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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

How would you react if you found out that your real father was Charlie Manson?

(Matthew Roberts, left; Charlie Manson, right)

Two different people sent me the following article from Tuesday's NY Daily News about a 41-year-old man who was adopted as a ten year old and raised in Illinois, and who recently discovered that his real father is Charlie Manson.
(Italics mine.)

It's like finding out your father is Hitler," Matthew Roberts told the Sun newspaper.

Roberts found out about his long-lost daddy about a dozen years ago after using a search agency to find his birth mother. The birth mother told him that she had been raped and that the 1960s Helter Skelter killer was his father.

(Gotta wonder if it was really, in the immortal words of Whoopi Goldberg, "rape rape." If I were the mom I'd probably be claiming it was nonconsensual too.)

"I'm a peaceful person - trapped in the face of a monster," Roberts said. "My hero is Gandhi. I'm an extremely non-violent, peaceful person and a vegetarian. I don't even kill bugs."

The truth of Roberts' birth unfolded gradually as he and his mother began to write each other.

At first she refused to pass on details, but ultimately she revealed that she had been captivated by Manson and joined his cult in San Francisco.

When his mother saw Roberts' photograph she said her suspicions were confirmed. The killer and his son share nearly identical facial features and they have the same thick, dark hair.

Roberts has corresponded with his unrepentant father, now 75 and confined for life in California's Corcoran State Prison.

The mass killer confirmed he is Roberts' father, and recalled the times he spent with Matthew's mother in a string of ten rambling handwritten notes and postcards signed with a swastika - the same symbol he has tattooed on his forehead.

"He sends me weird stuff and always signs it with his swastika," Roberts said. "At first I was stunned and depressed. I wasn't able to speak for a day. I remember not being able to eat."

(That sounds like a little bit of an exaggeration. Not able to say a word for an entire day? And he certainly doesn't look as if he's missed too many meals. Who knows, maybe his father is trying to help him diet with those weird missives.)

But, he added: "He's my biological father - I can't help but have some kind of emotional connection. That's the hardest thing of all - feeling love for a monster who raped my mother. I don't want to love him, but I don't want to hate him either."

Judging from the fact that Roberts now wears his hair like Manson -- hardly the current fashion -- and affects that devilish goatee, one would have to assume that he feels more than a little connection. (If he were really so embarrassed by his heritage, wouldn't he cut his hair short, maybe dye it blond, and don a suit and tie?) Plus, he actually corresponds with Manson, something not everyone would do.

(The above photograph, by the way, is from the NY Post version of the story. The Daily Snooze only saw fit to include a picture of Manson, even though we already know what he looks like. The Post also mentioned that Roberts suffers from schizophrenia, though judging from the commonsensical tone of his comments, I'd guess he's been taking his meds.)

How would most people react if they happened to discover, mid-life, that their biological father was an infamous killer? I can imagine several reactions, depending on one's character:

One would be utter dismay: Oh no, I'm cursed! I have the mark of Cain on me! No wonder I have these mental problems! I wonder if it's my fate to snap one day.

Another would be embarrassment: Oh god, the shame of it all. I'm going to change my name and go into hiding.

Another would be a sort of twisted pride (especially if the adoptive parents hadn't done such a great job): Yeah baby, no wonder I'm such a badass! Yes! Here I am boys and girls, the second coming of Charlie Manson! Watch out!

Yet another would be the socially savvy response: I'll be able to dine out on this for the rest of my life! People are going to find me fascinating. Everybody will want to get to know Son of Charlie. It'll probably turn me into a bit of a chick magnet, too, at least with a certain type of girl. I know Dad never had a problem getting girls.

One has to wonder how much of Roberts' personality is a matter of nature, rather than nurture. To the extent that it's nature, he must have some of Charlie's characteristics.

On the other hand, his upbringing was undoubtedly more wholesome than Manson's. It would be near impossible for it to have been worse. Manson was born to a 16 year old prostitute who had no idea who his father was. When Manson was a little boy, she once tried to sell him for a pitcher of beer. His uncle forced him to dress like a girl for his first day of kindergarten. Manson was in and out of juvenile detention facilities from the age of ten. (As an 11-year-old he reportedly raped another boy in one of those facilities.)

Given Manson's own hellish background (who knows how he would have turned out had he had a more normal upbringing), Roberts is hardly a case from which one can draw conclusions about the nature/nurture debate.

But he does make an interesting case study about how finding out that one has an infamous father can affect someone.

Addendum: My sweet 15 year old daughter just read this and offered, "Dad, he's better off than I am."


Anonymous said...

Wow John, your kid has a caustic sense of humor. Nature or nurture? ;)
PS Interesting post. I think my reaction would be: WTF!!!!!!!!!!!, but if Ozzy Osborne can have a reality show.....

John Craig said...

Nature. Her mother's.

PS -- Not sure how I'd react, probably a combination of all the suggested reactions.