Tuesday-- June 4, 2002—Ground
Zero Plus 265
When A Man Wears A Skirt...
He Thinks Of Family Terrorism
Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News
GROUND ZERO, New York City,
June 4--I walked down the street yesterday in a "dress." I
walked softly and carried a big stick. Few people whistled at
New York is a menagerie of fashion.
I recently quelled my sister's concern about what to wear when she came to
visit for a week in early May, remarking that she could walk down the
streets naked and no one would notice. People in this city
give little attention to the "odd" and "bizarre" because most everything
is extreme here. It seems all ends of diversity meet in union in New
York City so that anything that "stands out" in other places of the nation
appears to fit within the normal flow of a city known for its extremes.
Put another way, "nothing surprises or shocks the citizens of New York
City because they have seen it all many times before."
My "dress" wasn't a dress at all. It was my
Scottish kilt I had made a number of years ago in Edinburgh, Scotland by
that country's oldest kiltmaker. It took a number of hours for
the fitting and the selection of the proper accessories. And, at the
time, it cost a fortune.
It is a handsome outfit, worthy of the time and
money invested. I wear it to certain important occasions--e.g.
the marriage of my older daughter and yesterday I wore it to my
granddaughter's International Day Celebration at her pre-school..
The children's parents and relatives were encouraged to dress up in their
"native garb" and bring history and legacy to the class. I was
"volunteered" by my daughter to attend.
I donned my kilt and all its accoutrements,
including my walking stick, and headed out of the apartment for a mile
walk through the heart of New York City. I'm a big,
tough-looking guy, six-foot four, 270 pounds, and a former U.S. combat
Marine, so I have a demeanor that doesn't invite catcalls or scurrilous
comments from bystanders trying to get laughs at my expense.
The East Village, where my wife and I live,
is packed with artists and actors, so one traveling along the crowded
streets in any costume is given no more attention than a glance, for
nothing here is uncommon.
At my three-year-old granddaughter's
pre-school, run by Catholic nuns, I was received with warm smiles as well
as a few questioning grins. (I am forever hounded by the question:
"What do you wear under the kilt?") I climbed the stairs and
prepared my talk for the kids, trying to insure whatever I said would be
something they could relate to and learn from.
It is always fun talking to children.
It forces me to keep things simple--very simple. I began with
the history of the kilt and all its various elements. Then I told
them about the Ezekiel Stick--my walking stick.
I had gotten it as a gift on Thursday, May 30,
when I marched with the families up West Street, as part of the final
tribute to the Ground Zero victims. The history of the stick
gleaned from a card attached to it was that God wanted two families to
stop fighting, so he gave Ezekiel two sticks, one representing one family
and its opinions, the other representing the other family's viewpoints.
Then, as the legend goes, God twisted the two sticks together as one.
His message was for Ezekiel to take the "unified stick" to his people and
unite them as God had the two sticks. From this
legend comes the expression, "let's stick together."
I related the story to the children,
holding up the stick and telling the kids that sometimes people fight and
argue, but that no matter what, if we try, we can become one.
We can "stick together."
The kids were all sitting in a circle.
As I finished my story one little boy shot his arm up to ask a question.
"My family fights a lot," he erupted, and then realizing what he said,
quickly cupped his mouth with his hand.
I detected a momentary mask of Terror
on the child's face--a sign that he wasn't supposed to talk about his
"family's problems," or, it signaled his regret he had shared family
"dirty laundry" with the group.
I went on with my talk and finished by donning a variety of hats--from
Scottish ones, to cowboy ones, to a New York Yankee hat. Each time I
put one on I asked the kids where they thought the "man in the kilt" was
going. When I wore the Scottish cap I was in Scotland. When I
donned the cowboy hat, I was on my way to Montana to see buffalo.
And, when I put on the New York Yankees hat, the kids cheered--I was
coming to New York.
Throughout the talk I kept glancing at the
little boy who had cupped his hand over his mouth. I was
reminded of a sense of Terror that ranks equal with a child as does the
collapse of the World Trade Center to an adult
It was the Terror of a child watching his or her family be
destroyed through his or her parent's battling, threatening, Emotional and
often Physical violence toward one another. It was a thought I
knew too well, and memories that had scarred me for life.
