The tragedy of Natalee Holloway

Perhaps the only thing that bores me more than hearing incessant murder—mystery reportage is writing about it.  And although I'm not sure which I find less tolerable, watching a washed—up ex—jock lead police on a low—speed chase as Geraldo waxes redundant, reporting on each tire rotation, or seeing the newsman comb Aruban sands like Inspector Clouseau trying to distinguish between foreign and domestic wax, there are those rare times when such a story has a subtext that just begs treatment.  So it is with the sad tale of Natalee Holloway.

Quite frankly, what strikes this scribe about this case makes him, I suppose, quite odd by today's reckoning.  A teenage girl's disappearance is tragic but not surprising; why, we have enough missing persons in our country to cover milk cartons from Bangor to Boise.  Nor is the dearth of evidence enough to raise my left eyebrow into Mr. Spock territory, as many murders and disappearances remain unsolved.  Then, too, while I claim no expertise in the area of Aruban law enforcement, it wouldn't shock me if the police on a virtually crime—free little island bore more in common with the Keystone Kops than Kojak.  No, what surprises me far more than any of these things is parental acceptance of what is quickly becoming a rite of passage: the hedonistic student vacation.

How is it, I ask you, that millions of American parents became convinced that it was normal and healthy to treat their kids like pagan princes and princesses, indulging their licentious desires and hedonistic impulses?  And make no mistake about it, this isn't Beaver Cleaver and these students don't journey to paradise to play pin—the—tail—on—the—donkey or bobbing—for—apples . . . it's more like the forbidden apple.

Let's be blunt, one way a daughter could frame this is, 'Hey, Mom and Dad, can I go to Cancun for spring break (or to celebrate, or some other occasion)?'  But translated that often means, 'Hey, Mom and Dad, can I go to Cancun, where I'll most likely have sex with some libidinous boy you don't know from Adam — maybe even with lots of boys — drink, smoke, and perhaps even do drugs?'  That sounds crazy but is, in essence, accurate.  Crazier still is that the parents' answer is often 'yes.'

Truly, this phenomenon is emblematic of the spirit of the age.  Adult guidance is sorely lacking nowadays, if not nigh to absent.  I remember a segment featured on a rather highly regarded news and commentary program involving some teens who were being punished by their school for using a school camera to photograph a striptease act performed by a female classmate.  The interviewer was grilling one of the boy participants and asked him why he didn't depart the scene.  The boy's response was that any guy would have stayed, prompting the pundit to proclaim that had he been a lad in such a situation, he would have left.  Okay, I know, I know, I don't believe it either, especially given my suspicions concerning that correspondent's prurient peccadillos.  But really, what he or anyone else would have done is not even close to being germane.

The correct answer is that, yes, the flesh is weak and teen temptations are great, but that's what adults are for.  This is not to say that there wasn't a time when the young's moral compasses nudged them toward chastity, however, such pangs of conscience could be overwhelmed by the passions of the heart.  This is why, back in those repressed, puritanical days abhorred by the libertines, adults served as a firewall against youthful excess, boldly intervening when teen spirit trumped the Holy Spirit.  Thus, a scenario such as the one central to the news story would have been impossible in our grandparents' era.  The girls had too much modesty and both sexes had the right amount of guidance, with paternal voices that would sternly admonish, 'You don't do that, Son.'  Young men may not have had the strength to resist, but older men had the fortitude to restrain.

What happened then was that we had the greatest degeneration.  Over—indulged children grew into parents devoid of self—discipline and character.  Products of the sexual—devolution, they had sordid pasts to justify, rendering them too lacking in virtue to lay down the law without feeling hypocritical and too self—centered to realize the law isn't of their own design and their feelings don't matter.  To tolerate moral laxity in our children simply so we can feel better about past indiscretions is as selfish as allowing academic laxity simply because we were undisciplined students.  Parental authority to enforce rectitude derives not from some untenable claim that one is the embodiment of perfect morality, but from the fact that He who is has enjoined parents to be watchtowers over their progeny. 

Then there's the feminism factor.  Because of politically—correct feminist imperatives, girls now know more about sex but less about the opposite sex.  There was a time when girls were told that boys were vastly different from them, possessing stronger libidos and bodies.  Girls were taught to avoid placing themselves in compromising situations; they were armed with the facts upon which good judgement rested and safety depended.

Now, though, such counsel is sacrilege.  Girls' minds are filled with notions of the sameness of the sexes, with its corollary that they can go where their sisters of yore feared to tread.  Why, God forbid that we should tell them that, like it or not, they are the more vulnerable sex, and that this fact of life should inform their thinking.

Not that I'm laboring under the illusion that modern girls are all sugar and spice and everything nice.  Owing to feminism, which liberated the fairer sex from common—sense, morality, restraint, and chastity, quasi—harlotry now infects much of contemporary womanhood.  A lady close to my heart said it best: 'Forty years ago you knew who the bad girls were; now you know who the good girls are.'  And now we have a whole generation of girls—gone—wild.

The bottom line is that we should avoid exposing our kids to what pre—pagan America used to call 'occasions of sin.'  These are situations in which the temptation to do things we shouldn't is great.  Like, for instance, an alcoholic accepting a job tending bar.  I remember when one of my students, a very nice, innocent teenage girl who had attended a single—sex high school and who had never been out on a date, as far as I know, was preparing for college.  Once there, she was to be thrust into a co—ed dorm, a prospect that seemed to cause her father no noticeable consternation.  Truly amazing, for a father of the 1950's would have recoiled at such a thought.  Now, though, it's better to serve up a daughter on a platter than dare be guilty of refusing to treat her just like any other guy.  We have gone from chaperones to pheromones in two generations.

Obviously, this piece isn't first and foremost about Natalee Holloway.  It's about far more than one individual, far more even than protecting life and limb.  Millions of youths take hedonistic vacations, and virtually all return safe and sound — in body, anyway.  But some damage isn't measured in shiners, cuts and contusions.  A parent's job is to safeguard his child, and that means mind, body, and soul.

Lest my fellow men (and I do mean 'men' right now) think that I have struck a gratuitously monastic note, let me assure you that I'm flesh and blood like everyone else, and temptation is no stranger to me.  But I also know the truth of Edna St. Vincent Millay's rhyme, 'Pity me that the heart is slow to learn what the swift mind perceives at every turn.'  When you realize that there's a chasm that lies between the heart and the head, it becomes easy to understand that railing against things that may be in your past or heart isn't hypocrisy, but the exercise of virtue and the triumph of the will and intellect.

Just because it feels good doesn't make it right for us . . . or for our children.  And when they are in the midst of the battle between the flesh and spirit, parents are supposed to know what side to be on.  Moral formation trumps hedonistic vacation.  You can't keep your kids on a leash forever, but neither should you throw them to the wolves.

Selwyn Duke is a frequent contributor;