I would like to thank Amy at Feminist Reprise for conducting me to several sources on the anti-Recovered Memory phenomenon. One source worth reading is Mike Stanton at the Columbia Journalism Review.

A pointed excerpt from “U-turn on memory lane”:

Among journalists, perhaps the most relentless critic of the [False Memory Syndrome] foundation is Michele Landsberg, a Toronto Star columnist. In 1993, she says, an Ontario couple, claiming to have been falsely accused, contacted her and asked her to write about their case.

Unconvinced, she declined, and eventually started writing instead about the foundation. She attacked its scientific claims and criticized the sensational media coverage. She described how a foundation scientific adviser, Harold Merskey, had testified that a woman accusing a doctor of sexual abuse in a civil case might in fact have been suffering from false memory syndrome. But the accused doctor himself had previously confessed to criminal charges of abusing her. Landsberg also challenged the credentials of other foundation advisers.

She noted that one founding adviser, Ralph Underwager, was forced to resign from the foundation’s board after he and his wife, Hollida Wakefield, who remains an adviser, gave an interview to a Dutch pedophilia magazine in which he was quoted as describing pedophilia as “an acceptable expression of God’s will for love.” Landsberg also wrote that another adviser, James Randi, a magician known as The Amazing Randi, had been involved in a lawsuit in which his opponent introduced a tape of sexually explicit telephone conversations Randi had with teenage boys.

Various other thoughts on Fathering Daughters: Reflections by Men


FOX has a new show called New Amsterdam. It’s about an immortal homicide detective who solves crimes while experiencing flashbacks from days of yore. It’s a story that’s been done before and in far more entertaining ways. Somehow, FOX got the notion that receiving one’s immortality as a thank-you note from a Native American shaman is more “mainstream” than the vampires detectives and Scottish Highlanders that only achieved cult status. That they could think such a thing presents an interesting commentary on racial fetish.

It’s a terrible show.

Before I stopped watching it though, I viewed one episode that really brought home how powerful the “False Memory Syndrome” or “Anti-Recovered Memory” movement is and how successful they’ve been in their public relations campaign. They’re a front-page antidote for a problem that’s on the back-page, if it ever gets space at all.

The plot went something like this:

Immortal dude collars some shell-shocked veteran and gets him to confess to a murder he didn’t commit; immortal dude feels really bad about that and tries to make things right by finding the real killer.

The murder victim was a psychologist who once helped people recover memories but disavowed her work (In Pendergrast speak she’d be “scientifically” labeled as a “retractor”) after one patient accused someone of cooking a baby, something which clearly didn’t happen. She was writing a book slamming a former co-worker. He is another shrink in the recovered memory business who didn’t want to lose his patients, people he ripped from their “families of origin,” who are now loyal to him alone. Thus he kills her for threatening to upset his life. All of which, conveniently, ties thematically into the veteran who believed he did something he didn’t do because of an intense interrogation session.

This story shocked me because this is a show about a homicide detective: every week some act of violence has to happen, each more intricate and depraved than the last, in order to set the plot in motion. The characters live in a world of intense violence where every other person they meet is dripping evil.

How, in such a world, could one even suspect someone of inventing fake crimes? Life exists for crime!

And yet false allegations of abuse were presented as more horrific than the “real” violence depicted as entertainment: false allegations are never sexy; real violence, especially against women, is always sexy. The innocent-accused are always more innocent than the innocent victims of violence; naturally, the former are nearly always men.

Even a decade after the False Memory panic, a silly show about an immortal dude can still recycle it to scare viewers once again.

This is a legacy that DeWitt Henry and James Alan McPherson helped to sustain by dragging Mark Pendergrast into their book. 


Fred Viebahn writes in “Aviva’s World” (p. 100):

It’s hard to remember why I preferred a daughter over a son, and I would never allow a psycho-plumber to snake through my subconscious only to misinterpret the complexities of that wish. I think I was a pretty good son to my parents, so there was no denial and projecting going on, no fear of my own bad example. I can only speculate: as a boy, I often preferred the company of women. During family gatherings, when my father and my grandfathers and uncles played cards in the living room, my boy cousins had to drag me away from the women folk trading stories in the kitchen so that I would play soccer with them. Even now, half a century old, I frequently feel more comfortable chatting with women at social gatherings. End of speculation.

While Viebahn shows the characteristic hatred of psychology required for authors in Fathering Daughters, it’s significant that he confines such talk to the realm of personality, rather than politics.

As often as feminists write apologias that they’re not “man haters,” it’s interesting to note how freely and easily distrust of men comes to males. We might sometimes apologize for it, too, as Viebahn does, but we never really expect anyone to be surprised by it. It makes sense to fear men, to watch your back when amongst them, to prefer gatherings without them: males know this easily, females have had it bred and beaten out of them to the point where they often have to relearn the obvious.

Many pro-feminists have written passages similar to Viebahn. Typically, they go further, urging males to overcome such fear as it hurts women (who are burdened by us foisting our emotional lives on them alone) and results in other phenomena such as homophobia. I find such work, by John Stoltenberg and others, to be highly convincing — at times. Other times, I wonder if it’s possible for a male to be a separatist, avoiding men whenever possible, without placing undue burden on women or barging in on sisterhood. It might be possible. Or it might not.


Scott Russell Sanders, in “To Eva, on your Marriage,” writes about how his daughter’s birth made the “condition of women” more personal to him. “Statistics on rape, on poverty, on wife beating, on single mothers, on jobs and pay for women, became disturbing facts about the society in which my daughter would grow up” (p. 197).

His report is hardly novel. The belief that fathering daughters compels a man to feminism is a common one. It’s exactly for that reason that there’s so little skepticism of Dads and Daughters. Everyone feels safe in assuming that they’re natural feminist allies after their “Road to Damascus” experience of being charged with a baby girl.

