Sunday, April 06, 2008

The Saddest Story Ever

Was yesterday a gorgeous day or what? It started out a little chilly, but once the sun came out it was just as good as a spring day can be. I grew up in the desert, where there're no real seasons, so this is still kind of new to me, I'm surprised every year to see a real spring with new leaves and daffodils and things, autumn with actual leaves covering the ground. In Phoenix we didn't really have that, you have the hot season and the warm season, or as we call it there, the "tourist season." Today is wet here, that's all there is to it, rainy and wet. It is springtime in Maryland, with April showers.

There was a news story this week that I didn't want to talk about, but I will. I see it's on the front page of The Post again today. It's a local story, and for me it's a personal story, and I want to handle it carefully but there is something I'd like to bring out, which is that the people you read about in the newspaper are actually real people.

Amy Castillo was my kids' pediatrician. Let's say it was something I'd volunteer for, taking a kid to the doctor, because I liked this dark-eyed redhead. I enjoyed being in an examination room with her, asking her questions, hearing her answers. To me she was like a character out of Sherwood Anderson, a nervous kind of person with darting eyes and many hand gestures. I would describe her by saying that she presented a kind of uncertainty that she didn't really feel. Sentences ended unnecessarily with question marks. She'd say something and watch your face to see if you understood, or if you objected; it looked like she was hoping you would agree with her and confirm what she was saying, but really inside she knew she was right, she knew what she was talking about, she didn't really have any doubt about what she was saying. The times I did have questions for her, she would come back with an explanation that proved that the question marks were for appearances only, there was no uncertainty in her judgment, she was right and she knew it. This is a charming combination, absolute unshakeable certainty with a veneer of humility. Okay, I admit it, I had a little bit of a crush on my kids' doctor, okay? If you know me you know I'm like that sometimes.

You will have seen the stories about what happened to her. I can hardly stand to say it, her ex-husband killed their three children, drowned them in a bathtub, one by one. He did it to hurt her.

People have talked to me about this, and I find myself expressing the opposite point of view from what I feel. People look at the paperwork, the judges, the social workers and psychologists, the restraining orders, all the documentation of threats, and they want somebody to be responsible. The guy had actually threatened to kill the children to hurt their mother, he had said out loud that he knew this was the way to destroy her. How could they let him take the children?

I have two thoughts about that. For one thing, you have to wonder how the government got empowered to make these kinds of decisions. You hate to think that people need a judge to decide how they will raise their children, but I guess it's a necessary evil. If judges didn't decide, then the matter would be determined by strength or power, families would feud, it just has to be this way. As it is, women have the advantage in custody battles, I don't know if that's the best or what but it does seem there is something about mothers that deserves to be honored legally. On the other hand you'd think fathers, even bad fathers, have the right to know their children and be loved by them. Judges have to decide these things.

My other thought has to do with people who make things sound worse than they are. The question is, how many women have told a judge that they were afraid their ex would do something to the kids? I'm sorry, but I can imagine a judge sitting there all day hearing these stories, trying to sort out the exaggeration. Divorces are dirty, nasty, ugly, especially when custody is in question, and when you get lawyers involved they want to win, they know the game, and the whole thing can get ratcheted up even more. I imagine some people are going to pay for misjudgments in this particular case but I can understand how hard it is to decide, this man had said some things but he'd never acted violently, as far as I know, and you can't punish everybody who's ever said something harsh or ugly.

I will not politicize or philosophize about Amy Castillo's misery. Sometimes I think something is going bad in my life, but I have never had to suffer the profound pain that she is experiencing now. None of us have. This is the worst anyone can imagine, in fact I can't even allow my imagination to ponder this event. War, famine, rape, genocide, terrible things happen and I see it but I can't imagine this one. She has to deal with this absolutely alone, no one can console her, and the absoluteness is the horror of it.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"My other thought has to do with people who make things sound worse than they are."

This is a point, Jim. Those who cry wolf repeatedly make it hard to sift through the stories and identify those who really need help. TTFers would do well to keep this in mind as they exaggerate every opinion that differs from theirs into "hatred". That kind of hyperbole has a deleterious effect on society.

"Okay, I admit it, I had a little bit of a crush on my kids' doctor, okay?"

Amy's an evangelical Christian, Jim. Next time you go in, ask her about it.

