Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Innocent Bystander: How DaddyOFive Caused Me to Forgive My Stepbrother, and Myself

I'm sure most of you are already aware of the Internet Shitstorm Supreme that is the "DaddyOFive" YouTube scandal. If not, here's a quick summation (I've provided links with more detail, sources and pictures at the end of this post, as indicated by asterisks)

♦️In June of 2016 a man named Mike Martin and his wife Heather began uploading "prank videos" to YouTube under the name "DaddyOFive" (*1). The Martins' five kids consisted of Heather's three sons from a previous relationship (Jake, Ryan, and Alex), and Mike's two kids from his previous relationship (Emma and Cody). The videos were quite popular, and at their height the Martins had in excess of 750,000 subscribers and millions of views...views that were monetized via commercials. As the views piled up, so did the money, and eventually, the scrutiny. A number of YouTubers began to express concern about these so-called "pranks," including the popular news channel run by Philip DeFranco (*4). After DeFranco's video exposing DaddyOFive, many others followed suit, including a YouTuber named "Joy Sparkles BS," (*5) who apparently helped to get legal representation for Emma and Cody's birth mother, Rose Hall, (*3B) who was awarded emergency custody (*1B). Rose claims Mike had falsified records in order to gain custody of the kids after abandoning them for 7 years. She allegedly first contacted police about the videos late last year, but was told the videos were "corporal punishment" and they could not take action (*9B). It is unclear from my admittedly small amount of research at the date of publication whether or not the biological father of Heather's sons will take similar actions.♦️


I'd read a great deal about this Shitstorm, and watched some videos about it from a wide variety of sources, including DeFranco and Joy Sparkles. Most decried MonsterDad Mike and Stepmonster Heather as horribly abusive wastes of proper oxygen (*2). Others insisted the videos were "just pranks" and that the kids were "in on it." (*8) The Martins themselves admitted that "sometimes" Cody's reactions to the pranks were real, and sometimes they were "exaggerated"...a claim they would later, in the second of their videos addressing this scandal, retract and replace with the claim that all the videos were completely fake. 

First and foremost: I don't like pranks in general, with the exception of harmless but clever ones in the vein of Improv Everywhere (*11). I tend to agree with GradeAUnderA (*10) that most of them are fake as hell and should be viewed with suspicion. And as an abuse survivor myself, I've grown weary of people yelling "Abuse!" when it isn't warranted; for example, I've long been a veteran of Cafe Mom, where anything from letting a 10-year-old play football to feeding kids frozen veggies can lead to accusations of abuse and neglect. But in the spirit of fairness, I decided to watch some of the videos myself, with an open mind, and draw my own conclusions. 

I got a lot more than I bargained for. 

I started at the beginning, with the first "prank," which opens with Heather giddily telling viewers that she and Mike had come up with a great plan to prank Cody with what she calls "invisible ink" (it's actually disappearing ink). 


She poured some of the ink on the carpet, which was strewn with Uno cards. So far, not too bad. I expected them to wait somewhere out-of-sight until Cody went into his room and discovered the mess, and then they'd yell SURPRISE or GOTCHA or whatever.


This is not what happened. Instead, immediately after pouring the ink, Heather begins to scream for Cody. Cursing at him at the top of her lungs, she begins to pummel him with accusations, with Mike joining in on the "fun," reducing him to tears and panic as he denied any involvement. One of his stepbrothers attempts to intervene, to no avail. 

Finally, after what feels like an eternity of accusations and berating, they declare "it's just a prank, bro!" They refer to the stepbrother as "just an innocent bystander." No one is laughing at the joke...except for Mike and Heather.


I had to stop the video. It was too emotional. Too...familiar. Heather's yelling was too reminiscent of my own Stepmonster, and Mike's cruelty too similar to my father's. The more I watched, the harder it became. The split-second smile on Cody's face when told he was going to his Nana's house instead of to Disney World with the rest of the family (*6); the bruises from being punched and pushed into furniture; Heather referring to Rose's kids as "gingers" and "little shits"; Cody's frequent, desperate pleading to be left alone. I knew how all these felt. I knew what it was like to be derided for looking like my mom, how it felt to be singled out, what it was like to be called a "crybaby" for not taking the abuse in silence. I knew how it felt to be publicly humiliated for my father's amusement..and I know how high the likelihood is that far worse was happening when no one was looking. 


