Arts & Culture

The Ira Glass Infatuation Post/This American Life Roundup: “Unconditional Love”

In the mood for some spooning, this week’s Life resurrects a four-year-old episode with a little deep emotional attachment in “Unconditional Love.” Read More

By / October 27, 2010

In the mood for some spooning, this week’s Life resurrects a four-year-old episode with a little deep emotional attachment in “Unconditional Love.” through thick, goodness is assigned to those who stick through the shitstorm, unafraid of applying hard love.
Unconditional love: do we need it? The worldview that “mother love is a dangerous instrument” was a prevalent one in the States back in the day. As present analysts look incredulously at past theories, they deconstruct maternal distance in the name of raising children to be decent human beings.

Ira makes brilliant use of the airwaves in bringing to our ears rare audio footage of Harry Harlow, hotminded anthropology favorite (and favorite man to hate in some spheres). Through his experiments with rhesus monkeys, he found that baby preferred the provider of love (cloth doll) over that of food (wire doll with milk). In all, his findings made it official: love is important to infant upbringing. In the episode’s acts, TAL brings us two stories of unconditional love of child when conditions are turbulent.

Act 1: What is that? Why am I here, not there?

It’s the typical story of sweet, love-drenched Americans teaching a token Eastern European to feel attachment to others. Only kidding; the exceptional account of Heidi and Rick Solomon’s adoption of a Romanian boy is unmatched: raised in a crib with no deep relationships with adults or childhood perks (“They don’t have March in Romania because I haven’t had a birthday before”) or a sense of the outside world, Daniel was soon diagnosed with attachment disorder that pointed at homicidal tendencies. Really, the whole ordeal exudes as much about the human condition under restrained circumstances as Tarantino would muster.

From Uma’s hottest maternal role (no, not this one):

Before that strip turned blue, I was a woman. I was your woman. I was a killer who killed for you. Before that strip turned blue, I would have jumped a motorcycle onto a speeding train… for you. But once that strip turned blue, I could no longer do any of those things. Not anymore. Because I was going to be a mother.

In particular, Kiddo’s return to kill Bill was also a moment of reuniting with her daughter for whom she had run away from her killer lifestyle and cultivated unconditional love. The homicidal carryover to B.B. and her parents’ continued strives for her betterment echo this act as well:

The moments at which seemingly effedup decisions must logically be made in the midst of unforeseen circumstances are moments of progress. When the Solomons inserted security guards and Heidi was told by professionals, “Daniel’s going to hurt you, your going to be in the hospital, he’s going to be a juvenile delinquent, and your husband is going to leave you,” her logic led her to prioritize, unconditionally, her love for an unlovable child and to make sacrifices for it.
Trying to teach love, or at the very least attachment, unconventional 1970s techniques are turned to (“He would sit on the couch and I would hug him: that was his punishment.”)

The lioness has rejoined her cub, and all is right in the jungle.

Act 2: We felt terrible, but at the same time, we felt liberated.

Dave Royko discusses his choices as the father of an autistic child, and the unconditional love that directed him to move his son to a facility in Wisconsin. As the Roykos denigrated the thoughtless remarks of outsiders on the sacrifices parents of autistic children make (“You are a saint for doing this,” etc), from the inside, “Ben’s autism was becoming a fatal condition for me personally,” said his wife.

Unconditional love revealed itself clearly when Ben’s brother asked if sending away his dangerously violent autistic twin was self-serving or truly for Ben’s good. Dave responded, “If he’s throwing tantrums like that, then he’s not happy here. Not happy enough.” His new Wisconsin digs proved to be more stimulating for his makeup and did indeed provide more than the family ever could.

Quoting a contemporary sage, “The greatest gift a parent can give a child is unconditional love. As a child wanders and strays, finding his bearings, he needs a sense of absolute love from a parent. There’s nothing wrong with tough love, as long as the love is unconditional.”

Of course, talking about unconditional love in ordinary company makes you look like an uninspired Hallmark card that reads BORING. It’s This American Life that can pull it off as responsibly yet attractively, as Jenna Jameson can make wearing a condom.