April 06, 2008 4:55 PM  
Blogger JimK said...

You know Anon, this is a time I thought maybe you wouldn't be a jerk. It's all I can do to not delete your comment, and I still might. My kids don't see a pediatrician any more, and I don't care what religion Amy is, this isn't about that. This was a difficult post to write. I hope I have not been disrespectful of her sorrow, and I'm sorry you were.


April 06, 2008 5:01 PM  
Anonymous svelte_brunette said...


I’m very sorry to hear of your friend’s tragic, senseless, and brutal loss. I’m afraid there are no words anyone could say to Amy that wouldn’t seem trite at this point. I just hope she has lots of family close by to help her through this. It’s events like this that remind me to examine my priorities and make sure my friends and family know that they are very high on my list.



April 06, 2008 5:39 PM  
Anonymous Derrick said...

I have been following the story, Jim. Yes, indeed, it is sad. I am sorry for this loss of yours. She seems to be a great woman and I am sure she was a terrific mother.

Wow, AnonFreak.

You really are showing your hands for what they are: a bad person.

This, once again, only proves that you are as those of the Westboro Baptist Church; This hand of yours shows that there really is no difference between yourself (CRC/G) and the WBC. Shameful, as per usual, on your part.

April 06, 2008 7:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

so, does she have the right to sue Montgomery County for billions of dollars or not ? I'll answer that, of course she does. She begged the legal system to intervene and it did not. Clearly, from the news reports quotes of the various court filings this guy was a danger to his children. What I would like to know is the name of the MC judge that insisted Dr. Castillo give the children to their father, who had threatened their lives, for unsupervised visitation. The children's blood is on that judges hands. This guy had been in and out of mental institutions... what sort of idiot gives him unsupervised visitation ? Was there documentation of the threat the father made to the children's lives ? What kind of a father is so obessed with hurting his wife that he would threaten his children... If there was any substantiated documentation of that threat (ie, if anyone else heard the father say that)... and the judge still denied the restraining order... guess what, the judge should be in jail.

What say you Jim, throw the judge in jail ? Or let him make just as poor a decision about someone else's children ?

April 06, 2008 7:41 PM  
Blogger JimK said...

What say you Jim, throw the judge in jail ?

No, of course you don't throw him in jail. Judges make incorrect decisions all the time. It's their job to decide, they get the best evidence they can and they issue a decision. I can't imagine carrying the weight of making these kinds of judgments about people's lives, but somebody has to do it. Somebody's always going to be unhappy with it, but rarely are the consequences like this. I expect the judge to lose his job or suffer some punishment, but you can't deny visitation to someone just because they have a mental disorder, and he had to weigh her report of a threat in the light of other things.

I think we need to appreciate that these are impossibly difficult decisions to make with limited information, and some percentage of the time they're going to be wrong. I know plenty of people will disagree with me, but I say it's wrong to blame the judge unless there is evidence that he was exceedingly or unusually lax in this case, and I don't know the legal precedents here but I doubt that he was.


April 06, 2008 7:52 PM  
Blogger Orin Ryssman said...

Wow, what a sad, sad, sad story...

I think the best, if it can be called that, that can come out of this is for the state legislature to allocate and mandate more training for judges in dealing with such cases. It is telling that judges are cycled in and out of the family court system - if there were a way to pay these judges more and give them more training to discern potentially lethal cases, perhaps this would be the way to go.

It is wrong to place a person in the position to judge matters of life and death, not provide them all the tools they need, and then when they make a wrong call (in retrospect) to hold them to account for the choices of others.

April 08, 2008 2:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"you can't deny visitation to someone just because they have a mental disorder" Isn't that what the CA judge did to Britney with her boys ? had she threatened suicide at that point... he removed her from contact with her kids until he thought she was stable... terribly sad for britney, but probably the right thing to do. dad in castillo case has not only threatened suicide but attempted it, judge forces the mom to give visitation rights... how do you reconcile these two cases... clearly within the judges discretion. In the high profile case, britney, the judge was more cautious...actually I don't think britney had threatened suicide UNTIL they removed custody. In this case the dad had attempted suicide and they didn't remove custody.actually forced the mom to give kids to the dad against her better judgement... what I am missing here ? and yes, 3 kids are dead, the mom seems to have done everything possible to warn, and so I am looking for how one avoids a repeat. this is not just "a terrible loss" it is murder. how do you avoid a repeat ? see, I am in favor of executing the criminal that has killed a child. you know he will never kill another child that way. his life, having killed a child, and guilty of such a horrific crime, is of far less value given the potential harm he can do to another innocent. Period. So, if you have a dad, not working, not providing, mentally ill, threatening his wife and his children (and this can be proven...)... ever having threatened those kids... like the bracelets that castillo's husband left. you protect the innocent. castillo's husband and his mental treatment are second to keeping his family safe. Period.