What makes Sanders different is another realization that he proffers, how being heterosexual (in a way that might cause such a baby to arrive), never compelled him in that same way (p. 198):

Even falling in love with the woman who would become your mother had not inspired in me such troubled questioning, because she was brilliant in science, in music, in writing and speech; she was poised and confident; she was balanced on her own center. She had found a husband with plenty of flaws, but one who would never lay a hand on her except in love, never betray or desert her. To my bedazzled eyes, this Ruth McClure seemed to have emerged into womanhood unscathed. But you were just beginning. How would you fare?

He writes similarly, here:

I thought very little about gender as a child. I simply accepted what was around me as the way things were. Then, when I went to college, as I’ve written in “The Men We Carry in Our Minds,” I ran into women who had radically different notions about gender roles than anything I’d ever encountered. Trying to figure out why these women were so angry started me on a long, slow educational process. That process was accelerated through my long courtship of Ruth McClure. Ours was an epistolary romance. Living a thousand miles apart for five years before we got married, we exchanged hundreds of letters. Then after our daughter Eva was born, I became even more thoughtful about the fate of women. What barriers would she run into? How would she learn what it means to be female? Once our son Jesse was born, I had a burning personal reason to reflect on how the world defines maleness, as well. Then, when my father died, I realized that he had been confined and even tortured by inherited notions of masculinity.When I first recognized sex discrimination, I thought naively—as I did with racism—that people of good will should be able to talk about it openly and then grow beyond it. It shouldn’t be so hard to begin treating everybody fairly. Why shouldn’t discrimination go away in a few years? Now I realize the problems are more stubborn. We carry a lot of evolutionary baggage, including some deep biases linked to sex. Unless we acknowledge this biological inheritance, we’ll be trapped by it.

I am unsure of what he means by “evolutionary” and “biological inheritance.” Creative types, or at least those celebrated as such, can usually get away with being essentialists, whether by design or by accident; the rest of us generally need to learn to be precise with our speech, lest we be punished.

Still, the interview is certainly more nuanced than his chapter in Fathering Daughters, where his wife was some shining white beacon of effortless grace and perfection (not to mention where he appears to think he deserves special credit for not being a batterer). It seems that he either knew her rather poorly — to be unaware of her own struggle against sexism — or that some women are simply so wonderful that they couldn’t possibly inspire a mate to take up feminism.

Where does one sign up to date them? I’m sure demand is through the roof.

My intent isn’t to pick apart Scott Russell Sanders or his relationship, or even his status as a feminist ally (indeed, his chapter is one of the best in the anthology), but to use his admission to investigate another common trope:

“Beware those men who use feminism to get laid.”

People seem confident that impregnating a woman and raising a resulting female child can drive a man to become a feminist loyalist.

People seem equally confident (although not in Scott Russell Sanders case) that regularly fucking a feminist woman can inspire a man to take up the cause.

And yet thinking about feminism before those two steps is grounds for suspicion?

That’s probably the time when it would do the most good!


I don’t deal very much with adjectives in my writing; I seldom need or choose to describe people. That’s a copout in a way, as it lets me sidestep a problem that the contributors in Fathering Daughters didn’t seem to acknowledge they had: how do you write about your daughter’s appearance without falling into patriarchal patterns of speech? How do you counter the male gaze when it’s your own?

What words are appropriate? What words invariably place a girl in a police lineup of sorts, comparing and contrasting her with other girls and standards of acceptability? And what of those other girls — those spectral children, not your own — who are summoned to that lineup, what responsibility does a proud father have to them?

Gary Soto, in “Getting it Done,” describes his nearly adult daughter as “five foot even, a hundred and six shapely pounds, bright, kind and thoughtful, well read, and shy as a pony” (p. 119).

Mark Pendergrast presents the daughters who would accuse him of sexual abuse as being “exceptionally attractive, intelligent, creative, caring young women” (p. 153).

What shape are those pounds? What shape, out of many, is the incarnation of shape itself? Why does the physical always precede the internal, as if excellence begets excellence?

The white writers seem to pay special attention to the “differences” they find in their adopted and biracial (or even technically white) children.Philip Lopate writes of his daughter Lily’s delivery (p. 17):

The doctor passed the newborn to her mother for inspection. She was (I may say objectively) very pretty: like a little Eskimo or Mexican babe, with her mop of black hair and squiting eyes. Something definitely Third World about her.

I can’t speak for the Inuit, but most Mexicans I’ve met would disagree with his “Third World” assessment, whether out of nationalist pride or anger that an American would feel perfectly safe to make such a bizarre assertion about his child out of the blue, anticipating that his readers would reward him for it.

In “A Story for Ancient Moon,” Adam Schwartz tells of his trip to China to meet his adoptive daughter (p. 21):

Her eyes stared calmly back at the camera, a look so clear and knowing that she truly did have an ancient countenance. Her eyes were exactly like the “ancient, glittering eyes” of the Chinamen in Yeats’ poem “Lapis Lazuli.”


Li Li told me that the shape of Annie’s eyes was considered very beautiful in China. I had actually heard the same comment from other Chinese women. Before we left for China to adopt Annie, I passed her picture around to my classes, and all the Chinese students remarked upon the beautiful shape of her eyes. Li Li explained that no woman in China would want to give up a daughter with such rare and beautiful eyes, and that no doubt the birth father gave the orders.

It is beyond me how such infinitely rare eyes could have been possessed by all of Yeat’s “Chinamen.”Samuel Shem (pen name of Stephen Bergman), also adopted a daughter from China. His chapter is called “A Prayer for Connection.” He writes (p. 39):

I sit in the balcony looking down at Katie in gymnastics class. Up here, distanced, it is suddenly as if I’m watching a group of five year olds whom I don’t know, Katie among them. She is the only Asian. I notice her trim, lithe body with long legs and not an ounce of fat, her coordination, her popping energy. I bring her back to being ours for a second, remembering how, after our being with her for the first several months, Caucasian babies’ eyes seemed strange to us, too round, foreign. Our world was china, Chinese, eyes shaped like teardrops on their sides, pupils as dark as history. We became a family of color. We felt the joy and encountered the racism.

His structural composition allows the perception that her thinness and coordination logically stems from her Asian status, the topic of each of the two sentences surrounding his brief mention of her talent. Where does that leave the girls standing around her, clumsy in comparison, lacking in ancient heritage? And what of Asian girls who don’t fit that model of diminutive grace?

