My best friend's husband molested their kids

They were taken from him. She got custody. But he fought back. Now he has them for the summer

Published June 22, 2011 12:20AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I am a stay-at-home mother with depression. I have two young children and am the wife of an Army officer. I am also the only person in my household without ADHD. My husband and I have been having marital problems for years, mainly due to his untreated ADHD, frequent moves with the military, high-maintenance children with ADHD and my depression; however, we are starting to get back on track through counseling and my husband's newfound willingness to acknowledge his condition and how it affects all of those around him. Three months ago, our marriage problems came to a head and I asked my husband to leave. I just couldn't deal with the chaos and lack of concern for our relationship that he brought to the situation anymore. I became very stressed out and started showing physical signs of the stress, hair falling out, spastic colon, loss of appetite, inability to sleep, etc.

At this point, things have calmed down and both my husband and I are getting help, but now, my best friend is going through a horrible situation that is causing me serious stress again. For three years, my friend has been trying everything she can within the letter of the law to keep her two children safe from their father who sexually abused them. Over the course of the last three years my friend has worked with military law enforcement officials, civilian law enforcement, Child Protective Services, and family courts without any help being provided her children. The initial abuse occurred within the jurisdiction of the military base in Germany where they were stationed and was not properly investigated, either due to ineptitude or a purposeful covering up of the wrongdoing of an Army officer. In addition to not doing a proper investigation, the Army promoted my friend's husband just a few months after the allegations surfaced. The initial results of the investigation were enough, however, for the German government to rule that there was evidence of abuse and to then grant my friend temporary custody of her children so that they could return to the United States without her husband's consent. For two years, my friend was able to keep her children safe in the U.S. only because her now ex-husband showed no interest in trying to see his children after they left Germany, but this past year he has started a campaign to gain custody. He has been allowed supervised visitations with the children, supervised by his own parents, and since then the younger child has outcried that he molested her on two of those visits in the fall. These allegations have been completely ignored by CPS and the family court so now my friend's two young children are staying with their father for a six-week unsupervised visitation over the summer.

I have known my friend for many years and have no doubts about her integrity. She would never make up these allegations. It never even occurred to her that there was sexual abuse happening in her household until a neighbor bravely sat down and talked to her about concerns she had that my friend's husband behaved inappropriately toward the little girls in the neighborhood and toward his own daughter. I have known these children since they were born, and I can't take the thought of what is probably happening to them at any moment of the night or day in their father's custody. I have tried to help my friend by giving her emotional support and by writing dozens and dozens of letters to legislative representatives, military officials, CPS, media outlets, support groups, etc. None of it has achieved my goal, some sense of fairness and safety for these children. I know from research that my friend's case is only one example of a widespread problem within the American family court system, but I can't help feeling like there's more I should be doing to help them. My hair is falling out again, I can't sleep, and I can't even settle myself down enough to meditate anymore. What can I do about an issue that is so much bigger than myself and is actually the result of societal problem: a lack of commitment to children? What can I do to help myself but not ignore what is happening to these children?



Dear H.,

The world is full of tragedy and evil.

To combat the tragedy and evil that the world is full of we form armies. We pay police. We make courts and laws. We hire social workers. We fund research. We have churches. We write books. We put psychologists on television. We fly unmanned drones. We send spies deep into the heart of the enemy and listen to their dispatches in secret. We teach philosophy. We read books. We meditate. We argue. We set rules for our children. We put men and women in prison. We go to meetings. We stage interventions. We write editorials. We occasionally tell a neighbor exactly what we think. We attempt to regulate our conduct. We write songs with messages in them. We write songs without messages. We review books we despise. We say things on television. We plead. We sue. We and the courts and the churches and the sheriffs and vigilantes and therapists and mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers and friends and teachers pass out pamphlets and proffer petitions and sometimes we hunt down the doers of evil ourselves and deliver savage beatings in the middle of the night along deserted roads and drive off trembling wondering if we did the right thing or if our violence, born of years fighting evil, simply feeds more evil.

We do the best we can. We plead with authorities. Sometimes we yell. We do everything within the law and sometimes more. Still evil ravages children. It ravages the land. It sours the water and fouls the air and turns the grass brown and makes the seas bubble and the mountains crumble and covers our beaches with gasping fish dying of poison. It fills the sky with heat. It makes deserts. It makes deformities. It kills the good young and prolongs the wretched lives of intemperate morons. Still the world is full of tragedy and evil.

The world is also full of immoderate beauty. She walks into a cafe and picks up a banana and buys a pastry and the New York Times and carries a big bunch of keys. He paddles out for the ten-thousandth time and rides a wave across the face of God. She rises every morning and does push-ups. The sun stays in the sky for the longest time all year and people have fires on the beach. Thoughts that don't make sense worm their way into words and the words tickle toddlers at the table. A young man sets out for God-knows-where and gets there. People are rescued. Evil men are caught and put away. Children are saved from terror and hugged and cuddled and brought to warm fires. Children are protected by the people who are supposed to protect them. Help eventually arrives. Starving mothers are fed. Painters create extravagant prayers to extravagant unseen gods. People dance barefoot. The moon comes out all over the world.

Still even one ruined life is too many. But who can think straight when everyone else has ADHD? Who has even one more minute to call one more social worker or one more legislative aide to demand one more investigation of one more unspeakable evil? Who has the time when everybody else has ADHD and the depression comes and goes and the hair is falling out? There are limits, my dear, is what I am trying to sing to you. It is not your fault that you cannot fix everything.

All this philosophizing is a luxury. It is the luxury of the fortunate. It is the luxury of the man who survived drug addiction and alcoholism and cancer and his own pig-headed stupidity and poor impulse control to walk the beach this morning and eat oatmeal with raisins and walnuts and drink green tea and sit at a small, round table in the cafe by the beach. It is the luxury of anyone who steals a few minutes to say, Forget the evil in the world for one small second, we will never eradicate it and millions will die tragic lives and who knows when cancer will be cured or even sobered up for a few days but in all this unknowing under tyrants and in the smoke of war I will steal a few minutes to philosophize and drink green tea and notice the beauty. I will steal a few minutes to say that all the evil in the world is not on your shoulders, my friend, and you did not cause this and cannot cure it, and you will keep doing what you can but the results are not up to you and meanwhile there are things you can do around the house to help your own kids, and there are prayers you can say and there are friends you can call when you want to explode in anger and grief and there is a kind of breath you can take that will calm your mind if you read about it in books about meditation and there are little songs you can sing at night to put yourself to sleep and there are pills to take and Pilates classes to take and bicycles to ride through canopies of trees but there will never be enough good in the world to rid it of all its evil and there will never be enough happy endings to rid the world of tragedy.

We carry this with us. We acknowledge this. We do what we can.

Citizens of the Dream

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By Cary Tennis

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