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August 21, 2007

A Tale of Two Fathers

By Randy Paul of Beautiful Horizons

Arthur Miller (yes, that Arthur Miller) and Michael Bérubé.

One of whom I have met and admire and one of whom I have lost all respect for. Draw your own conclusions.

August 21, 2007 in Life | Permalink

Comments

that's fucked up

Posted by: akaison | Aug 21, 2007 9:46:29 PM

I don't think Miller's ever come off well in his private life (nor, frankly, do I think all that much of his plays, actually). I didn't know it, but it doesn't surprise me, and it's pretty unconscionable.

Posted by: weboy | Aug 21, 2007 10:23:05 PM

That's a pretty sad story.

Posted by: Korha | Aug 21, 2007 11:02:43 PM

Oh please, don't be a holier than thou twit.

Arthur Miller's kid was born in the sixties. Think Rain Man.

It was a different time with different mores about how one dealt with Downs children.

Miller's choice would not have been my choice, but I will not second guess his choice in 1968 before so much was known about Downs.

And frankly, we probably STILL care for our Downs children all wrong. Michael Berube has certainly taken on a lot and one can only commend him for that, but there are many aging and elderly parents that do not know how their downs children not growing into adulthood will survive once they are gone. And in the meantime they are "saddled" with an adult sized baby-toddler-child for not just five - ten years but for 40 - 60 years -- which in many ways is a very commendable but also horrible sacrifice.

It DOES take a village and in some ways I can see that the 1968 approach could actually come closer to that than the 2008 approach.

Posted by: anon | Aug 22, 2007 1:04:10 AM

This is similar to the thread about James Kirchick and the "intolerant left" that few people want to admit exists.

I am far more left wing than most people, but goddamn it, for you to judge Miller based on a culture that you know little about and on the basis of one magazine article describing people now very dead that can't rebut this is the height of arrogant intolerant bullshit.

Reread the thread at CT, but this time, actually stop to listen to the people telling you that it was a different time.

When you have the most knee jerk politically correct reactions, you will often have the least knowledge or understanding of actual facts on the ground.

All I can do is thank g-d I didn't have to make Miller's choice then or now. My two children are just the most delightful wonderful blessings, and I realize how lucky I am everyday when I am near them.

Posted by: anon | Aug 22, 2007 1:15:05 AM

Oh. My.
The first time I read this, I thought I read that *Dennis* Miller was Arthur Miller's son.

It makes much more sense now, but somehow disappoints.

Posted by: Anthony Damiani | Aug 22, 2007 1:47:07 AM

Randy,

If in 1966, Arthur Miller knew what Michael Berube discovered with his wife, would Michael Berube have had to write his book in 1998?

Bérubé examines language and terminology (the quite recent use, for example, of "mongoloid idiot" as a diagnosis rather than an epithet) and its relationship to social policy; varieties of prenatal and childhood testing as producers of the categories "normal" and "abnormal, " prenatal and neonatal medical technology; philosophical debates about personhood, disability, eugenics, and healthcare rationing; and many other cultural practices that produce disability as a category of human variation.

Equally readable and fluent as a memoir and as a scholarly analysis of contemporary culture, Bérubé's book embodies critical theory at its very best: writing with the power to change daily lives (and not just the lives of academics) in significant and positive ways.

Often assigned in disability studies courses, Life as We Know It would be an excellent addition to medical school curricula focused on social medicine, ethics, diversity, and/or the doctor-patient relationship.

It's a book that friends give to new parents of children with Down syndrome, for whom it functions as a groundbreaking form of survival guide. By positioning Jamie's story within a larger web of cultural meaning-making that assigns differential value and social power to human bodies and minds, Bérubé makes this a book significant to any reader.

Before you decry Miller, why don't you ask Berube about Miller's behavior?

Posted by: anon | Aug 22, 2007 1:47:20 AM

Einstein discarded a child too. No-one seems to know what happened to the wee girl.

Posted by: dearieme | Aug 22, 2007 5:02:05 AM

While I cannot like Miller's reaction or choices, I understand the impetus. My husband's only brother was born with Down's syndrome and was placed in care. This was in the '50s and that was what was done. His working class parents visited the child as often as possible until he died just over a year later. I place this in the category of- as we know more, we do better. Berube's work helps us achieve that goal.