And joy? Good grief.

It’s easy for me to pick apart all of these descriptions. After all, I’m not personally tasked with finding a solution to this problem; I can easily avoid it if I like.

I fault the contributors of Fathering Daughters not for failing to arrive at a solution, but for refusing to acknowledge that there is a problem. It’s hypocritical to blame the advertising industry for creating body image problems when a bunch of literary greats can’t even talk about their own daughters without objectifying them.

Fathering Daughters: Reflections by Men Pedophiles?
edited by DeWitt Henry and James Alan McPherson

Fathering Daughters: Reflections by Men (1997) is a significant book. Its date marks a historic moment in the fatherhood movement. It was published the same year that the Promise Keepers would reach their zenith (holding a rally that drew over one million men) and rapidly crumble. While the Keepers disintegrated, their energy sent out reverberations throughout the political spectrum. Fathering Daughters is a product of that energy.

Dads and Daughters, widely believed to be the most pro-feminist of the fatherhood groups, is also part of that energy. In light of that fact, it’s important to note that they’re now the only pro-feminist group that currently receives any funding or national attention. Dads and Daughters created their first website in 1999. At the time, Fathering Daughters was one of the few books they recommended and attempted to sell to their site’s viewers.

The book is currently recommended by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and their Head Start program. Or what’s left of the Head Start program after the Fatherhood Initiative, a corporate effort by Bush Administration cronies, decided to take it over. It was a bit of revenge for putting children — and by extension, their “bonbon eating” mothers — first.

If that weren’t enough, Fathering Daughters is also likely the preferred treatment on fatherhood by pedophiles throughout the world.

While that’s a bombastic beginning for a book review, it’s necessary to slow down a great deal to fully describe the complexities of the work. It’s not an easy volume to fully contextualize. So please bear with me as I backtrack a bit.

No one needs to consider me a pro-feminist of any sort. I’m not complaining: that’s exactly as it should be.

It’s an entirely different story for males who choose the privileges of matrimony and fatherhood though; so very much depends on their status as one of the good guys. Wives and daughters have an intense need to see their husbands and fathers as being the sort of men who do the right thing. For most of us in this world, myself included, being the sort — or merely being seen as the sort — tends to take precedence over actually doing the right thing. Still, no one has ever called me a feminist for picking up my socks every morning.

Seeing the different standards in place for men and their anti-sexist work has made me skeptical of the pro-feminist fatherhood movement: who can tell, precisely, where the Promise Keeper ends and the “Dads and Daughters” father begins?

Feminism has not yet overthrown the patriarchy but it has changed the role of daughters, female children, within it. This presents a paradox in that daughters are now much more useful to individual patriarchs, if not the system they uphold. Daughters have been transformed from chattel to perfectly acceptable vehicles for the transmission of the masculine ego beyond one’s own life expectancy.

Wanting the best for your daughter isn’t necessarily the mark of a feminist consciousness: even Dick Cheney loves his lesbian daughter. Because of that love, he’ll do whatever he can to make sure she can bloodily triumph over the daughters of his rivals.

While the pro-feminist side of the fatherhood movement can protest the advertising industry and celebrate Title IX, all worthy endeavors, it’s otherwise apolitical. Male privilege, like class and race based privileges, isn’t something you fight against for the benefit of your own daughter — it’s something you have to do for the benefit of other men’s daughters, your rivals. Doing so might even hurt your own daughter as she’s in many ways dependent upon your privilege. That’s a profoundly difficult thing to choose.

The absence of truly feminist politics in groups like Dads and Daughters hasn’t seemed to stop most of more prestigious pro-feminist writers from flocking to it. Men like Michael Kimmel and Jackson Katz have signed on. Many of these eager beavers don’t even have children of their own. In the process, they’ve largely abandoned their former positions with groups like the National Organization for Men Against Sexism (NOMAS), a fatuous crowd that has somehow managed to grow even more epically pointless.

While NOMAS molders, Dads and Daughters becomes ever more glossy by the minute, picking up one famous endorsement after the next. It’s a solid career move for those who make the switch: Parents buy a lot of shit.


I live in a small town with a small town library. The books are artifacts, not because they’re particularly old or worn, but because they’re mostly there to keep children occupied while their parents take advantage of the free internet, a precious resource in our area. It’s a place strongly aware of the demographic it serves: an entire wall is dedicated to “Inspirational Literature,” a genre that mostly consists of Christian doomsday tracts, Left Behind and its imitators. Still, the town librarian has some strong feminist tendencies. Many of the short shelves have Margaret Atwood’s books standing on top in stark defiance.

It was in the parenting section that I found Fathering Daughters: Reflections by Men (1997). It was given special treatment, standing on display with its face puffed with pride. It was another bit of the town librarian’s feminism; a small attempt to better her community. I thought I’d honor that effort by taking her up on it.

Fathering Daughters, edited by DeWitt Henry and James Alan McPherson, is radically different from most fatherhood screeds. It doesn’t cater to the lowest common denominator. It doesn’t try to sell itself, not even to its own captive audience. It never had a chance of becoming a hip, mass-market offering. The men included in the anthology are all highly literate individuals who can get away with using words like “rotogravure” or “legato” without an editor striking them out and laughing at the attempt to sneak them through. Most of them work as professors at prestigious schools.

The daughters they raised attended even more prestigious schools; Berkeley, Yale, and others, two went to Harvard. One left for college at 14. Many grew up with yearly visits to places like Korea and Germany, or spent their summers in England, watching dad use his entire season of freedom to run theater productions. The ever-young part of me can’t help but be jealous of the adventures — and horses! — the girls had, even as my adult side envies the careers of their fathers, talents that blossomed despite rampant alcoholism, depression, and one failed marriage after the next.

Many of contributors became fathers at an older-than-average age: two were a hairbreadth from 50 when they impregnated a much younger partner. I say that not just to disparage them for it — though I obviously do — but to add that to a mountain of evidence that says that the average father in my small town library might not relate much to Fathering Daughters.  Most of my friends who stuck around in the Rust Belt to raise children became parents during high school or soon after: if they could write as well as these men do, and several of them once dreamt of making an honest effort, it seems doubtful they’d write nearly the same book.

