Marty Deeks is a complicated man of contradictions and extremes. We don’t know a lot about his early life, but what we do know is far from a fairytale. How did Marty Brandel’s difficult childhood filled with trauma influence the man Marty Deeks became? This question has always intrigued me, so I set out to answer it by learning about childhood trauma and its effects on adult survivors. Warning: A lot of science, and even more speculation, ahead.
|Before we get started
This is not an article infused with happiness (although – spoiler alert – it eventually ends pretty well for the hero of the story). I feel it necessary to issue a warning to anyone who might be triggered by discussions of child or domestic partner abuse, alcoholism, or their aftermath.
But before you stop reading, let me add that there are an astounding number of organizations, in the U.S. and other countries, which can help those needing to escape a currently abusive situation or trying to recover from a past one. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence has a wonderfully thorough list of places where victims and survivors of domestic violence can get help, including resources for children, teens, men, women of color, the disabled, and the LGBTQ community. In addition, mentalillnessmouse on Tumblr has compiled an equally thorough lists of mental health hotline numbers and on-line resources. If you need help, take a look.
One drink from disaster
When I was 11 years old, my dad was one drink away from killing my mom and me…
— Marty Deeks in “Plan B”
We don’t know many details about little Marty’s childhood, but we do have a basic outline of events. We know his dad was an abusive alcoholic. I’m assuming that Gordon Brandel was regularly physically and probably emotionally abusive to both his wife Roberta and his son. We know that when Marty was 11, he shot his dad in self defense when Gordon pointed a shotgun at them. His friend Ray Martindale had given him the gun for just this purpose, suggesting that such a violent encounter was part of a continuing pattern. Marty may have been arrested at the time, given his reference to records “sealed in a juvie court,” but we really don’t know. He did get into at least some trouble as a juvenile, stealing a car with Ray. Gordon was sent to prison, and in the end Marty’s relationship with his mother, and their life together, was much improved by his father’s absence.
Growing up Brandel
No child should ever be forced to shoot his own father.
— Roberta Deeks to her son in “Internal Affairs”
Let’s try to put this kind of childhood into some context. Child abuse is still an unfortunately common occurrence. Between 3 million and 25 million American children experience domestic violence in their home each year. Even though a report of child abuse is made every 10 seconds, many cases are never reported, which is why the estimated range is so wide. Little Marty was luckier than some: an estimated four American children die every day due to abuse and neglect. As for Roberta, she is among the one in three women who will be the victim of intimate partner violence at some point in their lives. Luckily, thanks to little Marty, she avoided becoming one of the three women who die every day as a consequence of that violence.
While Young Marty’s experience of being abused is common, how does his overall level of trauma compare? We can assess it using the findings of a landmark scientific study most people refer to as the ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) Study. In the 1990’s the Centers for Disease Control and Kaiser Permanente (a U.S. health plan) collected data from 17,000 plan members in Southern California (Deeks could have even been a participant) about their childhood experiences and current health status and behaviors. They continue to follow the study participants to this day to collect data on their health outcomes. They scored study participants on how many different types of adverse experiences they had as children, using a survey with ten of the most common. Here’s a simplified version of the survey. How would you score Marty Brandel? My score for him is on the right.
While you were growing up, during your first 18 years of life:
|1. Did a parent or other adult in the household often or very often… Swear at you, insult you, put you down, or humiliate you? or Act in a way that made you afraid that you might be physically hurt?||My score for Marty = YES|
|2. Did a parent or other adult in the household often or very often… Push, grab, slap, or throw something at you? or Ever hit you so hard that you had marks or were injured?||Another YES|
|3. Did an adult person at least 5 years older than you ever… Touch or fondle you or have you touch their body in a sexual way? or Attempt or actually have oral, anal, or vaginal intercourse with you?||NO, not that we know of|
|4. Did you often or very often feel that… No one in your family loved you or thought you were important or special? or Your family didn’t look out for each other, feel close to each other, or support each other?||Possibly before he shot his dad, but we don’t know for sure|
|5. Did you often or very often feel that… You didn’t have enough to eat, had to wear dirty clothes, and had no one to protect you? or Your parents were too drunk or high to take care of you or take you to the doctor if you needed it?||Hmmm. His dad was likely too drunk to take care of him but I assume his mom was sober and caring, so I give this a NO. But we don’t know for sure.|
|6. Were your parents ever separated or divorced?||I assume that’s a YES once his dad went to prison|
|7. Was your mother or stepmother: Often or very often pushed, grabbed, slapped, or had something thrown at her? or Sometimes, often, or very often kicked, bitten, hit with a fist, or hit with something hard? Or Ever repeatedly hit at least a few minutes or threatened with a gun or knife?||YES|
|8. Did you live with anyone who was a problem drinker or alcoholic or who used street drugs?||YES|
|9. Was a household member depressed or mentally ill, or did a household member attempt suicide?||Possible, but not that we know of|
|10. Did a household member go to prison?||YES|
|Now add up your “Yes” answers. This is your ACE Score.||6|
Based on my best guesses, I give Marty a score of 6 out of 10. Is that unusual? Let’s look at the ACE results.
