Authors: Alan M. Dershowitz
The sound of Birkenstocks clumping on the stairs alerted Abe to his daughter’s impending entrance for her usual breakfast
of carrot juice and figs. “What kind of pants are those?” Abe asked as he inspected her outfit of blue jeans and a work shirt.
As always, Emma had distracted him from any more gentle preoccupation. “I can practically see your tush through that cutout.”
“You can tell it’s cut out, Daddy? It’s supposed to look worn out.”
“I don’t care if it looks cut or worn, Emma,” Abe declared with the tone a father uses only when confronted by his teenage
daughter’s burgeoning womanhood. “The point is your tush is showing, and you’re sending an unintentional sexual message.”
As soon as he uttered those words, Abe knew he was in for trouble. But it was too late. Emma was ahead of him, as usual. Someday
he’d like to figure out why it was that his doctorate in jurisprudence from Harvard, his nearly twenty years as an attorney,
his reputation as a raconteur, and his speaking tours around the globe—how it was that all this experience had not prepared
him ever to win an argument with Emma.
“Who said it’s unintended, Daddy?” Emma’s smile was so like Hannah’s, with the funny way her heart-shaped mouth turned slightly
down at the corners, flirting unconsciously with him. This child, who had become his sole responsibility at such a fragile
time in both their lives, had the power instantly to transport him back to another time when her mother was alive, when all
three of them shared this house and their lives together.
“I’m a woman,” Emma continued, pointing unsubtly to her breasts. “And I have a constitutional right to send whatever messages
I want to whoever I please.”
“That’s whomever.” Abe heard the supercilious tone in his voice and sensed that he was quickly losing his authority.
“Hey, Dad, it’s cool, they’re just messages. I’m still, you know—”
“Spare me the details.” Abe held up his hand.
But Emma was not to be silenced now that she had her father where she wanted him. “I don’t pet below the waist even if I do
send messages with my a—” She looked at him with those gorgeous deep brown eyes and completed her thought: “Tush….” With that,
Emma gave an exaggerated wiggle of Exhibit A.
It was all too much for Abe. Hannah’s death in an automobile accident had left him to deal with Emma’s puberty, which had
been bad enough. Now Emma’s emerging sexuality seemed to be raging out of control. Not out of Emma’s control—out of Abe’s
control. As a result, he found himself trying to figure out how Hannah would have handled these situations. Abe realized,
of course, that he would soon be spared the daily burden of overseeing Emma’s transition from girl to woman, since this was
her last year at home before she left for college. Maybe that was why he treasured and dreaded these final months of being
Emma’s live-in chaperon. By this time next year he wouldn’t even know what Emma was wearing and to whom she was transmitting
Emma quickly sensed that it was time to change the subject. Her father was squirming in the way he always did when they had
one of these talks. And that was too bad, because if she couldn’t talk to her father about this stuff, then she’d never get
a man’s point of view—the boys in her class really didn’t count, since they were, well, boys. Thank God at least there was
Rendi, her father’s girlfriend or whatever, to talk to, though Rendi seemed to have lots of hangups about sex discussions.
What was wrong with these people, anyway? It seemed like the more experience people had with sex, the more nervous they got
about discussing sexuality. She’d have to think about this concept for a while.
Not that Abe was prudish about discussing sex in general—as long as it didn’t involve his own family. Just last week he had
helped Emma resolve a dilemma that her friend Janie Warren had imposed on her. Janie had become pregnant and had asked Emma
to help her get an abortion without her parents finding out. Emma felt strongly that Janie should tell her parents, but Janie
said she was afraid. Emma sought her father’s advice. After listening, Abe asked one question: “Does Janie know that you’re
“Yes, she does. I asked her permission to seek your advice, and she said, ‘Sure.’”
“Then I know what I have to do,” Abe said. “Janie understands that I
to tell Charlie and Mary now that I know. She
me to tell them.”
Emma was worried. “But what if you’re wrong, Daddy?”
Abe responded by quoting Shakespeare, his frequent source for resolving tough ethical conundrums: “To do a great right,” Abe
said, “you sometimes have to risk doing a little wrong.”
