In an age when celebrity trumps hero, except for a few news cycles when something truly heroic just can’t be ignored (like an airplane in the Hudson River), some of my heroes are single moms. In my work as a pastor I see first-hand the devastation and collateral damage of what we used to describe as broken homes.
Now they’re called dysfunctional families; or simply – families.
As Leo Tolstoy said in the opening line of Anna Karenina, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Circumstances vary, contexts are different, and situations are idiosyncratic, but there are some common denominators in families that fall short, all of which have to do somewhat with a failure of human character.
In the church I lead, we have Women’s Ministries, but they are not the garden-variety “churchy” kind. There are no knitting circles, covered-dish luncheons, or Tupperware-like parties. It’s an outreach decidedly focused on troubled homes, divorce recovery, and the unique challenges of single moms. In fact, the lady on my staff who leads this effort is herself a single mother. Her NFL-player hubby defected for some bimbo (or bimbos) far away, leaving her with no money and two wonderful sons. One of her boys has autism.
Her “ex” is a toad (my apology to toads everywhere).
She has a great support system, largely built around her church family. And it demonstrates the surrogacy potential of faith communities as a time-honored refuge. In fact, Jesus himself alluded to how people of faith can step in when biology falls short. In one of his famous seven utterances on the cross he gave instructions to a disciple about guardian-like care for his beloved mother. He knew very well that sometimes blood relatives fumble the ball and others must step in.
So just to be clear, I am not a “single-mom-basher” – quite the contrary. Ann Coulter has taken a lot of heat by devoting a chapter of her recent book, Guilty: Liberal “Victims” and Their Assault on America, on the cultural and public policy implications of single motherhood. She draws significant lightning – and not all from liberals – when she says: “The most worshipped figure in modern America is the “single mother.” But is she on to something?
Let me say it again: some single moms are my heroes. But I do not worship single motherhood. It is an inherently challenged situation that does, in fact, create a cultural ripple effect - and not a good one. Coulter has a point – one that is lost on her usual suspect critics who dismiss her as out of her mind. By the way, her book is currently number eight on the New York Times best-seller list, so somebody is buying and presumably reading her prose. I like her books and learned long ago how to “chew the fish and spit out the bones” while reading anything. But I have to confess; I don’t find as many bones to pick in her books as some do.
The problem as I see it is not that some have made poor choices and others have had poor choices done unto them, but rather with the glorification of a form of family that falls short of what children really need.
Can some single moms do it all? Sure. I can give names. And I am sure you can too. But there are vast moral differences between situations where a man has run off and abdicated his clear responsibilities – or never accepted them in the first place – and the idea of seeing single motherhood as a recommended, positive, and “try-it-you’ll-like-it” good. There is also a great ethical chasm between the unmarried woman who has no matrimonial prospects, and has adoptive compassion on children in foster care who have been abused, and someone who wants to be like some Hollywood “shelebrity” doing something chic.
Reasonable people can make such distinctions.
Whatever the case, single motherhood is a hard road, one filled with challenges, and also a measure of peril. Aside from the very well documented societal impact as the number of single moms has nearly quadrupled since 1970, there are some other things all of us should be aware of.
Bob Hamer worked for the FBI for 26 years as a street agent, spending a great deal of time undercover. He’s posed as a drug dealer, obsessive gambler, weapons dealer, and worked against myriad mafias. But his most chilling assignment was when he worked under the radar as a pedophile infiltrating a group called NAMBLA. If that acronym doesn’t ring a bell with you – let me sound it out: North American Man-Boy Love Association.
It’s the ultimate NIMBY; that just might be.
Hamer has written about his experiences and the very dark, sinister, and despicable world of sordid predators who are consumed with twisted and depraved desires for sex with boys – under age boys. Little boys. Pre-teen boys. Teenage boys. The book is entitled, The Last Undercover: The True Story of an FBI Agent’s Dangerous Dance with Evil, and it is a must read.
Retired agent Hamer now writes for television and has worked as a technical advisor for shows that tend to deal with what many don’t want to notice in our world today – shows like Law and Order: SVU and Sleeper Cell. In fact, Mariska Hargitay, who stars in the Law and Order series playing the role of a detective dealing many times with the sexual abuse of children, called Bob’s book “an enlightening look” into a murky, but very real, world. Thriller novelist Vince Flynn says that Hamer had to do things that would make his fictional character, Mitch Rapp, “cringe.”
Bob and I have talked several times and I thought I’d share part of our dialogue:
DRS: When you read Ann Coulter’s book – particularly the part about single moms - how did it strike you as relating to your experience and writing?
BH: I'm not a sociologist, a criminologist, or any other type of "ologist", but I bring to the table twenty-six years of street experience as a special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. During my career, I worked organized crime, gangs, terrorism, and child exploitation. I've seen society at its best and its worst, and I often viewed it from the inside. But it was my last assignment, playing the role of a pedophile, that opened my eyes to a societal problem going beyond what Ann discusses in her book.
I spent three years infiltrating the North American Man/Boy Love Association. NAMBLA is real and not just some episodic joke on South Park or The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. NAMBLA is an underground network of men who are sexually attracted to boys and seek to justify their attraction.
DRS: What do the “members” of NAMBLA hope to accomplish?
BH: The express purpose of the organization is to abolish age-of-consent laws and legalize consensual sex between men and boys. In reality this group, hiding behind the First Amendment, uses the secret meetings as a networking opportunity to reinforce among themselves their criminal passions. I know because I was invited into the inner sanctum. I attended meetings, participated in their pen pal program, wrote for their magazine, and was asked twice to serve on the steering committee, their governing body. Not once during my three-year membership was there any effort to lobby any political figure at any level of government to seek to abolish or even to modify the age-of-consent laws. There was no talk of hiring a paid lobbyist in Washington; there was no organized letter writing campaign; there was no endorsement of candidates. For all intents and purposes these men meet to network with other child molesters on where and how to find and seduce boys. We proved that when an FBI-orchestrated sting operation netted eight members of what one defendant called the group's "inner circle."
DRS: What do we need to know – how do these destructive people operate?
BH: All of the men with whom I dealt were "persuasion predators." They didn't sneak into homes in the dead of night and abduct sleeping boys from their beds. Their tactics were much more subtle. One member, a former special education teacher, who as a result of our investigation was sentenced to thirty years, admitted to molesting sixty to seventy boys and "grooming" another 200. Like most members, he cherished the opportunity to develop a relationship with a boy, attempting to legitimize that relationship by calling it "boy love" or "intergenerational sex" or "Greek love." In my discussions and correspondence with these members one thing stood out: They targeted the lonely, the emotionally empty, the hurting boy. Those boys seeking affirmation and attention from a father figure were especially vulnerable. Grooming was like a courting process. It might begin with a look, then a compliment, a conversation lavishing praise and establishing a common connection, and finally a trust.
DRS: How does this relate to the issue of single motherhood? What should these moms – in fact, all of us who work with them – know? How can we protect our children and grandchildren?
BH: There is no magic formula for identifying a molester. There may be clues, but they are not foolproof. We cannot prove a negative. We can prove a person is a child molester. We cannot prove he is not. But let me expand on what Ann has said in her book. She has been attacked for her chapter on single mothers and of course, there are exceptions to most rules. But single moms (and married moms and dads) let me give one piece of advice that Ann didn't render. Based upon my three year affiliation with these child molesters I observed one thing: Not one boy who came from a home with a strong, loving father figure was successfully targeted by a persuasion predator. Protection may be that simple…a boy needs a loving father.