The Martins addressed the scandal twice on their YouTube channel. The second video is all that remains on the official "DaddyOFive" channel, as they deleted all the "pranks" (in vain, as many people downloaded and re-posted them). They are two very different videos, and yet, very much alike. 

In the first of the two videos, they claim the people concerned over the childrens' welfare are "haters," directing the kids to agree that they are treated well and enjoy the "prank videos" and all the extra stuff they can buy because of them. They insist that it is the "haters" who are causing "[the] children drama," simply because "they don't get the humor."  


I have absolutely no doubt in my mind whatsoever that THIS video was, indeed, scripted...and the kids were, in fact, acting for the first time. It was completing unconvincing. 


The second video to address the controversy was made after Emma and Cody were removed from their care and the Martins deleted the "prank videos" from their channel. In it, they attempt to apologize for the "pranks," calling the scandal the "worst week" of their lives. I have absolutely no doubt in my mind whatsoever that THIS video was, indeed, scripted...and the parents were, indeed, acting for the first time. 


As a result, the second video was no more convincing than the first. Their apology is especially suspect given that they blame Philip DeFranco, accusing him of conducting a "witch hunt" against them:

     "I'm sorry this all got out of hand. It wouldn't have ever got this out of hand if it wasn't for that DeFranco guy starting all of this, doing all of this to my family. He's responsible for this." ---Mike Martin


They also posted an apology on the "DaddyOFive" Twitter feed, and asked for help from their fans:




It's hard to accept these apologies when you've seen the videos: Cody's X-Box being destroyed in front of him; Mike instructing his stepson to slap Emma as part of a "game"; Ryan being taunted with homophobic slurs; Jake being pelted with eggs (Mike objects to this one...not because it's cruel, but because it's "wasting" the eggs); Cody being told he is being put up for adoption. It's plainly obvious that Cody, who is reportedly a special-needs child, takes the brunt of the abuse, with incidents including Cody being slammed into a bookshelf, punched in the arm by his dad, and body-slammed and having eggs thrown at his head by a stepbrother. One of the videos was even titled, "Using Cody for Target Practice!" Whole videos were uploaded to document Cody "ruining" something for the family. 


In one particularly disturbing video, Cody attempts to escape by hiding under his bed, only to be pulled out by his ankles while he screams at his tormentors to leave him alone. In one, Cody asks his parents, "Why do you need the camera?!? You don't need the camera for this!" He is, as usual, derided for standing up for himself in an attempt to just make it stop. 

The videos get more and more extreme as they get more and more views, making the Martins more and more money. They even sold merchandise to their fans, doing all they could to rake in the dough at the children's expense.


Although I watched several more videos in an attempt to discern whether or not these "pranks" were in fact abusive (they are), I kept thinking about that first one. Something about it would not let me go.

I soon realized what it was: I was not identifying with Cody. I identified with the stepbrother, the so-called "innocent bystander." Cody was my own stepbrother, "Thomas." And when I watched them again from that perspective...I felt as raw and dejected as Cody must have felt over and over again. 

For many years, my father was married to my stepmonster. He had four kids by my mom; she had six from her first marriage to a man I never met or saw even once in 18 years. We didn't have a happy childhood, which is an understatement as big as the Grand Canyon. Mike Martin is a rank amateur compared to my father. The hell we went through, I wouldn't wish on my very worst enemy. It played heavily in my decision to move as far away as I could without hitting an ocean. I had to grow up exposed to that toxic environment. My kids didn't. 