Emma did not object as Abe walked to the phone and called his old friend Charles Warren to tell him about his daughter’s problem
Janie was enormously relieved when her parents told her that they knew of her situation and that she could count on their
support and love. It was vintage Abe—perceptive, direct, proactive, and right. Emma was proud of how her father had cut through
everything so quickly and helped her friend.
Indeed, this uncanny ability to see through complexity and cut to the chase was one of Abe’s great strengths as a lawyer.
His working rule was that every complex problem had a simple and obvious solution. And so far it had proved to be a good rule
for Abe. He never obsessed over issues. He reasoned, he decided, he acted, and he didn’t look back. And if he sometimes wondered
whether he was guilty of oversimplification, he quickly reassured himself: not a great vice for a busy trial lawyer.
Both Abe and Emma were news junkies who channel-surfed their way through the network morning news shows while dressing and
leafed through the newspapers while in the bathroom. Emma was just about to begin the morning Ringel ritual of discussing
the headlines when Abe preempted her.
“Did you hear about Joe Campbell being arrested?”
“Yeah, it’s all over the news. It’s about time they did something to athletes who think they’re God’s gift to women.” Wait
a minute, Emma thought to herself. Here she was, sitting across the table from a bona fide expert on a topic that Jon, her
main love interest these days, was bound to want to talk about, and she was wasting time making a political point on a man
who wouldn’t even understand it! Wake up, girl!
She placed a respectful look on her face. “Do you think Campbell’s arrest will get him suspended?” Jon would just die if Campbell
weren’t able to participate in the playoffs.
“No, I don’t think so. Even the NBA has to live with the presumption of innocence, and in this case it seems more than a mere
presumption.” He was comfortable now, warming up to a more impersonal subject. “I imagine the league will assume it’s just
another frustrated groupie crying rape because the ballplayer didn’t ask her out again, or another gold digger looking for
a pot of cash at the end of a rainbow.”
“That’s not fair, Dad. It’s just another example of your Jurassic attitudes toward women. Have you ever stopped to consider
the possibility that Campbell might actually have raped this woman?”
Abe realized he wasn’t going to get out of this conversation without another lecture. “All right, maybe,” he said, “but I
find it hard to believe. I mean, the woman had been out on a date with him, not once, twice. You read about that, right? And
why would Joe Campbell have to force a woman to have sex with him? He’s got groupies following him around wherever he goes.
You can’t very well rape a groupie.”
“Daddy, that’s ridiculous. Anyone can be raped, even a prostitute. And it doesn’t matter if she knew him—if they had two dates
or ten. We’re not talking about sex, Dad, we’re talking about violence—you should know that.”
“Well, maybe,” Abe said grudgingly, yet without really believing it. “Campbell gets all the violence he needs driving to the
hoop. Have you watched him recently, since Oakley sprained his ankle? He’s banging more bodies on the boards than the power
“You just don’t get it, Daddy.” For a moment Emma’s expression turned thoughtful, serious, as though she were in touch with
a feeling he could never totally appreciate or understand. Maybe it was true what Rendi said, that all women were born with
the precognitive experience of being raped—“gender memory,” she called it. Whatever the case, Abe wasn’t about to ignore his
daughter’s opinion, even though he didn’t believe for a minute that Campbell had raped the woman.
“I get it all right. Remember, I belonged to a fraternity once. I knew some guys who could be real assholes when left alone
with a woman—but rapists? Clods, maybe, cavemen, even, but I don’t see how an average guy could change over the course of
an evening from a good date to a violent predator.”
Abe was a 1960s liberal who believed in free speech, equality for minorities, environmentalism, abortion rights—the whole
agenda. This new feminism, on the other hand, had him confused and a bit hostile. On sexual issues,
—along with all men—was the target, the bad guy. He really
get it, and he wasn’t sure he wanted to. He had always treated women as equals, hiring several as associates even before
it was voguish. And then there was Rendi, who was any man’s equal. But when it came to issues such as date rape, Abe had real
difficulty understanding what all the fuss was about. What did they want from him?
As usual, Emma read his mind. “Why do guys have such a hard time believing date rape can happen, anyway? It’s not like we’re
saying you’re all rapists or anything. Yet it happens, guys get crazy. You can’t change facts just by saying it’s the victim’s
Hannah, where are you? Abe thought. What do I say now? Out loud he asked: “Is this what they teach you in school?”