My own childhood included much of that kind
of Terror. I grew up in fear of my step father's attacks on my
mother, both verbal and physical. As I grew older I would
throw myself between them, taking the brunt of my father's vehemence to
protect my mother when he got abusive. On any given day, I
waited for the family time bomb to go off, knowing that whatever seemed to
be normal and loving at the moment would soon turn to ugliness and despair
as arguments grew heated, usually laced by the poison of too much alcohol,
or the sheer lack of love and consideration between the two.
I had vowed as a child to raise a family
free from "Family Terrorism." I wanted my children to live in
a home of "Loving Vigilance" rather than one of "Constant Terrorism."
Hopefully, I achieved that goal, with the support of my wife and a
constant reflection back to my past and the urgency to avoid its
repetition in my life.
So I skewed my talk around the "stick together"
concept. If I did nothing with the kids except inject some hope in
them that a family could reunite after it fought, I wanted to do that.
I wanted the child who was sitting in the circle thinking about how his
family fought to realize that perhaps one day it might heal its wounds,
might unite as the legend united the families through the Ezekiel Stick.
I also knew the odds weren't good that
would happen. In the U.S. 2000 Census, of the 72 million children in
this country under the age of 18, 32% live without the presence of their
mother or father under the same roof. In the 3-5 year age
group comprising 11.8 million children, a third of all kids in these
formative years live in divided homes.
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to
figure out that prior to the divorce, there was
much anger and emotional violence hurled between the parents.
Divorce is the final crumbling of the Family's World Trade Center.
I had suffered through that as a child--the sense of being "abandoned" by
my father, of being alone, of having a step father I didn't trust, or
respect and only feared because of his violence toward my mother.
I grew up in a world of Family Terrorism. I
didn't have Parents of Vigilance, who sought to vow to protect me from
Fear, Intimidation and Complacency. They didn't struggle to teach me
Courage, Conviction and Right Actions. Had I followed their path, I
would have raised children who hated me, who resented my lack of offering
love, who saw me caring more about myself than for them. They would
never have been my friends, for I would never have known their Fears or
Intimidations or Complacencies. But I made it my business to
be their closest friend, to share with them my Fears, my Intimidations, my
Complacencies...and to illustrate my desire to overcome them with Courage,
Conviction and Right Actions. While I made many mistakes, none
of the mistakes I made as a parent went without my admission to them, and
an attempt to correct my flaws.
My own childhood Terrorism
taught me the negative lesson of not "wanting to be like my parents."
I hoped my children would "want to be like their parents"--that is, want
to learn how to improve upon themselves when they fell down, and not
ashamed to admit their mistakes, and to encourage a deep friendship with
their children so that their children would feel safe telling them
anything and know their parents were there to back them up Emotionally
when the chips were down.
The little boy who had said, "My
family fights..." was telling me he was under the cloud of Family
Terrorism. I sensed he was viewing daily the
of his family, or at least its being ripping apart. I felt a kinship
to the young boy, and a sadness. I hoped if nothing else he would
learn "not to be like his parents."
En route to the school I had been worried
about what people might think or say about my kilt. But my absurd
egotistical thinking about what I looked like was smothered by the brutal
reality that kids don't care what you look like, they care only what you
do. Some of the best-dressed parents in the world can be the
worst Family Terrorists. Rich or poor, Family Terrorism knows
no social, class, ethnic or economic distinction. When a parent is
more concerned with his or her self than for the security of the family's
Emotional well being--Family Terrorism rules. Vigilant parents would not
demean one another in front of their children. They wouldn't got to
Emotional or Physical war at their children's expense. But Parents
of Complacency would. They wouldn't think about their children, or
the impact their brutality to each other had on their children.
They would even probably use their children as pawns in their game of
Family Terrorism, by making a child take sides, by comments designed to
impugn the other parent's reputation or authority.
I forgot about how I looked. I
remembered instead how I felt as a kid, and how desperate I was to live in
a "Family of Love" rather than one riddled with the booby traps of
constant "Family Terrorism." My job was to carry the message
of "Family Vigilance," not worry about how I dressed or what people
thought of me. I laughed at my own egotism.