Thomas was a few years older than me. I didn't like him most of the time. I resented him for what I perceived as making bad situations worse. When my father would go off on one of his tirades, Thomas would defiantly tell him to stop, to leave him alone, to back off. My father called him "mouthy" and a "smartass." His "lip" never failed to escalate the abuse, and the rest of us--the innocent bystanders--often paid the price. Just witnessing it was a special kind of hell, even in those instances when the escalation didn't pull others into Dad's wrath. We'd despair when Thomas "talked back," and we blamed him for Dad's predictable reactions. He'd be getting the brunt of the abuse, and like Heather's sons, we would be upset with him! I couldn't begin to count the number of times I silently pleaded with him to just shut up so it could be over already...and the times I verbally begged him to "let it go." 

And for that, I owe him an apology. 

Watching Cody beg, plead, and demand to be left alone, for it all to stop, was a revelation. Nothing he said was wrong. In fact, he was incredibly brave to vocalize his needs, to stand up for himself when it was clear nobody else could or would. I saw Thomas, and saw that Thomas, like Cody, was right. And in his siblings, I saw myself: desperate for it to stop, or at the very least, not get any worse; fear that as it worsened, I and my siblings would be pulled into the eye of the storm along with him; and resentment towards him when we did. By the time Thomas left home at 16, I was torn between hating him and envying him for his escape. I have felt guilty about those feelings, but now, thanks to this Shitstorm Supreme, I realize that just as Thomas wasn't to blame, neither am I. 

In the remote possibility that you ever read this, please know how sorry I am. My anger and resentment were misplaced, a direct result of that horrific gaslighting and abuse we were subjected to. I didn't learn to stand up for myself until you were out of the house, and maybe if I had paid more attention to your words instead of my father's reactions to them...I would have done so much, much earlier. I never realized until now how big a part you played in my own attempts to draw a line in the sand...and eventually, at the first possible opportunity, to escape. When you left, I thought you were a horrible big stepbrother to abandon us like that, when really you were just trying to save yourself while you still could. Something I myself would do several years later.

There are some well-meaning people in my life who, upon hearing that I am completely estranged from most of my siblings, express with some urgency the belief that surely we can all put the past behind us and be a family again. The problem with that--a problem that no doubt Cody and Emma will understand all too well--is that we were never a family in the first place. 

My father took his parenting philosophy from the ancient Roman axiom: divide and conquer. We were all conscripted against our will to be spies against each other, to throw each other under the bus to save ourselves (something Stepmonster was quite adept at), and to view each other with distrust. And because it was far too painful to blame our own blood parents, my mom's kids blamed Stepmonster, and my stepbrothers blamed Dad. In truth, they were both culpable. There was more than enough blame to go around. 

It is no wonder that they want nothing to do with anyone connected to my father, and that we felt the same about their mother. I didn't attend their mother's funeral in 2006; they didn't attend my father's in 2010. 

There can be no reconciliation. There is simply nothing there to reconcile. We are not a family. We are, at best, former prisoners of war. 

From the bottom of my heart, I hope Cody and Emma thrive in their mother's custody and get the help they will need to break the cycle of violence. Therapy helped me tremendously. I hope and pray it will help them, too.

If you or anyone you know is suffering from abuse, please call:



*1: Washington Post articles:

*1A: Full story:

*1B: The Martins lose custody of the two youngest children:

*2: A.V. Club article:

*3: "Good Morning America" Interviews:

*3A: The Martins:


*3B: Rose Hall with her attorney, Tim Conlon of The Custody Place:


*4: Philip DeFranco's videos on the Martins:


*5: Joy Sparkles BS videos on DaddyOFive:

*6: Video "A Small Detail Everyone Missed":

*7: "The Bigger Picture: A YouTube Documentary":

*8: DaddyOFive fans and detractors:

*8A: Fans defend DaddyOFive on Twitter:

*8B: Reddit commenters discuss DaddyOFive:


*9: Nick Monroe's impressive journalism on this topic:

*9A: Article on the legacy of DaddyOFive:

*9B: Copy of police report:


*10: GradeAUnderA on prank videos:


*11: A real--and delightful--prank video, by Improv Everywhere, in which they put out a casting call for men of all shapes and sizes, synchronized their watches, and take off their shirts to mock Abercrombie & Fitch's infamous male models:


Saturday, May 06, 2017

A Message

All you have to do is call.

We love you.

