Two stories have received a lot of press the past couple of days:
First, an open letter by Dylan Farrow appeared in Sunday’s New York Times. In the letter, Farrow discussed an incident of sexual abuse by her adopted father, filmmaker Woody Allen, that she recalls taking place 21 years ago, when she was 7.
Second, the news broke Sunday evening that the actor Philip Seymour Hoffman had been found dead of an apparent drug overdose in his New York apartment that morning.
These are both disturbing stories and it’s no surprise that they would generate strong feelings and heated opinions. Without knowing precisely what took place in Farrow’s home or in Hoffman’s, it’s safe to say that both are tragedies. Family tragedies.
Dylan Farrow’s letter was brought to my attention by a friend who thought it would have particular resonance for me. I’m close to a young person who has experienced inappropriate behavior from an adult she once trusted and who now denies the incidents ever occurred. Who suffers from PTSD-like reactions to things that trigger her memories, much like those described by Farrow. Who, like Farrow, has been witness to public approval for the person she feels violated by, while her own experiences go unheeded. And who, like Farrow and perhaps worst of all, has been told that if she remembers bad things happening to her, it’s because someone else planted her memories.
It has accurately been said that only two people can truly know what took place between Farrow and Allen. Of course, the whole world knows that twenty-one years ago Allen was embarking on an affair with Dylan’s 19-year-old sister, another of his partner, Mia Farrow’s, daughters. In some eyes, that fact alone might make it impossible to see Allen in the role of Good Dad.
Good Dad is one of the roles that the media is ascribing to Philip Seymour Hoffman. So what does the Farrow-Allen story have in common with Hoffman’s death? Nothing, I thought at first: Hoffman’s tragedy was one of self-destruction, not damage to others. Then I read the details surrounding the finding of his body. That his three children and their mother were waiting for him at a playground near his home and that, when he failed to show up, a friend entered his apartment and found him dead, a heroine syringe sticking out of his arm.
It makes sense to see Hoffman as a victim, to feel compassion for him as a person terribly – indeed, fatally – troubled. Only someone who couldn’t help himself would shoot heroine, right? Would shoot heroine on Saturday night when he was scheduled to see his three young children Sunday morning?
I feel compassion for Hoffman, for the waste of his life and talent. I feel even more compassion for his family. And I feel compassion for Dylan Farrow.
Men who can’t help themselves are dangerous. To themselves, yes, but also to the people in their lives. Above all, to the children in their lives. On behalf of their families, on behalf of their children most of all, I feel not just compassion, but anger: anger for the men who can’t help themselves.