Posted by: Hawise | Aug 22, 2007 8:07:59 AM

One of the oddly compelling things about the Miller story is the timing. Had his son been born in 1946, it would be difficult to fault Miller for doing what medical authorities would almost uniformly have recommended. Had his son been born in 1986, Miller arguably would have been a monster had he sought to institutionalize his son. It's less clear what we should make of the situation by the standards of 1966, when Miller's son was actually born. (Which is not to say that Miller acted correctly, but just that to say that it's not immediately obvious that he did the wrong thing by the standards of the day.)

As commenter daniel notes at the CT thread, the story is made more complicated by Miller's apparent reluctance to "change course" with respect to his son over the remaining four decades of his life.

Posted by: alkali | Aug 22, 2007 9:58:10 AM

Anon,

Oh please. My next door neighbor growing up in the 60's had a daughter with Down Syndrome. They took her everywhere and doted on her. In the '70's one of my good friend's sister had Down Syndrome and her family doted on her as well and would never have thought of not including her in their family.

I don't have an issue with Miller placing his son in a facility that may have been better suited for him at that time. What I do have in issue with is Miller not acknowledging his son, not visiting his son and effectively turning his back on him. That's hardly a product of a different time. Sorry if you think I should excuse Miller on that basis.

The fact that Daniel Miller turned out as well as he is described in the article seems to me to be more in spite of his father and not because of him. I honestly don't see how anyone can defend a man ignoring his own son.

Posted by: Randy Paul | Aug 22, 2007 10:08:17 AM

As an aside, I would certainly have no issue with what Hawise's in-laws did and they should be praised for this:

His working class parents visited the child as often as possible until he died just over a year later.

Posted by: Randy Paul | Aug 22, 2007 10:11:10 AM

And your appraisal of Einstein, Randy? I understand your response to this, and maybe you're right, but I'm slower to reach your conclusion based only on the information we have, especially lacking any direct information from Miller, who apparently thought this best for his wife. What Miller did was not unusual when he did it, including the part about not visiting or acknowledging the son.

Posted by: Sanpete | Aug 22, 2007 12:33:15 PM

What Miller did was not unusual when he did it, including the part about not visiting or acknowledging the son.

Not in my admittedly limited experience. In any event, it doesn't make it right.

Posted by: Randy Paul | Aug 22, 2007 12:55:33 PM

You can't explain black and white to someone born blind. As I say several people here use this site to exact their emotional issues on others. I can only imagine how fucked up their real lives are based on what I see here.

Posted by: akaison | Aug 22, 2007 7:36:31 PM

Yip yip yip, akaison. The point is that this may not be black and white, though I don't doubt you tend to see things that way. It's much simpler.

Posted by: Sanpete | Aug 22, 2007 9:20:49 PM

I have no problem whatsoever with judging other people, whoever they are, and in return other people are free to judge me.

Posted by: Korha | Aug 22, 2007 10:21:49 PM

Many luminaries of history, by today's standards, don't look terribly enlightened -- the slaveowning Founding Fathers, for example.

Where does one draw the line?

Posted by: Fiat Lux | Aug 23, 2007 4:39:50 PM

Something that has not been noted here: there are different degrees of disability and levels of functioning within Downs kids. My cousin's small son is at the more severe end, requiring constant, all-day/all-night care, and his wife's career as a concert pianist came to a grinding halt--her choice. But who are we to say what might be best for a really severely disabled child whose parents were too financially strapped--or who split up as a result of the stress, or who had no family or support system on whom they could rely for help--to properly care for him or her at home, twenty-four hours a day?

I have oceans of respect for Mr. Bérubé. But let's not assume everyone has the same ability, time, and funds to research and advocate for a child who might be in a completely different place. Walk a mile in someone's shoes first, etc.

My own three sons are physically and intellectually "normal"--hyperintelligent, even--but they are legally considered disabled because of their severe ADHD, and if I so desired to pursue it, they would be eligible for government assistance (special ed., speech, etc.) in the public school system. Only a couple of decades ago, ADHD was thought to be a kind of brain damage that created criminals, and kids were routinely expelled from school for their wild, destructive behavior and inability to concentrate (it's estimated that the majority of inmates in America's prison system are ADHD). And not too long before that, such children were considered to be possessed. As in, by demons. Seriously. Many of those kids were exorcised, beaten, or condemned to life on the streets.

Times change, and I for one really, really like that phrase "As we know better, we do better."

Posted by: litbrit | Aug 23, 2007 7:14:16 PM

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Posted by: judy | Oct 11, 2007 7:28:12 AM

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