Dad had a hero worship attitude about my Dad; he thought he was a truly great human being. All of us children grew up thinking he was larger than life, echoing the townspeople’s belief in him. Even Mom, with her motto of “even when he’s wrong, he’s right”, perpetuated the belief that Dad was a God like figure, encouraging us to believe the same. It worked. Until he died we all worshiped him. When he died I thought my world had ended. My grief was so deep, my loss so profoundly painful that I thought I would never recover from it. I felt the earth had just shaken, as if taken by a fist of the hand of God. I kept thinking, “He wasn’t supposed to die. He wasn’t supposed to die.” This was before I got into recovery.
And yet this man was a child molester. If he were alive today he would be in prison (assuming I had the courage to expose him and have him arrested, then tried and I don’t know if I could have done that). The similarities in the two stories, Dad and Charles Lindbergh, albeit Charles Lindbergh was a famous aviator who accomplished an incredible feat and Dad was just an electrical estimator who brought electricity to the farmers, interested me. Charles Lindberg was a control freak who once locked his 18 month old son out of the house in an effort to foster “independence” and then forbad his wife to cry when the baby was, famously, kidnapped and murdered a few months later. My dad was a control freak who monitored everything we did including the amount of food we ate, what we wore, which friends we were allowed, what we did with our free time and so on.
This all caused me to do a lot of deep thinking. It was not the first time I’ve heard of a man of supposed high integrity, worshiped by all his flock so to speak who was raping his daughter on a regular basis. This pushes hypocrisy to the outer limits. It’s like someone sticking their hand in the candy jar, looking at you and saying, “What candy?” Dad went to confession every Saturday night. What must have been going through the mind of Father Sudbeck, assuming that Dad confessed his wrong doing? On Sunday he took Communion. How deadly, how devious must the mind be of a father who is raping his daughter at night and taking Communion at church? And what about the priest? He was bound by the ancient rules of the Confessional. He was not allowed to ever share this with anyone. What went through his mind?
A thread of connection lurks somewhere in the forming of the character and morality of people like this. I don’t believe anyone is born a child molester or a murderer. I believe every baby is born pure and innocent and that only life shapes the direction in which they go, the person they become. In speaking to a family friend at my uncle’s funeral many years ago I found out that she had stayed at my grandfather and grandmother’s house for a week before she was married. When I asked her what my paternal grandfather was like she said they had a saying about him. I held my breath thinking I didn’t know this man, had only seen him a couple of times but he must have been wonderful. He had been an affluent banker, a devoted Catholic. “No woman is safe with George Leick,” she said. I was stunned. My father’s father was a womanizer? I picked up part of the thread, following the connection as I went. Raised in a patriarchal family with a controlling father who was a womanizer. Why was I surprised at how my father turned out? People like him; people like Charles Lindbergh must foster their own outer image, as if they can’t allow people to see the real them. They have to wear a masquerade, but you can only keep the costume on for so long.
Now, if I meet someone others idolize, who has a reputation as a near perfect person, I hold back, never sure. Is this person real? Or do they too have a secret side, like Dr. Jeckle/Mr. Hyde?