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Virtues of Being a She-Wolf

One of the things I love about the Internet: even when the MonSter is out to make me bedridden, physically miserable and mentally bored out of my skull...I can have the cure for that last illness delivered straight to my door. Being too ill to hit a bookstore is no longer an obstacle to my never-ending book obsession. 

I am particularly grateful for this when I find myself stuck between a very specific rock and a hard place...the rock being a nasty attack of the trigeminal neuralgia and other MS-related ailments. And the hard place? Having nothing new to read to help get my mind off of the war my autoimmune system is waging against me.

And so there I was, in that precarious and unfortunate position: with pain at an 8 on the 1-10 pain scale, and I had turned the final page of my latest literary acquisition just last night: Elizabeth Norton's wonderfully enthralling biography, "Elfrida: The First Crowned Queen of England." 

Who is Elfrida, you might ask? Well, she is the latest leading lady in this "Royal Women I Know Next to Nothing About" phase I've been in these last few months.

Prior to reading Norton's book, the the only things I knew (or thought I knew) about Aelfthryth (called "Elfrida" in the book as a modernization) were: 

A) She was the second wife of King Edgar the Peaceful.

B) She was the stepmother of King Edward the Martyr and the mother of King Ethelred the Unready.

C) She ordered and participated in her teenaged stepson's murder in order to put her own 10-year-old son on the throne...and install herself as Queen Mother, quite possibly the highest position of power a woman could aspire to in the tenth century. 

Both and are correct...but C? That one is no longer the fact I once assumed it was, thanks to Norton's incredibly enthralling and well-researched book. It's one of those books where you feel disappointed when it ends, as it so skillfully envelopes you into this ancient world. It does what all truly good books, films, plays, and television shows do: it leaves you wanting more.

Even if I hadn't been left wanting more when I finished "Elfrida" last night, I most definitely would have (and did) this morning, when I woke up after almost four hours of fitful sleep by intense pain in my face, head, back, legs and feet. Oh, cruel MonSter and your devilish timing! What was I to do now?!?

But then, to my joy, the doorbell rang, and a beautiful new book about yet another queen who was possibly maligned by history fell into my eager and very grateful hands: "The Lady Queen: The Notorious Reign of Joanna I, Queen of Naples, Jerusalem and Sicily" by Nancy Goldstone. 

I know even less about the subject of my latest purchase, Joanna I, than I did about Elfrida. In fact, I know only enough to recognize her as one of the rare women of the Middle Ages/Medieval period who challenged the conventions of their society that demanded women remain in their male-appointed place and leave power and politics, war and law, and even literature and music, in the hands of men. Women like Eleanor of Aquitaine, the Empress Matilda, Queen Boudica, Isabella of Castile, Queen Regent Amalasuntha of the Ostrogoths, Christine de Pizan, Hildegard of Bingen, Isabella of France, Jeanne d'Arc, Matilda of Tuscany, Empress Theodora, Saint Ludmilla, Aethelflaed Lady of the Mercians, Olga of Kiev, Edith of England, Michitsuna No Haha, and Emma Queen of Franks. Women who deserve to be every bit as well-known as their male counterparts, like Alfred the Great, Henry V, Hannibal, Saint Benedict, Charlemagne, and Richard the Lionheart. 

It is said by memes and t-shirts everywhere that "well-behaved women rarely make history." And like most cliches, there's some truth to it. Some of the historical women I named above were amazing, and some of them were disastrous. Either way, they made history...and were likely to be labeled by the men who overwhelmingly were in charge of writing those histories as a "She-Wolf." 

It was meant as an insult, but I think we should re-claim the term, and make it a badge of honor. In centuries of male-dominated wolf packs, sometimes a She-Wolf would emerge and reign supreme. 

I will now, hurt and exhausted, gladly curl up with my new book. The MonSter I fight in real life can't triumph over the She-Wolves battling in the pages within. Into the world of Joanna I of Naples, Jerusalem and Sicily I go. I wonder what I will learn this time?


Wednesday, March 01, 2017

For Those Left Behind: The Horror of Vandalized Cemeteries

I woke up yesterday morning and proceeded in my routine as I usually do: pray; read my daily Bible verse; check blood sugar*; take morning medications, read the news.