Nevertheless, the unassailably elite nature of Fathering Daughters is also its most redeeming feature.

Whereas Dad and Daughters tried making money off of Fathering Daughters in 1999, by referring potential buyers to, a decade later they’ve switched to direct marketing instabooks written by their own staff. Or, at least the high-muckamucks on their staff. Titles like 54 Fun Activities to Help Build a Great Relationship, 200 Ways to Raise a Girl’s Self-Esteem, and Chicken Soup for the Father & Daughter Soul would do Thomas Kinkade proud.For all the literary grandstanding that Fathering Daughters does — where nearly every contributor earnestly writes first for his own satisfaction and not his readers’ — at least it doesn’t treat raising a female human being like an exercise in motorcycle repair (there is a text called Fatherhood: an Owner’s Manual) with step by step instructions.

It does, however, treat it like training birddogs.

Don’t be worried though, Rick Bass, in his chapter “My Daughters,” telegraphs your alarm (p. 59):

I may have it all wrong. I may be the most sexist father left in this century. I can see hyperfeminists wondering to themselves, Daughters as bird dogs? [emphasis original]

Bass admits he’s a sexual essentialist (that gender is a fundamental part of natural fact), but reconciles it with his belief that we can all learn from each other. He’s one of the good guys because he makes room for both highly linear and femininely squishy modes of thought, something that he thinks real feminists give a shit about. Granted, in the mid-90s, such stuff was a popular academic motif so it’s hard to fault him for the mistake. He seems to genuinely believe that the average feminist worries about her daughter falling into a linear mindset, even though such things are actually a preoccupation of antifeminists. It is, after all, a demographic that doesn’t have to do any actual activism to advance their platform — thus they have all the time in the world to dote on the more ethereal notes of feminism.

My complaint with Rick Bass and his birddogs doesn’t have anything to do with his comparison, right or wrong, but with his framing and tone. His “hyperfeminists” divides women into two groups: reasonable women (some feminist, others not) who think he’s swell, and unreasonable women (always feminist) who don’t find him especially worthwhile or interesting.

When the word patriarch is used in Fathering Daughters, and it is many times, it’s always with irony, laughing at any reader who could ever meet the word and find it sincere: I might be sexist for saying this, and look how very smart I am for knowing that, but I’m going to say it anyway and no one can tell me I’m wrong.

Rick Bass certainly smiled as he dared us to object to his words.

So does Nicholas Delbanco in his “A Prayer for the Daughters.”

(Many of the contributors modeled their chapters on William Butler Yeats’ poem, perhaps at the instigation of editors Henry and McPherson. This, among other things, gives Fathering Daughters a peculiarly religious veneer. I find such literary embellishments excruciatingly boring; many mainstream readers will likely find non-religious people wielding vestments of faith in that way to be offensive.)

Delbanco writes, in defense of the institution of marriage (p. 114):

So, yes, I am conditioned by tradition. “And may her bridegroom bring her to a house” the poet writes, and however limited or patriarchal it seems I find myself in sympathy with that future-facing desire.

Marriage worked for him, it must be good, and thus his good-deserving daughter should have it too is the full extent of his reasoning on that matter.

Again, it’s not so much what he says, right or wrong, but how he positions his words. He’s imagining an audience of people that he wants to speak over, past, anyone who might have experience (or empirical research) that would contradict his own; most notably, his feminist oppressors; those women who want to ruin his daughters’ lives by ruining his life.

The entire book is designed as a warning salvo to that audience. Men know that other men don’t really read their books: each man cares only for the story of his own life and works to tell it as often and as loudly as he can. Even Warren Farrell, antifeminist hero and the author of The Myth of Male Power, has admitted that he writes his books for women, the people who read books. Men benefit from the existence of books, not the consumption of them.

This becomes quite clear in the introduction of Fathering Daughters. The message is, like it or not — and we’ll really get off on putting you in your place if you dare to say “not” — fathers need to have greater than equal share in framing the “conversation.” An equal share would give both sides the ability to suspend the conversation and go on their separate ways. Big daddy’s not going to give you a choice.


To prepare for our task as editors of this collection, we visited bookstores in Harvard Square to become acquainted with books on the shelves. We found a vast women’s studies section in each bookstore and a conspicuous absence of men’s studies, other than a small section of gay studies.

We felt self-conscious about drawing stares. Here we were, two grumpy old men, clearly middle aged, one African-American, one WASP, browsing the feminist shelves in evident astonishment. Studies by women touching on fathers ranged from psychology to sociology, to cultural criticism, to fiction and poetry. Women’s studies questioned assumptions about everything from the female body to the psyche, from home to the workplace, all seeking to remedy a widespread discontent and pathology. Women exhorted women to childless careers, to recovered memories of abuse, to celibacy, to “wildzones” of creativity. A virtual industry of ideology was in place, and where were we, as fathers, in this call for change?

In volume after volume, fathers were identified as embodiments of “patriarchy,” and were portrayed as abusive, tyrannical, overpowering, predatory, absent, distant, shadowy, irresponsible, and victims themselves of traditions that denied women full human potential. According to many daughters, fathers were at the heart of their unhappiness as women. Historically, of course, fathers favored sons. Adrienne Rich was frequently invoked as a woman who looked past the personal to the cultural figure of her father: “There was an ideology at last which let me dispose of you, identify the suffering you caused, hate you righteously as part of a system, the kingdom of fathers” (“Sources” in Your Native Land, Your Life: Poems).

We were glad to find other books addressed at least in part to fathers, texts by women to help daughters and fathers talk and work together to “reframe the relationship.” These writers, instead of taking a divisive stand, have adopted an earlier, Betty Friedan style of feminism that called for equality rather than blame between the sexes.


