Understanding a man who wishes his son had never been born

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In a recent interview published in The New Yorker, Peter Lanza, father of the Sandy Hook mass murderer Adam Lanza, said he wishes his son had never been born.  That statement has sparked controversy, because it is stark, and some say it shows no empathy.

Elsewhere in his interview, Lanza does note stories about Adam that once brought warm memories.  When he brought Adam to see Bill Cosby Live, Adam laughed for "an hour straight."  When Adam made up a joke of his own, Lanza even had T-shirts made that showcased it.

But now, with Adam having killed 27 people, including his mother Nancy, and then having committed suicide, Peter Lanza's memories have gone cold.  Whatever love he once felt for his son has receded behind the seemingly cold wish that Adam had never existed.

Lanza's statement stands in sharp contrast to those of parents of other mass murderers.  Lionel Dahmer, the father of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, who killed 17 young men in Milwaukee, continued to visit his son until he was murdered in prison.  Jeff Williams, whose teenaged son Andy killed two people and wounded 13 others in a school shooting in 2001, still visits his son, who is serving a 50-year sentence.  Williams wishes that his son could have been tried as a juvenile, rather than as an adult, and that he could have been released by now.

Some may ask: Why would Peter Lanza express a desire for his son not to have been born?  Is he in denial of Adam's humanity, of what Adam might have been, had he responded better to psychiatric treatment or had a mother with more practical plans for her son than a room in her basement and access to her guns?  Or are Dahmer, Williams and other parents of killers who express sentiment similar to theirs in denial of the suffering inflicted on others by their children?

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The difference may lie in the fact that Adam Lanza – who had been diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome and may have suffered from another major psychotic illness – suffered greatly himself before taking the lives of others.  His world, which once at least involved going to school and seemingly enjoying some family events, had devolved into being a recluse playing violent video games.  His contact with his father had ended years before the Sandy Hook massacre.

Or, the difference may lie in the fact that Adam Lanza killed himself immediately after taking the lives of his victims.  Peter Lanza had no time to visit with Adam to hear any expression of remorse from his son, nor even to share a single paradoxically warm moment.

Ultimately, the deadening of Adam Lanza's emotional possibilities, which began with his mental illnesses, was unremitting.  It robbed his victims of their lives, too.  And the deadening ended in pitch black, without the slightest ray of light.  A surprise tear from his son in a prison cell might have melted Peter Lanza's heart.  A single note from prison asking for a visit might have led Peter Lanza, reluctantly, back to his son's side, where the mere sight of him might have been enough to reawaken loving memories of the boy with the odd intelligence.

Yet, even with these unrealized possibilities, and even with the way we marvel at the love of parents who stand by their children after horrendous acts of violence, Peter Lanza may be one of the most honest men you will ever hear.  Would most of us opt never to have had a child if we knew for certain that after a dark and tortured battle with mental illness, he would take the lives of 26 people, his mother and then himself?  Yes, I think we would.  To do otherwise, in fact, would be very nearly unthinkable.

If you want to understand Peter Lanza, understand this:  He can have both loved his son and wish his son never existed.  That is the terrible suffering the man now lives with.  I understand it completely, and I would wish it on no one. I only hope that he has a loving grandson one day who shares precious moments with him.