Adverse childhood experiences are common: two-thirds (67%) of participants had at least one, and more than a quarter (27%) had at least three. Many of the dysfunctional situations included in the survey are actually linked. For example, a husband who abuses his wife is statistically more likely to also abuse his child than a non-abusive spouse. The presence of substance abuse also increases the risk of physical violence, while abuse and addiction increase the risk of mental illness and relational breakdown. There is a complex, inter-related web connecting all of these adverse experiences. Despite this, only 6% of people experienced six or more. In other words, the severity of Marty Brandel’s adverse childhood experiences was (thankfully) quite rare.
From Brandel to Deeks
Okay, you really want to do this? Have the Crappy Childhood contest with me?
— Deeks to Kensi in “Resurrection”
So Deeks might have been underselling it when he said he had a “crappy childhood.” But how does a childhood filled with trauma affect the child experiencing it, and how does that in turn impact the adult they grow up to be? The list of potential effects is seemingly endless, and includes greater risks for substance abuse, unintended pregnancy, mental illness, problems in school and work, and becoming a criminal, along with many other health problems.
There are many factors that determine how impacted any particular child might be. One is the number of adverse experiences: the higher the ACE score, the greater the effect on health and well-being. Marty scored a 6 out of 10, but it’s possible that he might have scored as high as 8 of 10 (and that’s not even counting the trauma of actually shooting his father, an act so rare the ACE survey didn’t include it). But the score alone does not tell the whole story. There are degrees of difficulty to every adverse experience. Let’s look only at child abuse for a moment. We know that the younger the child, the more severe or long lasting the abuse, and the higher the amount of self-blame or shame the victim experiences, the greater the likelihood of problems later in life.
At this point, you might be thinking that Marty Brandel seemed destined for a life of crime, depression, and ill health, and that is the unfortunate reality for many children with adverse experiences. However, many positive factors can mitigate their impact and promote a more positive future, like if the abuse is detected and stopped or if the family is provided with family support or other therapeutic services.
It’s important to note that children’s experiences of domestic violence are widely varied and unique. Some children do well and may not need additional supports as they grow into adulthood. Many if not most victims of childhood abuse and trauma grow up to become happy and well-adjusted adults. A child abuse survivor may be at greater risk of a particular health problem than someone who never experienced such trauma, but that is different than saying they are more likely than not to experience that problem. In other words, their chances may rise from 5% for someone who wasn’t abused, to 10%. Sure, they’re twice as likely to experience the problem, but they also have a 90% chance of not experiencing it. Statistics can be confusing!
And even though we’ll be talking at length about all the ways Deeks may have been impacted by his childhood, we should also keep in mind that the things we speculate about may in fact be merely coincidental, and not caused by his childhood trauma. Or – and way more likely – they may simply be totally random choices made by the writers, without any thought at all to his childhood experiences. Whatever the case may be, I do think the writers have approached Deeks’ and Roberta’s past traumas with sensitivity and thoughtfulness, something that has contributed to my love for Deeks and has prompted my many questions about how his childhood shaped the man we see today.
Ray Turner: What in the world is wrong with you?
Deeks: Well that is the eternal question, isn’t it?
— Deeks and SEAL hunter Ray Turner in “SEAL Hunter”
Over the course of this seven-part series, which will run about once a month, we’re going to take a closer look at all the impacts of childhood trauma on Marty Deeks, breaking them out into five separate discussions:
- Playing a Role. Children in dysfunctional families often assume distinct roles, which in turn shape them as adults. Was Marty Brandel the Hero, the Caretaker, or the Clown? (Hint: Children often assume more than one role.)
- Following the Rules. Dysfunctional families often impose distinct rules on their members as a way to hold things together. How was adult Deeks’ ability to express his emotions and to trust others impacted by these rules?
- Shame and Blame. Children who experience child abuse or witness domestic violence often experience feelings of shame, blame and low self esteem. How are these experiences reflected in the Marty Deeks we see now?
- A Little Delicate. Growing up in households like Deeks’ can affect survivors’ health in a huge variety of ways. What does Deeks’ “delicate” nature have to do with having a father like Gordon Brandel? And might his PTSD have been more directly related to his traumatic childhood than we knew?
- Always Shoot First. Deeks has such a highly developed dark side that he’s referred to it as an “alter ego”. How did his propensity to use violence to protect others grow from what he experienced as a child, and from what he was forced to do when he was 11 years old?
But don’t despair! We’ll also explore the factors that might have helped Deeks overcome such terrible childhood experiences and enable him to be successful in his work and more importantly, to sustain a strong and happy relationship with the woman he loves.
In the meantime, how did you score little Marty? Share your thoughts in the Comments below.
Want to read more?
- If you’d like to know how to help those who need it, check out The Pixel Project’s “16 Ways to Stop Domestic Violence in Your Community.”
- The HelpGuide has a great overview on the topic.
- Childhelp has some excellent infographics on child abuse and neglect.
- The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence has statistics galore as well as other resources, and you can find more statistics in this Huffington Post article.
- Visit the CDC’s website for more on the ACE Study. You can also take the quiz yourself in this NPR article. Or thumb through this book chapter by the ACE Study Co-Principal Investigator to see more of the wide range of effects of childhood trauma.
A huge Thank You to my fellow wikiDeeks collaborator Brenda for her assistance with research and editing of this article. Brenda is a nurse practitioner with more than 25 years of experience in caring for individuals experiencing significant trauma, and a PhD student whose research focuses on communication, conflict and ethics in human interactions. I’m very grateful for her input and review of this series.