“No, of course not. You know our headmaster, Mr. Cravers. Talk about antiques! He’d never let us discuss this stuff. No way.
We study it in our feminist group.”
“I thought your feminist group was about politics—you know, women candidates and all that.”
“It is about politics. We discuss the politics of rape, the politics of sex, of marriage. It’s great.”
I can’t deal with this, Abe thought to himself, removing his glasses and massaging his temples, which he had noticed just
that morning were showing small streaks of gray. Suddenly he was looking his age, unlike his father, who had remained youthful
looking until his death at seventy-five a year ago. Harry Ringel had died at work while cutting the hair of a friend whom
he had barbered for more than fifty years.
A tear formed in Abe’s eye as he thought about his father. Harry Ringel had been a real barber, Abe recalled with tender pride—not
a hairdresser. He cut and shaved, never coifed or layered. He was proud of having been the first white barber in the Boston
area to cut the hair of Negroes, as he insisted on calling them till his dying day. “I’ve got plenty of Jewish customers with
curly hair. I know how to cut curly hair. I’m in the hair business, not the skin business.” He drew the line, however, at
women. “I’m a man’s barber,” he would insist. Harry was not only a man’s barber, he was a man’s man. He loved his customers.
He loved his three sons. And he respected his wife, Sylvia, in whose presence he rarely uttered a word.
Sylvia, who had moved to Florida following Harry’s death, had written “the book” on Jewish mothers. Less than five feet tall
and under a hundred pounds, she was a benevolent despot. She insisted on being addressed as “Mrs. Ringel” by anyone other
than her immediate family and a few close friends. When Abe had briefly dated a southern woman, it had created a minor confrontation
when the woman had once used the term
to Sylvia’s face. Sylvia was an absolute master of the put-down, capable of humiliating the strongest man or woman with a
well-chosen word or phrase. She was also capable of seeing the dark cloud in any silver lining. When her sons and grandchildren
had gotten together and bought her a beautiful diamond watch for her seventy-fifth birthday, her response had been, “Oy, now
I have to decide which one of you I should leave it to in my will.” Abe loved his mother, but his personality was closer to
Emma quickly brought Abe back to the moment. “Tonight in our group, the topic is ‘Taking Control of Your Own Sexuality.’”
“Enough, my darling daughter. Can we please not talk about your sexual comings and goings anymore? You really have to try
to understand. I was brought up in a different world. We never talked about those kinds of things. I’m not good at it. If
you have to talk to someone, could you talk to Rendi?”
“Dad, that’s the whole point. I don’t want to talk to Rendi. I mean, I love Rendi and I’m glad you two are, you know, well,
whatever it is you two are, but I need a parent to talk to.” Emma paused. “You don’t know how it feels to grow up without
Oh, yes, I do, little one, Abe said to himself. He had hardly been a grown-up himself when Hannah had died. At least that’s
what he thought looking back on it now. These were not emotions he could share with Emma. Or anyone. Abe had worked hard to
keep himself one step removed from the rest of the world. It was part of the advocate’s territory. And perhaps more to the
point, it served to remove him from the never-ending pain over losing Hannah. Seeing his daughter’s face, her eyes like Hannah’s,
suddenly glinting with the tears that came so quickly in adolescence, he realized that he couldn’t use his distancing tactic
Abe glanced at the old-fashioned watch his father had given him as a Bar Mitzvah gift. “You have only so much time on this
earth,” his father had said. “Always make the most of it. Don’t waste a precious minute. You’ll never get it back.”
Abe had lived by those words. He was one of those people who was always doing something productive. He squeezed a tennis ball
to strengthen his hands as he read a good novel, listened to classical music while enjoying his art. Abe was something of
an overachiever, a man who tried hard to do the right thing, even though he sometimes had difficulty figuring out what the
right thing was these days. He yearned for the black-and-white simplicity of his youth and even his young adulthood. During
the late 1960s and early 1970s he really thought he was at peace with himself about the moral issues of the day. Then along
came the feminists, the radicals, the black separatists, the gay activists. Part of him resented these young upstarts for
complicating his life, for making new and sometimes incomprehensible demands on his moral bank account. Even his own daughter
confused him. “Isn’t it time for you to be off to school?”