Just as Rick Bass invented Hyperfeminists, Henry and McPherson create the classic spectrum of blame and praise. Women are dared to run afoul of their taxonomy. While Betty Friedan came out victorious, her name and history is irrelevant: in her place, they might as well have said Betty Boop. When whites set up a dichotomy between Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we’re not doing it because we really love Dr. King. Dichotomies do not spring from love. Instead, such rhetoric serves to set rules of acceptable behavior for our audience.

Dominant populations never fear being hated but being disposed of, forsaken, and rendered irrelevant. The White idea of Dr. King is that we marched too; we gave the other freedom; our whiteness was and is still necessary for Black survival, we cannot be abandoned.

In that same way, the men of Fathering Daughters fear abandonment. They cannot abide a world where they’re a choice, rather than the choosers. They believe that their manhood and fatherhood (rather than their personhood and parenthood) is necessary for the survival of their daughters. The idea of political separatism brings with it great anxiety: tragically, they fear losing their gender identity more than they do losing their children.

Feminism, even of the meanest sort they attribute to snake-haired, dog-faced furies like Adrienne Rich, certainly “addresses” men. Fathers too. What then did Henry and McPherson mean? While they stopped short (whether by intent or by ignorance) of using the antifeminist division of “gender feminism” and “equity feminism,” it’s abundantly clear they somehow believe in sexism but not in patriarchy. This leads to a strange hypocrisy when it comes to the idea of identity politics.

While they can be endlessly self-indulgent in their own work, that selfishness never becomes an “industry of ideology”: they can’t see themselves. They are, as Marilyn Frye would say, the foreground. As the contributors are all subjects, perhaps radically so, the offense they take at identity politics is laughable. They believe themselves to be all just simple individuals (though of varying racial backgrounds), living their own lives — lives that can be wrecked if those other people don’t stop it with their goddamn politics.

Only other people are political. And yet they want feminists to honor them not as those blank individuals, who relate to the world uniquely, but as men, living man-lives, decent man-lives made more precious by fatherhood. I believe that is what Henry and McPherson mean by “addresses” and it’s what they require from feminists. If manhood and fatherhood are inevitable facts, with their social and biological senses ever swirling into imperceptibility, violent clashes with womanhood are equally inevitable and equally without fault.

Editor James Alan McPherson doesn’t believe in patriarchy but in a “gender war,” a dance of yin and yang where both sides are mutually complicit. He writes of his daughter’s holiday travels in “Disneyland” (p. 139):

She had no money, and was being obliged to sleep in a chair or else on the floor of the airport with the other children of divorce, tagged like Christmas gifts, who were serving out their obligations to distant parents. I heard in my daughter’s voice, that cold December evening, the quiet desperation of the many millions of young people who, through no fault of their own, had become casualties of two decades of gender warfare between selfish adults.

This belief, shared between him and Henry, so manifest in their introduction, led to their most outlandish inclusion in Fathering Daughters. In the interest of charity, I’ll allow them to describe the chapter first, as they describe it on the dust jacket:

Mark Pendergrast writes harrowingly of daughters lost to the Recovered Memory movement, daughters accusing him of sexual abuse.

The chapter was not written for Fathering Daughters but for a book Pendergrast had written years earlier, his 1995 Victims of Memory: Incest Accusations and Shattered Lives. He later reprinted this same section in a literary journal, the Sun. Pendergrast uses a lengthy editorial note in Fathering Daughters — where he invokes “gender wars,” no less — to describe hostile reader reaction to its inclusion in the Sun. These reactions would lead him to cut any personal material from a second edition of his book:

Many of the resulting letters to the Sun editor were surprising and disturbing to me. One typical response called my piece “a self-serving terrorist attack on his daughters” though it is instead of loving plea for reconciliation. Most of the letters — and some reviews of the book — concentrated on “Did he or didn’t he molest his daughters?” rather than the scholarly investigative work that constituted the bulk of the book.

Mark Pendergrast makes it clear that DeWitt Henry actively solicited him for the chapter but doesn’t specify where Henry first encountered the material. While readers of the second edition of Victims of Memory might be spared the reasons he wrote it, we are not so lucky. The chapter is a pastiche of happy memories he has about his two daughters from their youth, daring readers to intuit something creepy about the “feet games” he used to play with them (a deliberate red herring he offers), mixed with tales of a startling transformation.

When one of his daughters came out as a lesbian during college, he was cool with it; the sex part anyway. He found something else much more troubling, if only in hindsight, “By that time, being a lesbian — particularly on college campuses — was also a political statement about the patriarchal society and generalized male oppression.” He claims his daughter began seeing a college counselor and, out of the blue, “initiated a search” for repressed memories of abuse.

Later, she would tell him of her first recovered memory, of how one of his housemates had molested her when she was nine. Helpfully, Pendergrast offered to kill the man for her. Discouraged from that course of action, he bought a book for his daughter, The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child and Sexual Abuse. While he thought the text made a great deal of sense at the time, in retrospect, he believes that the authors, Ellen Bass and Laura Davis, “had an agenda against parents —all parents.” [emphasis original]

Pendergrast then launches into a tale about his daughters both cutting off contact with him. The reasons offered form a neat progression that he takes great care in crafting. They are at first mysterious hints (and thus suspect), then they are simple misunderstandings (thus easily explained), and finally they are the utterly ridiculous (thus absolving him of the former more mundane charges).

He writes that it all became clear to him when he joined the False Memory Syndrome Foundation: after talking to its leaders, he found that his daughters were following a predictable script offered to them by feminists. He was the one being victimized. He was a statistic, and he found solace in attending a conference with six hundred other perfectly innocent parents, each accused of sexual abuse.

The chapter concludes with a personal letter written to his daughters, his “loving plea for reconciliation.” In brief, he calls them both dupes of a great conspiracy and wonders why, now that they’re older and wiser, that they’re still unable to see his truth. He uses scare quotes no less than five times in the letter to reinforce that truth. (“I’m not saying that you are necessarily miserable in your new identities as ‘incest survivors.’”)

Mark Pendergrast’s chapter, “Daughters Lost,” offers several possibilities of meaning, none of which are mutually exclusive.