your thoughts jim ? I know you are firmly in favor of those who put their families through hell when they go through life changes... the "me first" principle. sorry, I keep considering all the people they impact and the incredible selfiness of those "I must be happy to live well" people as opposed to those who find happiness though helping others.

April 08, 2008 11:35 PM  
Blogger JimK said...

Anon, the pursuit of happiness is one of the reasons this country became independent in the first place, sorry if you see different but I don't really see anything wrong with people trying to be happy. The first paragraph of your comment is Greek to me, I don't know anything about Britney Spears, I thought I remembered her holding her baby out the window but that was the other guy. Somebody diagnosed with a character disorder, again I'm sorry, but that would be a good percentage of the population and nutty people can love their children, too, and they have rights. You hear people joke about the fact that you don't need a license to raise children, well, there's a point to that joke -- a lot of people do it badly. That's their right, and it is not our place to judge who deserves to have children and who doesn't. Sometimes we all wish we could but it's much more complicated than that. There is a process that decides whether people should have children, and everybody knows that process often goes wrong, as it did in this case. All I'm saying here is that I'd hate to be the one who decides those things.

As for your second-paragraph summary of my philosophy, uh, I don't see much there that accurately reflects what I believe. People grow up and they may or may not live out their parents' dream of what they could or should be, I guess I do feel there is a point in your life where it's okay to strive for your potential, there's a time you leave your parents and become responsible for yourself. You can call it "putting the family through hell," but I think hell would be trying to meet somebody else's unrealistic and uncaring standard. I guess that's just two ways of looking at it. I think in your second paragraph you are referring possibly to gay and transgender people? The ones that I meet through TTF can truly be seen as examples of people who "find happiness though helping others," as you put it. Many of them risk everything putting themselves up as examples, behaving bravely in the face of resistance including threats, putting out the message that the way they are is not shameful or weird, it's just the way they are. We all grow a little through exposure to those courageous people, they do help us.

I am realizing more and more the importance of conformity to people who hold anti-gay attitudes. At some level, the real threat of different sexual orientations or gender identities is in the individual's failure to conform to the expectations of others. Society holds up norms of sex and gender behavior, and everybody feels pressure to approximate those norms, but some people find the norm very uncomfortable or impossible for them. Luckily in America we are committed to the concept of freedom, which means freedom to deviate from the demands of our peers. It seems to me that norms are a distribution of a feature, "normally" distributed so that most cases are at the center and some are in the tails. I wouldn't want to live in a world where everybody was in the center, and I doubt you would either. I am not threatened by people who are different from me, and don't know why you would be. If someone chooses to love someone I don't approve of or understand, I would hardly say it puts me through hell.


April 09, 2008 6:47 AM  
Blogger Dana Beyer, M.D. said...

Thank you, Anon, for another wonderful neologism: "selfiness." Stephen Colbert would be thrilled to know you're a fan.

I would define "selfiness" as the Christianist perversion of "selflessness."

April 09, 2008 7:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Several years ago a couple in our circle of friends divorced. The wife told the courts that her husband was a danger to her and to their daughter - claims that those of us who knew them well found unbelievable. The judge granted supervised visitation rights to the husband. The decision to grant supervised visitation may have also been prompted by the husband's having a muscular disorder; the wife also questioned his ablity to physically do some of the things a parent needs to do. The supervised visitation continued for over a year and in that time he fully satisfied the court's conditions and made it clear that he was a capable parent.

Jim brought up the question of "people who make things sound worse than they are," and I thought of that family. The supervised visitations didn't make either parent happy at first - the husband knew that he was a safe and competent father and the wife wanted to control the relationship between father and daughter (she was not allowed to supervise the visits). But in the long run, it was a good call by the courts. The child was able to keep her father.

