I am not a big celebrity guy. I would rather read a year old Sporting News than a freshly minted People magazine. But I did take note of the now infamous recorded outburst by actor Alec Baldwin directed at his daughter. Baldwin and former wife Kim Bassinger are engaged in a long and bitter custody battle over their eleven year old daughter. Sadly, similar battles are being fought much more anonymously all over the land today. As always with these humble ramblings, my intent is not to demonize the principles of this story, but to seek broader lessons for all of us.
By the grace of God I have been spared the heartbreak of divorce in my own marriage. I have counseled and consoled many who have suffered the agony of divorce. It is never easy. It is particularly difficult when children are in the equation. I wrote a blog about the myth of the “good divorce” earlier. A bit of background if you don’t know the story that is currently in the news. A very frustrated Alec Baldwin apparently made an effort to call his daughter at a particular time to talk. When she did not answer the phone Baldwin lost his temper and left an angry and unfortunate diatribe on the voicemail. Baldwin called his daughter a “rude, thoughtless little pig” during his angry outburst.
At his website the actor apologized for the angry message. Regular readers of these ramblings know that I have a consistent theme when it comes to apologies or asking forgiveness. Leave your “but” out of it. Perhaps it is necessary to offer mitigating factors as an excuse when you are a celebrity. Baldwin felt that he had to explain his anger. “I am sorry for losing my temper with my child.” So far, so good. “But I have been driven to the edge by parental alienation for many years". That changes the apology from I am sorry to not my fault. And that is the message that the child hears.
He also said he was "most saddened... because of what it does to a child" that the voicemail message appeared on celebrity websites. I have no insight into the personal situation between Baldwin and Bassinger. I do suspect that the message appearing on celebrity websites is not nearly as damaging as hearing words like that from your Dad.
I have said some mean things to my sons when I was angry. Fortunately it does not make news when a middling selling author gets angry. I regret every single word spoken in anger to them. I spent a lot of time saying “I’m sorry” and “please forgive me”. I hope I did not cancel my apology with excuses.
Nearly every parent in a custody battle says it is about the child. Too often the words and actions say otherwise. Again, my quoting of Baldwin is not to condemn him but to make a broader point. Baldwin's statement said: "Everyone who knows me privately knows that I have endured a great deal over the last several years in my custody litigation."
The message is that this is a whole lot about him. I would suggest that the child has endured the most in this litigation because she does not have the maturity or experience to process it. When a child is born it is no longer about you. It is (or should be) about the nurturing of that child.
Scripture has much wisdom about the father’s role in molding a child to fulfill their unique design. Too often the only biblical truth communicated is the discipline verses. And I do believe that loving discipline is a must. We are quick to remind our kids that they are to “honor” their father and mother. But we conveniently overlook the verse that follows.
Fathers, don't exasperate your children by coming down hard on them. Take them by the hand and lead them in the way of the Master. (Eph 6 – The Message)
It is quite a bit easier to “honor” a Dad who takes a child by the hand and teaches them about the love and grace of Jesus. Paul later reminds the fathers in Colossae about how to treat their children.
Fathers, do not aggravate your children, or they will become discouraged. (Col 3 – NLT)
Men…we are the ones who need to be the grownups. You can not expect a child caught tragically in the middle to respond with maturity. A final lesson from this sad episode. Words are toxic. James wrote this hard truth.
People can tame all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and fish, but no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison.
I was spanked and punished as a child. I can only vaguely remember those events. But I can vividly recall the hurtful words that were said. That is the saddest part of battles like this very public dispute. I know nothing about these celebrity parents. I don’t know their motives or hearts. But I do know that the war of words is most likely damaging to a young soul. My heart aches for the child. I pray that we can learn from this sad story about how vital it is to realize the power of words.
I related a story in my book, “Bring’em Back Alive”, about a little boy with a terrible temper. His father gave him a big bag of nails and instructed him to hammer a nail into the fence every time he lost his temper. After the first day over three dozen nails were hammered into the fence. But as the days went by the little boy began to control his temper more and more. One day the boy realized that he was no longer driving nails into the fence. When he proudly told his father he was given the new task of pulling out one nail for every day he continued to hold his temper. Finally all of the nails were removed. The father took his son out to the fence. "You have done a great job, son. But look at the holes in the fence. This fence will never be like it was before. When you say things in anger, they leave a scar just like this one. You can stick a knife in a person and no matter how many times you say I'm sorry, the wound is still there. A verbal wound is just as bad as a physical one."
Words do damage and they leave a scar. Give us the compassion to pray for this child caught in a public crossfire. For the rest of us, especially in the wake of the tragedy at Virginia Tech, love your children and let them know it. Discipline gently and in love. And watch your tongue. It is a lethal weapon when wielded in anger.
Dave Burchett is an Emmy Award winning television sports director, author, and Christian speaker. He is the author of When Bad Christians Happen to Good People and Bring'em Back Alive: A Healing Plan for those Wounded by the Church. You can reply by linking through daveburchett.com