At the very worst, his chapter could be, as a Sun reader so elegantly offered, a self-serving terrorist attack on his daughters. His words could be the ravings of a man so egotistical that it’s only natural he’d be unaware of the harm he inflicted upon his girls, ignorant of the boundaries he’s crossed time and time again, this time in ink. Good parents, one might think, when accused of crimes by their children, don’t join associations filled with pedophiles; it’s not as if any of the parents at the conference Pendergrast attended could be vetted.

At best, one must certainly allow for the possibility of his innocence, that his daughters really were misled by a rogue psychologist. One could believe that his entire family was victimized by a brief phenomenon in the 1990s. However, this phenomenon received media attention in a panic that far outstripped any evidence that could prove there was an entire industry devoted to wrecking lives with hypnotism and false memories.

Mark Stanton covers the media’s infatuation with the False Memory Syndrome at the Columbia Review, and his 1997 “U-Turn on Memory Lane” is recommended as a definitive source on the subject:

A Harvard Law Review article in January 1996 argued that while scientific evidence proves the existence of delayed memories, biased reporting has helped create a social climate in which people, including some judges, have come to believe just the opposite. “Stories highlighting dubious-sounding or clearly mistaken memories have replaced reports of more plausible recollections,” two Northwestern University law professors, Cynthia Grant Brown and Elizabeth Mertz, wrote in the Review. “The abusive parents of earlier media accounts have been replaced as the villains of the story by self-serving therapists,” they said, and wondered “why it is apparently so difficult to contemplate the obvious but more complicated possibility that there are both accurate and inaccurate claims of remembered sexual abuse…. To the degree that the media has an effect on public opinion, including legal professionals’ opinions, there is cause to doubt that the public is hearing this more balanced message.”

How does Pendergrast’s story serve the average reader of Fathering Daughters? What message can they be expected to take from it?

Is it a simple narrative speaking to the archetypal theme of “loss,” as Pendergrast suggests DeWitt Henry saw it, telling of the “fragile, magical, vital link between fathers and daughters” and the pain that comes when it is severed?

Or does it suggest that readers should avoid therapists and, more importantly, keep their daughters out of the clawing and catching hands of feminists?

The latter seems more likely. “Daughters Lost,” at 21 dense pages, is nearly 10 percent of Fathering Daughters. Rather than a side note in the message of what fatherhood means to men, editors Henry and McPherson allowed — and encouraged — it to become the dominant theme of their text. This is what they believe fathers should be thinking about, a grave concern for all dads. They reinforce this with the monitions they give about the “gender wars” in their own chapters and introduction.

While Henry and McPherson supplied that antifeminist context for “Daughters Lost,” their framing of Pendergrast’s work is far from unique. There is an AOL website dedicated to Victims of Memory that has all the earmarks of being official (it takes great liberties with displaying large swaths of text and includes an AOL email address for contacting Pendergrast). Along with information on ordering the book, and long excerpts from each chapter, there is a long list of recommended hyperlinks.

Among them are antifeminist Men’s Rights websites (often a marketing tool used by child custody lawyers), Christian fundamentalist groups, and so-called Equity Feminists. Such feminists are seldom seen as anything of the sort by other feminists, but they are highly successful at being published. Men can’t resist helping them get their message out.

The first Equity Feminist group offered up by Victims of Memory is the Northwest Feminist Anti-Censorship Task Force. Contrary to their name, the organization never had anything to do with fighting censorship. Their mission, as they state it, is to “create social services which serve to reform child abuse legislation” and to “make the system accountable and to assist those falsely accused.” They post reviews of books with grand names like Satan’s Silence: Ritual Abuse and the Making of Modern American Witch Hunt, by Debbie Nathan and Michael Snedeker.

Debbie Nathan made a career out of writing about False Memories in the 1990s. She even wrote an article for Playboy called “Cry Incest.” The provocative title — to cry rape, from to cry wolf, to lie — was a perfect fit for Playboy, that favorite magazine of good fathers everywhere: women are whores and when they’re not whores, they’re liars. This is the crowd that supports Mark Pendergrast and his work. They are his people.

DeWitt Henry and James Alan McPherson joined those same people when they constructed the narrative flow of Fathering Daughters. While many of the contributors are simply guilty by association, of running in social circles that all but guaranteed that they’d be published in the anthology, it was Henry and McPherson who worked to guide the reader down a foxglove path. That path is well-worn by less literate and less privileged antifeminists.

It has occurred to me how wrong I was in the beginning of this review. I believed that Fathering Daughters existed on an elite paradigm that could ignore the command of petty capitalism; that it didn’t cater to the lowest common denominator or try to sell itself. Its deliberate voyage into antifeminism, always a useful sales hook, proves otherwise.

While the blurbs on the back cover might talk up the genius of the editors and contributors (“They have seen that the writers shuck the subject of sentimentality and have given us the real core of the relationship between fathers and daughters.” Ernest Gaines, author of A Lesson Before Dying), the book as a whole is not high literature but a cheap genre work. Henry and McPherson made it so. Its message and focus is no different than any number of books produced for the fathers’ rights market, even if the editors of those tomes don’t discuss their meetings at Harvard Square.

Professorships and Pulitzer Prizes do insulate Fathering Daughters from being seen as an antifeminist work. They are successful men who know, and fuck, successful women — women who are automatically assumed to be feminist by virtue of that success, a popularized misconception where feminists are held as the “tops” in some sort of sadomasochistic relationship vis-à-vis other women. These men have that seal of approval and more: enough published work to prove they only dabble in complaining, that they’re not the sort of losers who beat their chests as they howl about the invisible matriarchy.

Still, Fathering Daughters is what it is: one of the most interesting and well crafted books in the how to be a better patriarch genre. What Fathering Daughters isn’t, however, is read.

Consider how controversial Mark Pendergrast proved when he was published by the Sun. It was a firestorm.

And yet no one from Dads and Daughters or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services seemed to take notice of his chapter before recommending the anthology to the world. Did any of these fathers even bother to read it? I suppose not. Men benefit from the existence of books, not the consumption of them.