Like Jim, I do not envy the judges who have to weight these competing claims, but when I read that Castillo's visitation rights were contingent on his continuing therapy and that he openly stated that he was not in therapy, I wonder why the court did not impose supervision on his visits with the children.

April 09, 2008 9:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jim -
So if you decided tomorrow that you were really a female, and decided to divorce your wife and pursue life as a female, that decision of yours woudl have no impact on your family ? and it would not put your family "through hell" ? Or if your wife decided she was really a guy, and decided to change her sex tomorrow, that wouldn't put you "through hell" ? How did Dana's wife feel ? Should we ask her ?

April 09, 2008 10:31 AM  
Blogger JimK said...

Anon, coming out is notoriously difficult. Luckily there are groups like PFLAG to help deal with the shock. I am not going to "decide tomorrow" that I am a woman, these are things that a person knows over their lifetime. Maybe they have made an attempt to cover it up, and I think lots of times gay and transgender people don't actually realize at first that not everyone feels like they do, I don't know.

Anyway, it is difficult I'm sure for families to absorb something surprising like that. This is where we call on something higher than ourselves, this requires love, to accept that someone is a way that you yourself can never understand. Families get through it, it isn't necessarily "hell," especially compared to the choice of living a false life, or the knowledge of family members that they have inadvertently forced someone they love to do that, through their own ignorance.

Dana is free to comment as she pleases, I won't let this discussion turn into a personal attack on anyone though. Remember, I have the Delete key, and I've been known to use it. If you are curious about the experience of transitioning, I think we have several readers who would happy to fill you in, if you will be respectful. At least one of the people reading this has transitioned and stayed married, which you seem to consider an impossibility.

If I were them, I would be very hesitant to join this conversation, because it appears your mind is already made up. There is something about "pearls before swine," I think. If you have real questions though I think someone can help you understand.


April 09, 2008 1:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"There is something about "pearls before swine,""

I'm impressed with your Biblical knowledge, Jim.

April 09, 2008 2:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

jim, the decision to give the dad unsupervised access to the children was one BOTH parents consented to. the judges in this case did nothing wrong, except defer to the parties, who, when they agree, are presumed to know what is best for their own children.

April 09, 2008 7:15 PM  
Anonymous Aunt Bea said...

the decision to give the dad unsupervised access to the children was one BOTH parents consented to

Not according to this report in The Washington Post

...Amy Castillo feared for her children's safety. In July 2006, she asked for sole custody. Over the next 21 months, at times she asked the courts to halt his visitation.

And this Washington Post article reported:

In 2006, according to court records, Amy Castillo was granted temporary sole custody on an emergency motion, but Mark Castillo was granted visitation rights shortly afterward. At least twice last year, motions that would have withheld visitation rights were denied. At one point, according to the records, Amy Castillo was fined for refusing visitation rights.

April 09, 2008 8:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, dagnabbit. I posted sans nom because I was discussing the divorce of friends. That's not nice and I wish to avoid distasteful social recriminations.


I am NOT the anon who claimed that both parties agreed to the unsupervised visits.

There is a committee made up of police, judicial, and social work professionals now reviewing the Castillo case. I don't think it is their job to assign blame. In fact, I think blame is a pretty bad idea right now. I have questions about how the case was handled, but I am nobody in these proceedings. The Fatality Review Committee will have questions that matter. Instead of blame, I hope they come up with some usable suggestions for family law judges in future cases.

I suppose I have to sign myself
Gossipy Anon.

April 09, 2008 11:01 PM  
Anonymous Aunt Bea said...

There is a committee made up of police, judicial, and social work professionals now reviewing the Castillo case. I don't think it is their job to assign blame.

The Washington Post reports: As with all Maryland cases in which children are killed, a "fatality review" team of police, social workers and court personnel will examine whether the legal system fell short and, if so, how it could be improved.

April 10, 2008 7:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In a case where 3 children are murdered, yes, blame should be assigned. The legal system failed. The judge failed.

Just like when child molestors are paroled and rape more children, you take the names and pictures of the rapist, and the names and picture of the judge who was stupid enough to parole the rapist, and plaster them everywhere.

April 11, 2008 6:44 PM  

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