Daughters and sons

Hollywood has great radar for finding the one terrifying image or event that will hook an audience. I saw a film recently that has been out long enough to have sequels. It is called “Taken,” starring Liam Neeson as Bryan Mills, a highly trained government agent whose daughter is kidnapped by a sex trafficking ring.

In the slaughter that follows, Mills lays out his enemies like Sampson with the jawbone of the ass, only in this case Sampson has automatic weapons, fists, cars and enhanced interrogation techniques. He becomes the vengeful father doing anything to rescue his daughter. Which, of course — spoiler alert — he does, since this is Hollywood, after all.

That the film touched some primal paternal instinct became obvious to me when for the next week I got jumpy every time my youngest daughter went out for a run. I actually got in my car and went out looking for her once when she was a few minutes late getting back.

That fathers are protective of their daughters is a given. Maybe it is because we dads are men, and we know how bad men can be, or maybe it is because we have been taught to be defenders of the castle. I’d like to think it is just what we do — we protect our children.

As a father of one female college student and another on the way, these are two reasons why I absolutely hate the recent wave of stories of sexual assaults on campus, many of them telling horrific stories of young women brutally raped and forced to suffer additional indignities when universities purport to conduct investigations usually guaranteed only to protect themselves from lawsuits.

That daughters are betrayed first by fellow students and then by the adults ostensibly in charge is too much for any decent dad to handle. So is the much quoted statistic that 20 percent of all women on college campuses have been sexually assaulted. The statistic is probably false — one expert says the number is more likely 1 in 40 rather than 1 in 5 — but the concern is real.

That is why I want my daughters to be smart: Team up with friends. Look out for one another. Don’t leave drinks unattended, and don’t leave girlfriends behind. Trust your instincts. And if alcohol is involved, be twice as careful: People get frighteningly stupid on booze.

But as a father of two boys, I also worry about the guys. In this over-sexed world, guys get terrible messages about women and sex in songs, TV and movies. Worse still is the impact of pornography on teens. One expert told me that pornography is how sex education is done today. By this he meant that before parents or schools or religion classes ever get around to talking about sex, kids are learning from the absolutely worst source possible: an internet industry built on sexual abuse and exploitation. It shapes their fantasies and their expectations of what is “normal” in dangerous ways. The fact that so many recent gang rape cases involve onlookers taking cell phone videos is itself a horrific manifestation of this porn culture.

So fathers of daughters need fathers of sons to get involved. The fathers of sons need to demonstrate in word and deed how men should behave around women and should stress that their sons need to be responsible and take responsibility for their actions. Nothing is more dismaying than seeing “student athletes” — boy-men with intolerable egos — attempt to shun responsibility for horrors they have committed. Dismaying for the moral blindness it displays, and dismaying for the example it sets.

For fictional superheroes like Bryan Mills, the fantasy is all about revenge. For us flesh-and-blood dads, reality is all about prevention, and the focus needs to be on both our sons and daughters.

Greg Erlandson is OSV’s president and publisher.