Topic: Society

Halloween Story: What If You Adopted Michael Myers?
(10/27/2006)

It's almost Halloween, which means that one can hardly take a gentle surf around the cable channels without encountering multiple re-plays of John Carpenter's "Halloween." This is the classic (and wildly over-rated) slasher film in which Jamie Lee Curtis is stalked by her escaped butcher knife-wielding maniac brother Michael Myers. Michael, you horror fans out there will recall, stabbed his oldest sister to death when he was just six.

What if, instead of dispatching little Michael to a little padded cell, the state put him up for adoption and never informed his new parents of his bloody past? What would be their obligation to their adopted son on the day he celebrated his thirteenth birthday by dispatching his chess club, and the state sheepishly said, "Um, there's something we forgot to tell you…"?

A similar nightmare scenario happened to Helen Briggs and her husband James, two Virginians who adopted a nine year old boy in 2000. Three years later, the twelve-year old sexually molested a six year-old boy and a two year-old girl. During the hearings related to his crimes, caseworkers finally let Briggs know the truth about her son's past.

He had lived in five foster homes before he came to hers to stay. His alcoholic, drug-addicted biological parents had physically and probably sexually abused him, causing permanent injuries to his brain. He had been sent to psychiatric institutions seven times and diagnosed as psychotic and bipolar. Voices in his mind told him to do terrible things, and he was prone to violence, both to himself and others. The Briggses say that they didn't know any of this and that the state defrauded them into adopting, if not Michael Myers, a ticking time bomb of a disturbed child. Doctors now said he was a sexual predator, which meant that Helen Briggs could no longer take foster children into her house...and taking in foster children was a source of both satisfaction and income to the family.

Helen and James had a solution. Citing the state's failure to thoroughly inform about a prospective adoptee as it was legally obligated to do, they petitioned to dissolve the adoption, six years after their now fifteen-year old son became a member of their family. Who couldn't empathize with their situation ? Their decision was understandable, human and heart-wrenching. It was also absolutely and unequivocally wrong.

The boy is their son. And though he became their son because, in part, they were deceived by the state of Virginia, that doesn't change their obligation to him after he has been a member of their family for six years. He is their son, he is a minor, and they are obligated to do whatever they can to help him, no matter how difficult, frustrating or futile. He depends on them no less than if they were his biological parents.

Biological children come with no warranties of quality, and parents are often disappointed, angry or horrified at how their offspring turn out. Every criminal, mass murderer, child-molester and sadist has a mother. Children may be ungrateful to their parents; they may be abusive and hateful to them. Children may even cause their parents not to love them, but even that cannot and does not reduce their parents' obligations. When we are parents, we can't throw our children back into the gene pool, and we can't foist them off on somebody else. They are our responsibility. Their problems are our problems.

The Briggs' situation is surely horrible, but their son was not the cause of his physical and mental problems. He needs his adoptive family more now than ever, but they are taking advantage of a parental loophole not available to biological parents to seek a "dissolution" of the ties between them and their tragically damaged son. How many biological parents have wished that they had a similar option? But they don't have one, and shouldn't. Their children are their children, and they must be parented.

The loophole worked for the Briggses. A Fairfax, Virginia judge dissolved the adoption, and their former son is back on the foster care merry-go-round, where he is reportedly on a suicide watch. He told the judge that he wanted Helen Briggs to be his mother forever. He is the victim here, despite his assaults, his violence and his crimes. He believed that he had finally found a family, and families are supposed to be forever. Though the law gave Helen and James Briggs an escape from parenthood because of the state's negligence or fraud, ethical principles are not so easily escaped. They betrayed their son's trust.

''You don't want to throw somebody away,'' Helen Briggs told reporters. ''But sometimes you have to.''

No, Helen, you don't.

Even Michael Myers deserves a mother.





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