There are cretins, there are cowards, there are rats who walk like men. And then there is Larry Patterson Jr.
Let's make sure to get that in. Wouldn't want to be unfair. After all, we have only the word of Orlando police that he did what they say. But their word is compelling.
It seems an officer tried to pull Patterson over last week when he was spotted behind the wheel of a Ford Taurus matching the description of a stolen vehicle. According to police, Patterson sped away. The officer did not give chase, but soon enough came upon an accident scene. Patterson had crashed into another car. He did not hang around to exchange insurance information. Instead, he bailed.
But he left something behind.
Namely, his passenger. More to the point, his daughter. She was found wedged between the rear windshield and the deck behind the back seats. She is 5 months old.
I'm thankful to be able to use the present tense. The baby, despite not being secured in a car seat, came through the accident without injury. Her name is Larissa, perhaps in honor of her 19-year-old father. Speaking of that paragon of moral virtue, he was found four blocks away at a McDonald's, windshield glass still in his hair. Police say he ran because he was driving on a suspended license while on probation for drug offenses. And get this: the Taurus was not stolen. In fact, it was registered in Patterson's name.
Afterward, Lt. Rich Ring, fairly vibrating with anger, faced TV news cameras. "As far as low on the totem pole," he said, "this is about as low as you get. ... I don't care if you've got a driver's license, I don't care if you've got a warrant for murder, if you've got an infant child and especially if that child is related to you, you have an obligation to stop and make sure your child is OK."
To which I can only say: Amen. It is incomprehensible that a man, even a 19-year-old man, could be so disconnected from his own humanity, so disconnected from the humanity of his infant daughter, that he would do what Patterson allegedly did.
And yet, looked at another way, what happened on that Orlando street is unique only in degree. We've spent years bemoaning the cancer of father absence that corrodes our communities from within, years decrying the selfishness and the lack of social sanction that allow so many men to abandon their children, to harden themselves against their cries of need.
So what Patterson did (allegedly) is only the thing writ large, only the thing exaggerated, only the thing made visceral and manifest in the hard reality of two cars tangled and mangled in the middle of the street and a baby, manhandled by the laws of physics, crying for the man whose job, whose prime directive in life, should have been to protect her. The man who ran instead.
If Patterson did what they say, he is contemptible. But also contemptible is the man who abandons his child in less spectacular ways, who leaves his child not in imminent danger, but in ongoing danger, who doesn't flee an accident scene, but flees, nonetheless.
Twenty-eight percent of American kids - 60 percent of black kids - are growing up in fatherless homes, heir to all the struggle and dysfunction that condition portends. That's not even counting those fathers who are absent due to incarceration. Granted, some absences are unavoidable - people die, they get divorced. But who can deny those appalling numbers owe greatly to the fact that many men choose disinterest, disengagement, disappearance, over the hard but crucial work of being dad. They've reached the same selfish conclusion Patterson apparently reached when he climbed from that car.
Every man for himself.