On Feb. 17, Keith Brown of the family band The Five Browns pleaded guilty in a Utah district court to sexually abusing his three daughters. In a Bizarro World where wrong is right and bad is good, Brown completed a hat trick. He had three girls, and he made all of them incest survivors before they were teens. Living with the guilt for so long drove him off a cliff, literally, and soon behind bars for at least 10 years.
Court documents showed that the first allegation from one of Brown’s daughters arose in 1990 when they contacted local police, possibly with the help of an aunt who accompanied a distraught Brown in court this week. That would’ve put band member and oldest daughter Desirae at 12 years old. She is now 32.
Fast forward to last week when Brown and his wife Lisa were cruising around in his Porsche on Valentine’s Day. He drove it off a cliff—some say in an apparent suicide attempt. Both Browns were knocked unconscious and when he came to, he phoned 911 and later turned himself in to the courts. This is a man clearly aware of the damage he’s caused. He now faces life in prison on two counts of sexual abuse and a first degree felony count of sodomy.
Most parents are healthy enough not to do this to their daughters, who form the majority of victims of sexual abuse.
As a father of two elementary-school girls, Brown’s family problems hit me at home. And while my heart breaks for the girls, I can’t help but feel sympathy for Brown as well.
Worldwide, one in three women will be sexually abused in their lifetimes. The same holds true in the US. Young girls have a 30 percent chance of being sexually abused in some way by the time they hit 18, either by a family member, boyfriend, or complete stranger. I don’t know Desirae, but I dated enough women like her to know Keith Brown is the father no boyfriend wants to meet.
But if you do, it might make you a better man.
It’s easy to blame the mother in all this. Why didn’t she stick up for her children? How can she stay married to a pariah like that? For that, one has to spend hours rereading the classics: Bradshaw’s The Family and Beattie’s Codependent No More. The grief in the lives of families like the Brown’s is abysmal.
For two years I dated a girl in the 1990s who had an abusive and alcoholic father. Her mother was a mouse. I hated the mother for her weakness. I feared the father for what he was doing to his daughter, a girl I thought I might even marry someday. I even went to a shrink for her, something neither I nor anyone in my family had ever done before. Our relationship ended sadly. My favorite kind. I even remember her last words: “I love you and I’ll call you tomorrow.”
A year later, while leaving an unemployment office in Newport, Rhode Island, I ran into my nemesis: her abusive father. I’m leaving the unemployment office looking very much like a crestfallen guy in his mid-20s without an education, and without a job, and walking with his tail between my legs. There he is, setting the kickstand down on his obnoxiously loud Harley Davidson and heading straight for me in his beat up leather body suit. He sees me. He throws down his cigarette. I don’t know what to tell this guy except something like, “Hey, asshole, thanks for fucking up your daughters life because, thanks to you, she kinda fucked up mine.” It’s all upstairs, like I’m rapping out my angry Eminem-ish lyrics in my mind as I go through this. If he responds in some cocky way, I’m going to go angry, disillusioned white trash on him like Will Hunting. Instead, he stops before me.
I get tears in my eyes that instant looking at him, not because I’m scared to confront him, but because I suddenly feel it’s not about me or his daugther. It’s all about him, and I really feel bad for this man. He was maybe 140 pounds and used to be around 180. He needs a shave. He’s 50 and he’s unemployed, too. He has to know his home life is a complete mess. What’s going on in that man’s head? Because I know for a fact he is not mentally ill and has a modicum of conscience in him. He puts his hand on my shoulder and says, “I’m sorry for everything I’ve done.” That’s it. That’s all I needed. I only nodded in response. I never saw him again.
Who wants to bet John Mayer dated a daughter of someone like Keith Brown? Whether she was sexually, verbally or physically abused, his song Daughters smacks of it. Here are the opening lyrics:
I know a girl
She puts the color inside of my world
But she’s just like a maze
Where all of the walls are continually changed
And I’ve done all I can
To stand on her steps with my heart in my hands
Now I’m starting to see
Maybe it’s got nothing to do with me
Fathers, be good to your daughters
Daughters will love like you do
I wonder how many guys out there really get that, or have been through similar intense relationships with the daughters of abusive men? These are rough stories all around.
Kimball Thomson, a Five Browns spokesman, said in a statement that the three daughters were motivated to approach law enforcement out of concern for the welfare and protection of other young women and girls. “While clearly the current events surrounding the family are painful, the sisters were well prepared for this day, and are relieved and grateful to close this chapter in their lives,” Thomson writes.
But while the chapter ends, the book lasts a lifetime.
Valentine’s week has been unusually loaded with news of sexual abuse. CBS News foreign correspondent Lara Logan admitted she was sexually assaulted in Egypt when a mob turned on her during political protests there. Massachusetts US Senator Scott Brown admitted he was physically and sexually abused as a child.
How does a father protect his girls from odds like that? Other than being non-abusive to them and their mother, the only other way is through girls like the Brown’s coming forward, collectively giving abuse a bad name. Is it enough? Probably not.
So if there’s a next time, I’m ready to rumble.
—Photo Mike Knapek/Flickr