Frank Peretti is often described as “The Christian Stephen King.” In many ways, it’s accurate: he writes apocalyptic fiction that’s a little bit too fantastic to achieve mainstream appeal. Granted, he’s sold a lot of books, but he’ll never be able to reach the same cultural status that the Left Behind series has garnered.

Peretti’s angels and demons duel mercilessly with flaming swords while his flesh and blood monsters skulk about in the shadows. It’s a touch too out there — especially for a demographic that loves stories about brave militia men and pornographic detail about their firearms. Peretti might as well be writing about pink unicorns. His fantasies are destined to be viewed as effeminate.

On the other hand, the comparison is unfair to Stephen King. Frank Peretti never has to be quite as good. The brutally-oligarchic world of Christian capitalism saves him from having to compete on a level playing field: “Don’t read Stephen King, he might lead you down the wrong path and you may never recover. But here’s a nice equivalent with 99% of the same themes. You can even offer it to your friends as a witnessing tool!”

Thus the champ of Christian Professional Wrestling doesn’t have to compete with Hulk Hogan.

The best Christian skateboarder doesn’t have to be as good as Tony Hawk.

The best Christian Romance Novelist doesn’t have to contend with Danielle Steel (let alone the Bronte sisters).

And Peretti certainly doesn’t have to match Stephen King to be mentioned in the same sentence as him.

Nevertheless, I do hold a deep affection for Peretti. When I was a kid, he scared the hell out of me in a way that no secular author could, being that he could leverage my eternal soul. I kind of miss those days. Horror just isn’t the same after you fall off the bandwagon.

Frank Peretti’s also a genuinely good guy. He’s written books about bullying and is generally sympathetic to outsiders in a way that most writers in his shoes decidedly are not, even though he does get a kick out of “redeeming” us. Still, you get the sense that he cares irrespective of whether or not you come over to his point of view.

I recently picked up his 2005 book, Monster, to see where he is now. I thought it might be a good way to see where I am now, too. We’ve both changed over the years, one has to assume.

I wasn’t disappointed though: in the running for a world record, Frank Peretti managed to absolutely terrify me before his book even began. Stephen King couldn’t accomplish that feat in his wildest dreams.

It was an acknowledgement-page that did the trick. Not only did Peretti thank his family physician for contributing medical expertise for forensic details, and a local mountain man for advice on how wilderness trackers operate, two additional names were given:

Jonathan Wells, postdoctoral biologist and senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, whose book, Icons of Evolution, first got my creative wheels turning, and who helped me clarify my main story idea over a pleasant lunch.

Dr. David DeWitt, director of the Center for Creation Studies at Liberty University, who, besides being a brilliant scientist and technical advisor, is quite an imaginative story crafter in his own right.

Monster is a Bigfoot story.

As far as Bigfoot stories go, it’s a fairly good one: an internet forum of Sasquatch fans was quite satisfied with Peretti’s treatment of their favorite beastie and his due diligence in keeping with their accepted lore.

As far as stories go, it’s not a very good one at all. The pacing is off and all the hunters tromping about the woods, searching for the Bigfoot and the young woman it kidnapped, is never quite as fun or as interesting as Peretti seems to think it should be.

It’s also a Christian Bigfoot story, although it doesn’t quite reveal itself as one until halfway through.

To be sure, there are hints leading up to the big reveal: whenever something happens, characters emote in a predictable pattern of silent prayer. The formula goes something like this “God, why me? Why do you hate me? Why did you let the bigfoot shred my last roll of toilet paper?” For real. This initial anger is followed by acceptance, submission, and then thankfulness. Different scenarios breeze through the steps at varying speeds but the end result is that devout of Monster have some of the most boring internal monologues in the history of fiction.

The kidnapped young wife (and wives are always young, it seems), the same who lost her toilet paper, winds up living with an entire clan of Sasquatches. After observing their personalities and familial roles, she — naturally — sees an exact alignment with the biblical family of Jacob. She names the rest of them Rachel, Leah, and Reuben in accordance.

While all the forest frolicking might appear to be the main story of Monster, all of that is really just a coat rack to hang the story that Frank Peretti really wants to tell — the story that he had to cozy up with the Jerry Falwell crowd to research.

Each of the four main characters has a vocation that is essential to the plot. Except, of course, for the young wife, whose only purpose in life is to be kidnapped. (Although her personality is fleshed out with an affected stutter given to her dialogue; if you didn’t know, that means she’s shy.) Her husband just happens to be a police officer. His best friend just happens to be a forensic examiner. That friend’s husband just happens to be a former biologist at a local university. He might be last in the chain but he’s far from least.

Biblical literalists in America are waging a two-pronged assault on science. While so-called fundamentalists might consider themselves an oppressed minority, they’ve been remarkably successful in using pop-culture and Astroturfed (fake “grass roots” planted by corporations) initiatives in controlling public opinion. A majority of Americans don’t believe in evolution; that’s akin to 51% of our population believing in a flat earth.

For the majority of my life, I was one of these people.

I believed that carbon dating was utterly unreliable, that people really did walk with dinosaurs (the “young earth theory”), and that evolution is a highly controversial belief in science. It was “just a theory.” Of course, gravity is just a theory, too.

In the same way, I believed that global warming was a highly contested idea in science: how could mere humans mess up God’s vast creation? But as most of us, even the devout (and many self described fundamentalists who have been inspired to “go green”), have recently discovered, that controversy didn’t much exist among scientists. That controversy, the very idea of controversy, was just something that was planted in the public consciousness with large sums of money.

The war against evolution is waged in a similar fashion. Creationists — and their insipid rebranding as Intelligent Design proponents — have scores of glossy websites and books that put the Spartan websites of academia to shame. All of that costs big money, of course. 

On a high school level, they want to create seeds of doubt. They donate their books to schools that cannot afford new science texts (this is made even more convenient by conservative pushes to reduce public school funding). They work with laypeople on school boards to reframe science as the will of public-opinion. They recycle arguments that have either been put to rest or are entirely irrelevant when it comes to the scientific community: the goal isn’t the advancement of science but to spread the belief that science itself is untrustworthy.

At the university level, they hang their hat on the First Amendment.

