'Trust that they find their own path'

Imagine that you have a teenaged daughter. ... also: 7 other things worth a click.

Hey y'all. I'm back. Thank you to everyone for your kind messages, and for sticking around.

Actually, we gained a ton of new subscribers over the weekend while I was sick. Maybe I should not write more often.


Imagine that you have a teenaged daughter.

For whatever reason, imagine also that she's a kid who ... well, people describe her as, "troubled."

It doesn't matter why. Any one or a few of a parade of potential issues.

But you love her. And you're successful. And you have some money.

So you decide you're going to fix whatever's going on.

You'd try therapy, I guess? Maybe if she shows interest in any kind of vocation—art, athletics, music, science—you'd spend dollars to put opportunities in front of her, hoping she takes advantage.

She seems to like the piano; next thing she knows there's a Steinway in the living room.

That kind of thing.

You try different schools. Eventually, you send her to a therapeutic high school—one of those boarding schools in Idaho or Arizona.

There, to your surprise and relief, she flourishes. She's doing well, squared away. Whatever her demons were, she seems to be getting them under control.

She's even talking about college, and the things she wants to do with her life.

College. You talk to some people, and you realize that with her academic record, it's going to be a stretch.

But you love her. And you're successful. And you have some money.

Maybe you can see where this is going.

My little radio play above is based (some details imagined) on the tale of Robert Flaxman, a Beverly Hills developer who was among those caught and convicted in the college admissions scandal.

He pulled strings for his daughter, who had been at a therapeutic high school in Montana, and paid William Singer $75,000 to "fix" her ACT score "without her knowledge," bumping it to a 28 out of 36.

That was good enough to get her into the University of San Francisco.

Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Jennifer Levitz and Melissa Korn, who have been all over the college cheating story since it first broke, are now starting to describe the aftermath—at least for the parents and students involved who are reaching what Churchill might have called "the end of the beginning."

Levitz and Korn talked about how some of the parents who received short sentences—a few weeks, a month or two—were so eager to put the ordeal behind them that they reported to prison early.

In Flaxman’s case, he pleaded guilty and served his one-month sentence at a federal prison in Arizona. His daughter visited him there.

"He wore his brown prison uniform and the pair talked for more than two hours over snacks from the vending machine.” Levitz and Korn write. “He said the visit was upbeat, and it felt as if they were coming to the end of a long ordeal.”

There's something that I really like about this kind of journalism.

It's what I was thinking of when I originally launched this daily email: "the story behind the story."

The big headlines in this one, are always going to be about privilege, and bribery, and the fact that two well-known actresses were caught up in it.

But there's also this very human drama, of a dad's highly misguided attempt to step in and fix things for his daughter.

What's it born of? Pride? Fear? Love?

Maybe it's a mix.

My daughter is nowhere near college. But I think of this one time when I told my wife, joking of course, that my goals as a parent were simple: Smooth over all the world’s rough edges so that nothing could ever hurt her.

(Good luck with that, Murphy. It’d actually be worse for her if I somehow succeeded.)

There's a happy ending to the Flaxman story, to my mind, because of what Flaxman's unnamed daughter did when the scandal broke.

She got in front of it, basically, and owned it—reporting it to the administration at the University of San Francisco first, and asking them to invalidate her ACT score.

The school suspended her for a semester, Levitz and Korn report, but then welcomed her back.

Of all the people in this story, it’s the supposedly “troubled” teen, who seems to have found her compass first.

“The lesson for me is to trust more in them,” her father said after his release from prison. “Trust that they find their own path.”

7 other things worth a click

  1. On New Year’s Day, a reader emailed me to say my “366 daily inspirational quotes for 2020” listicle prevented a suicide attempt. I haven’t really been able to let this go mentally for weeks, so I wrote about what happened next. I also asked readers for a small favor, and promised a charitable donation. (Understandably/LinkedIn edition)

  2. Regulators claim some Teslas could accelerate on their own. Tesla says that’s “completely false.” (TechCrunch)

  3. Delta Air Lines is giving its employees a $1.6 billion bonus. That works out to two months salary per employee. (Me, on Inc.)

  4. Counterpoint to the college cheating story above: When a coyote attacked a toddler in New Hampshire, the little girl’s dad “wrestled the beast to the ground” and killed it with his bare hands. My hero. (WFXT 25 Boston)

  5. There’s, like, an impeachment trial going on in Washington? I’m actually following this pretty closely, but I also don’t think anyone really subscribed to Understandably for my up-to-the-minute political takes. Still, it feels weird not to mention it. Hence, this very down-the-middle explanatory link. (CNN)

  6. 100 free audiobooks, including lots of science fiction and classics you were assigned in high school but perhaps never read. If you’ve never picked up Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, you could do a lot worse than this narration by Bryan Cranston. (OpenCulture)

  7. Perhaps because I had a high fever recently, for the first time I can remember in years, I’m caught up by this story about how the average “normal” human temperature is no longer 98.6 Fahrenheit. (Stanford University)

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