When I came home I scanned the
day's headlines. They were full of venom,
snapping at how the CIA knew about certain September 11th Terrorist
suspects and didn't alert the FBI until just three weeks prior
to the bombings. They were Family Terrorism headlines,
ripping and shredding at the fabric of our flaws, destroying
our sense of security, attacking any sense of Vigilance by promoting
the lack of it.
One reading the headlines might assume the CIA
was the Terrorist who allowed September 11th to happen. Just a
few weeks ago the headlines had dripped acid on the President's
intentions, suggesting he was the Terrorist for not telling us, or warning
us, or being concerned enough about us to pay attention to the reports he
I wondered what a child of Family Terrorism
thought when he overhead his parents talking, or heard the TV. blaring out
news that even his government didn't "care about him."
The frightened child in a kindergarten classroom,
fearful of talking about the Terror of his family, is also fearful of his
Outside of school, his world is full of Terror.
That seems like such a crime. The
Congressional Hearings underfoot bent on exposing what the government knew
or should have known is a faddic communion. It is the vain attempt
once again to place fault at a family member's doorstep. It
creates yet deeper chasms between the trust of the child (American
Citizens) and that of the parent (U.S. government). It is "National
All that will come from these accusations
will be the bloodletting of people and places and things all standing on
the same side. Terrorism will not be the focus of the battle,
self-incrimination will be its epicenter. Millions of dollars will
be spent to "lay blame" while Terrorism regroups and reinforces its goals
of injecting more dissent in our country, more disunity, more
disenfranchisement between family members. The fundamental strategy
of Terrorism's Fear, Intimidation and Complacency--"Divide and
Conquer"--is at work. The American Family is on its way to finding
fault again with its self, perpetuating Terrorism within rather than
standing up to it.
What Congress should be asking is for
is Congressional hearings on the "State of Vigilance" within each
community. Government should at this point recognize its
impotency to establish a singular federal network capable of avoiding or
alerting the population to the next attack.
While it may have some power to
thwart a group trying to sneak in a "dirty nuclear bomb," it can't even
begin to stop a group of suicide bombers from getting on buses or walking
into crowded public areas and blowing themselves up. If that was
possible, no one in Israel would worry about going out of their houses.
If our nation has learned any lesson
from September 11th, it should be that Terrorism begins at home.
Its roots begin with the attitude each family has toward its children, and
grows up from there. All the Osama bin Laden's in the world attack
only the most vulnerable, the most weak, the most Complacent.
They attack not our government, but our people, our families, our
children. They attack with Fear and Intimidation and
Complacency. Their victory is not blowing up buildings or people,
but making the survivors of such events cower.
We must not cower any more.
The young boy in my granddaughter's
pre-school class cowered. He was afraid of Family Terrorism.
He didn't care much about Osama bin Laden, or the World Trade Center, he
cared about dinner tonight, and whether his parents would shout at each
other, or perhaps curse each other, or that violence might erupt and he
would be driven deep into a cave of darkness, abandoned, left homeless and
helpless to suffer until he was old enough to leave and either correct his
own family by living a life of Family Vigilance, or, by repeating the same
mistakes his parents taught him through their behavior
Which was the most important
issue for Congress? Where were the headlines screaming:
"Let's End Family Terrorism!" Where were the OpEds promoting
the Ezekiel Stick rather than the whipping post?
If Congress is a sum of
the representation of the people, then it is the sum of the families that
comprise those people. People don't just appear. They
come from families. A Congressman or Congresswoman is really a
Family Congressperson, representing a portion of America's 100 million
households. So where is the Congressional effort to
investigate Family Terrorism? Only be resolving the flaws we
have at the family level, can we reinforce ourselves such that Terrorism
will no longer want to inject us with Fear and Intimidation because we
cannot be turned.
When two parents agree to not
let Terrorism rule their family, they turn a house of Fear and
Intimidation into one of Courage and Conviction. Love replaces
Hate, Happiness returns where Dismay once slept.
On the way home I didn't think at all about
what I looked like. I didn't look at people to see if they were
looking at me--the man with the skirt. I was thinking about
the little boy. I was hoping he would tell his parents the story
abut the Ezekiel Stick and maybe say to them when they broke out in a
fight or argument: "Let's stick together!"