By Chet Yarbrough
By Amity Gaige
Narrated by Will Collyer
Schroder is about personal identity. Every human being has an identity that is reinforced by relationship with others. One of the most important identity reinforcements is forged by marriage. There is only one good reason for two adults to get married; as trite as it may seem, it is love. When love leaves one partner in a marriage, it deconstructs the union of two or more people and, when a marriage dissolves, personal identity changes.
The individuation of one self is more complicated when children are part of a family’s dissolution. Husbands and wives disappear but fathers and mothers are eternal because every child continues to have a mother and father after divorce. Gaige amplifies that truth in “Schroder” by showing pieces of a father that endear and obliterate the ideal of “parent” as an identity. Schroder, the father in this break-up is also a son of an equally, if not circumstantially, dissolute union of a husband and wife; i.e. Eric Schroder’s own mother and father are separated with Schroeder’s father becoming the primary care giver.
This is a story written by a woman about a father. One may question the stories objectivity but Gaige sounds the depth of a father’s feelings about love for a child. When a child is first-born, a father is unsure of how his identity has changed. A mother feels change immediately; both physically, and emotionally. There is no comparable immediate change in a father.
Without over-simplifying a father’s relationship with his children, most men become emotionally bonded when a child begins to experience a world beyond a mother’s love. Gaige’s story shows how Schroder, the father, becomes emotionally bonded to Meadow, his daughter, when she begins to acknowledge her father’s existence.
Schroder’s life is more complicated than most father’s because his identity is a lie. His life is defined by lies and is only temporarily stabilized by his marriage to a woman who initially believes in him. Schroder is an illegal immigrant that fled East Germany with his father, a father that fell out of love with Schroder’s mother. Schroder consciously remembers his mother but only vaguely remembers their relationship. As a child, Schroder lives with his father after his father abandons his mother. Though he loves his father, he chooses to create a different identity for himself. He changes his name to Eric Kennedy from Eric Schroder. He abandons his father because the existence of his father does not fit the life he wishes to live. The irony is that he continues to love his father and mother even though he only vaguely remembers his mother and rarely visits his father.
Because Schroeder re-invented himself, he discounts emotional bonds with his parents and underestimates the importance of his bond with Meadow; that is until his wife falls out of love and changes the dynamic between him and his daughter. Though the drift of his wife’s affection is hurtful, Schroder is devastated by loss of relationship with Meadow, partly because his daughter is a critical part of his identity as Eric Kennedy. Gaige shows that parents drift apart because love has disappeared in one or the other. That marriage drift can be emotionally managed but a child’s bond, specifically in Schroeder’s circumstance, pushes him off an emotional cliff.
Schroder is driven to despair when his wife restricts parental access to Meadow. Schroder realizes how important his bond with Meadow is to his life and for his identity as Eric Kennedy. Eric Kennedy’s identity becomes psychologically un-anchored; i.e. he has abandoned his life as Eric Schroder with the loss of connection with a mother and father and he is about to lose his identity as Eric Kennedy with loss of connection with his wife and daughter.
In a psychologically deranged attempt to maintain his identity and relationship with Meadow, Schroeder kidnaps his daughter. He is a fugitive pursued by the government, without support of parents, and estranged from his wife. He becomes hostage to the love of his daughter. Schroder is caught by the government and Meadow is returned to her mother. In a twist of fate, Schroeder finds that his abandoned father died two months before his arrest. Schroder is jailed with a threat of deportation to Germany.
Defined by a daughter that no longer lives in his life, Schroder becomes like his father; abandoned by all. Eric is only a perception of himself. He wanders between two identities with no relational reinforcement. He wonders, who am I?
NOTE: The character of Schroder is partly based on the following real life identity thief profiled in Wikipedia.
Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter (born February 21, 1961) is a German impostor and murderer currently serving a prison sentence in the United States. In his late teens, Gerhartsreiter moved to the US, where he lived under a succession of aliases while variously claiming to be an art collector, a physicist, a ship’s captain, a negotiator of international debt agreements, and an English aristocrat.
In 1995, while using the assumed identity “Clark Rockefeller”, he married a successful businesswoman. The couple had one child, a daughter. Gerhartsreiter lived a prosperous lifestyle solely on his wife’s income. She became dissatisfied with his secretive, controlling behavior, and sought a divorce. Inquiries on her behalf revealed he had fabricated his name and family background. The couple divorced and Gerhartsreiter agreed to limited access to his daughter on supervised visits. Gerhartsreiter was arrested in 2008, six days after he abducted his daughter while she was on a visit. He was subsequently convicted of the custodial kidnapping of his daughter.
Aside from Clark Rockefeller, other aliases used by Gerhartsreiter included “Chris C. Crowe”, “Chris Chichester”, “Charles Smith”, “Chip Smith”, and others. Gerhartsreiter’s true identity was discovered after his arrest. Police had been seeking him since the 1980s as a suspect in the disappearance of a married couple. He was subsequently convicted of the 1985 murder of a man in California and is now serving 27 years to life in a California prison.