And what I read shocked me...and frightened me;

In short: a Jewish cemetery was once again vandalized, An occurrence which, while not quite becoming terribly nonetheless not unheard-of in Trump's America.

So why the shock and fright? This one was in Philadelphia. The city in which my mother-in-law was born, raised, and educated. The city where, while both studying at Temple, my in-laws met, fell in love, and were married. And the city where, not even a decade ago, her elderly parents died and were buried.

My in-laws are Jewish, and my mother-in-law's parents were buried in their beloved hometown.

Worse, my mother-in-law recently underwent a serious surgery which required a hospitalization and from which she is still recovering, and in a good deal of pain. Should her patents' graves be vandalized, it could, in her current state, be enough of a shock to send her right back to the hospital. She is a kind and good-hearted woman, and loved her parents deeply. It would devastate her.

So I quickly looked up the obituary for my husbad's Popop, who died shortly after his wife. And sighed with relief to discover it was not the cemetery in question.

Hard upon the heels of that relief, came the sympathy. I knew that somewhere, someone else's daughter-in-law was finding out the opposite. Somebody's spouse, child, friend, was desperately trying to figure out how to break the news to loved ones. Those somebodys were devastated. They were struggling to understand why this atrocious crime was committed, who did it, and would they ever be brought to justice.

And like me, they were wondering how many more times it was going to happen in a country where its prejudiced underbelly now feels emboldened and encouraged to perpetuate such atrocities. All over the country, millions of somebodys are wondering what will be next. Where will they next strike. And above all: how bad is it going to get,

It seems every new day brings us stories of disgusting rhetoric on social media, of horrible crimes committed; people attacked, marginalized and traumatized based on their skin color, their religion, their sexual/gender identities, their disabilities, their  ethnic backgrounds and countries of origin. Sometimes, it's only their perceived minority status, with people attached because they appeared to be Muslim, they looked like an illegal Mexican, they were suspected of taking a penis into a female restroom. Increasingly, the headlines that read as if this were 1957, not 2017.

Vandalizing cemeteries has always been a cowardly and sick crime, compounded exponentially when hate is the motivation. It is an attack on people's grief, on their losses. We are none of us immune to loss and grief. We have all lost people we have loved. I've lost two in little over a year myself. It's a pain that we all share, with which we all should be able empathize. It is part of the human experience.  Which is why those who perpetuate these kinds of crimes are generally reviled by society. It's abhorrent, morally reprehensible act that dehumanizes the criminals who partake in it. Possibly they are amoral or sociopathic, and lack the ability to empathize or acknowledge that others have genuine feelings. Maybe their hate has consumed their humanity. It's not something I understand, or want to understand.

I want what I think most Americans want: to have the graves of loved ones respected and untouched, to allow those we have lived and lost to Rest In Peace, and to allow us a safe and honored place to memorialize and mourn our dead. To have others treat our grief as we would treat them and theirs.

Is that really too much to ask?

*I was diagnosed with type II diabetes last year. I will make a post on it sometime in the near future.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Throwback! Salem Tattoo Convention: 2014

PLEASE NOTE: I wrote this post shortly after visiting the tattoo convention on May 30th, 2014. Life has gotten hectic since then, and the post slipped my mind...until I opened the Blogger app and saw the post still sitting there, unpublished. Sorry about that! Better late than never....


The Male Unit and I love tattoo conventions. He had a rare Friday off work (after being named Employee of the Month!), so yesterday we headed out to Salem, the capital of Oregon, and the first Salem Tattoo Convention.

The convention was held at the Oregon State Fairgrounds building. Parking was close by, and at $3, a fair price. In addition, the convention featured many classic cars which were fun to explore and admire.

It was a pretty good turnout, with artists from Oregon, Washington, California, Arizona, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Manchester, England. The emcee was entertaining, the contests were enjoyable and the company was fantastic. A local roller derby was on hand (and on skates) to help give out prizes to the winners. 