They want to buy tenure for professors who can then use the title of Ph. D. to lend credibility to Creationist rhetoric. (It is believed that the same Jonathan Wells that Peretti thanked had his advanced degree paid for by Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church.) While many of these Intelligent Design proponents chafe under the claim that they never publish in peer reviewed journals — or that when they do, it’s material completely unrelated to biology — it’s not their job to be scientists but perpetual victims.

While what they say might not be science, it’s certainly speech, and their right to say it has to be protected.

As the secular world refuses to honor their personal beliefs as science, thus calling into question their identities as scientists, they get to complain that they’re being bullied by fascists who are unwilling to engage competing points of view. As churches have been spreading the idea that universities are out of touch with common folk (even the exceedingly rich and powerful “common folk” who hide behind the Intelligent Design movement) for going on six decades now, it’s quite easy to convince the public that something unseemly is going on. A conspiracy is afoot and God fearing scientists are being oppressed!

It’s precisely on this model that Peretti crafted his character, Dr. Michael Capella.

“Cap,” a professor of biosciences, was drummed out of his Corzine University because he “kept finding problems with Darwinism.” In Monster, he doesn’t so much find problems, but instead asks a series of flawed questions in rapid fire that, when not answered with perfect satisfaction, gives him the excuse to exclaim “a hah!” as if it were some sort of discovery on his part. It’s all easy enough as his beliefs don’t require evidence and aren’t required to make predictions of any sort: his role as a scientist is to play the part of the martyr and speak truth to power. Peretti transcribes the belief that the academy works to silence dissenting opinions, oppressing people of faith, on page 248:

Merrill smirked. “A word to the wise, Dr. Capella — if that term means anything to you: we are all scientists here, and that means we deal in facts. You are a creationist, and now have the added liability of being a trespasser and a burglar. Before you say anything to anyone, please give careful regard to which of us has the credibility —and the power to destroy the other.”

Creationist. Merrill used that word as an insult. Cap had seen this power trip before, and he was fed up with it. “Is this a scientist I hear talking?” [emphasis original]

Merrill smiled. “In every way, Dr. Capella; in the eyes of my peers and, most of all, in the eyes of the public. I have my responsibilities, foremost among them, not allowing science to be undermined by detractors like you.”

“Science? Wouldn’t it be more accurate to call it ‘the only game in town’?”

The most prized of Cap’s convictions is that mutations are never a mechanism for evolution, as they inevitably negative in result (benign, harmful, or fatal): this is the theme that Peretti built his Bigfoot tale around.

He uses the story of Cap to tease the reader that the Sasquatches might be the result of a mad-scientist (a former co-worker of Cap) and his experiments. While the mad scientist gets his just desserts at the end of the novel — after a protracted speech specifying the details of his depravity, an episode unintentionally comical post Austin Powers — his experiments never actually worked. All he managed to do is create a Bigfoot-like monster that could barely move and feed itself.

Of course, due to the necessities of plot, the almost immobile monster was able to launch an attack on the Bigfoot conclave early on, in a deliberately murky set of scenes that amount to little more than hints in the prologue. Indeed, the first few chapters had me convinced that the book was going to be a brawl between Bigfoot and the New Jersey Devil (transported to the Seattle area somehow), yet the latter was deliberately ignored and forgotten until the final few pages of the novel in order lend gravitas to the big reveal in the finale.

I feel safe “spoiling” the ending as Peretti’s big reveal isn’t so much storytelling as it is pedagogy: the Bigfoot clan wasn’t created in a laboratory, they are natural, God’s creatures. While this is consonant with Peretti’s claim that mutations are never positive — and in his view, even if a scientist did succeed in creating a beneficial mutation, it still wouldn’t be proof of anything as it happened under an intelligent designer, not under completely “natural” circumstances — this does open the door to other problems.

How did Noah smuggle Bigfoot onto the Ark? How did they get to the New World? How is there no direct physical evidence despite the various giant myths (yeti, ogres, etc.) throughout human history? But Peretti’s science isn’t required to explain anything, only to ask pointed questions at those who dare to try.

Save for a few Bigfoot fans who can’t get enough of the big guy (or gal), everyone seems to be in agreement that Monster isn’t a very good book. It’s not a good book in the grand scheme of literature; it’s not even rated as a good Frank Peretti book.

It is, however, a significant book. Its purpose is to further the belief that American Protestants — unlike Christians throughout the rest of the world — are required by their faith to denounce evolution.

This proof of fealty has little to do with science or religion, but human greed and politics: to denounce evolution is to swear allegiance to a particular way of life and the socio-political actors who make it possible.

Many today think that evolution and the Big Bang theory go hand in hand (indeed, one school board acting on behalf of the Intelligent Design movement targeted the Big Bang theory as a fundamental aspect of evolution, confusing biology and physics). American conservatives talk about the theory as if its name were pornographic (undoubtedly spurring a television sitcom to adopt the name in liberal-kneejerk agreement), an abomination. Yet the Big Bang model of cosmology was in part proposed by a Catholic priest, Georges Lemaître, who believed it to be theologically sound. It proposed a beginning for the universe, after all, in stark contrast to the always and unending Steady State theory.

Unflinching hatred for evolution is used in our society as currency. It marks you as plain folk, ever trustworthy and loyal to America and its corporations, not a heathen, communist, or even a Catholic. Denying a basic scientific fact says that, when push comes to shove, you will stand with the strong as they march against the meek. It stands for some rather un-Christ like ideals that are somehow acceptable so long as they are American ideals.

While this oath of obedience is currently sworn on the battered body of evolution, it could just as easily be affirmed by taking any number of other positions on any number of other things. Evolution is just the most active and visceral site for that conflict today. Tomorrow it will be something else.

As even evangelical congregations have moved beyond “the myth of global warming,” resistance to the basic fact of evolution cannot hold out forever.

Frank Peretti’s monster is a mayfly.


For information on the battle over evolution, two of the most comprehensive and understandable sources are the Pulitzer winning Beak of the Finch,  by Jonathan Weiner, and Nova’s Judgement Day: Intelligent Design on Trial.