My only complaint was the complete lack of air conditioning...not a good thing for heat-reactive me. I made a rookie mistake by not calling ahead of time. It was made worse by my choosing to take a cane and leaving my wheelchair at home. My feet & legs are so sore...but it was so worth it.

I have a convention tradition: I always get a butterfly tattoo. I'd like someday to be able to count how many conventions I've attended by counting butterflies! And yesterday was no exception. My other butterflies are on my legs, and are blue & purple. This time, I wanted a Monarch in all its orange & black beauty. I also decided on a different body placement: my first chest tattoo. 

After making the rounds and going through many photo books, I happened upon local Portland artist AJ. I love supporting female artists and was glad to come across one with exceptional skill. I was quite surprised to learn she'd only been tattooing for three years. Her level of proficiency usually takes years and years to achieve. And then I saw in her book a tattoo of morning glories. For years, the plan has been to have morning glories on vines on my left leg from foot to hip (I have them on my foot and ankle thus far.) AJ's morning glories were amazing. I was sold. 

was immediately at ease with AJ and truly enjoyed talking with her. She reminds me of Joan Jett: a kickass, take-no-prisoners rawk empress. She has lovely tattoos along her jawline, and an impressive portrait of the late Amy Winehouse on her leg. 

It wasn't just ink talk: AJ's had an eventful life! I enjoyed hearing her talk about her days in the military and life in a post-Katrina Louisiana gulf coast town. I had read how the small towns and cities devastated by the hurricane were ignored in favor of rebuilding New Orleans, but it was interesting (and poignant) to hear it from someone who lived it first-hand. 

While doing the prep work for my butterfly, I talked ink with AJ's assistant. At one point, I mentioned that I intended to get a treble clef on the knuckle of my right ring finger in honor of my orchestra teacher in elementary school, Mrs. Oldham. To my surprise they offered to throw that one in! I had not intended to get that particular design today, but thought, "What the hell. Sounds like fun!" 

So for the first time at a convention, I obtained two tattoos instead of one (not to mention a design that was not a butterfly.) 

Speaking of the Male Unit...while I was getting prepped for my chest butterfly (which kinda sounds like a bad late-70's prog rock band), Jonathan was getting some ink of his own, courtesy of Lance from Aardvark Tattoo (also a local PDX shop.) 

For years, he has wanted to get tattoos in honor of our three kids. He finally began to work towards that goal, with a fiery forearm tattoo to symbolize our firstborn, Phoenix. 

When he finished, he came by AJ's booth and watched as she was putting the finishing touches on my butterfly. Because of its location, this meant Jonathan saw my new tattoo before I did. The look on his face told me all I needed to know: it was fabulous. 

When I got to look at last, I had to agree: it truly is beautiful. I love it, and can't wait to get more ink from AJ! 

A funny realization hit my husband on the drive back to Portland: for the first time in our loooooong relationship, I now have more tattoos than he does! As far as I am concerned, this means he needs a new tattoo for Father's the spirit of fairness & equality. 

Thanks to everyone who made this convention possible, and a special thanks to AJ and Lance! You both ROCK!

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I am going to mama-brag for a moment, and as a result I will no doubt embarrass my daughter, Serenity Singer. But I am her mother, and it's my prerogative. 

She reminds me so much of my own mother, whom I lost to breast cancer when Wren was just a toddler. She inherited my mom's gorgeous, dark green Irish eyes. Wren does exceed my mom's eyes in one aspect: the naturally dark, curly lashes she gets from her father. They remind me a bit of Elizabeth Taylor's. 

She also inherited my mother's elegant hands. When I was a child, I would watch my mom write and just be fascinated by her hands: long, graceful fingers and natural French-tip nails that many women would (and do) pay a small fortune for! I am so glad to get to see those hands again, in her granddaughter. 

But those are just the externals. Where my daughter really takes after my mother is in her nature: kind-hearted, a loyal friend, a sardonic sense of humor, a love of cats and books and tea. And above all, her sensitivity, her generosity, and her strong sense of empathy. 

Sometimes, it's like a piece of my mom remains here, in her granddaughter. And I am thankful to G-d for it. 

Friday, October 21, 2016

No Words