Archive for November, 2015

Climate Change, Media and Child Custody


No, that’s not a misprint-I would guess that those three topics have seldom, if ever, been combined in a title.
I was inspired this morning by watching CNN’s gushing coverage of the climate change talks in Paris this week, which featured President Obama claiming that climate change was both “intertwined with terrorism” and an immediate threat to national security.
This represents a dazzling example of how the media influences current events.
First, simply by what it calls the event. For a couple decades it was “global warming” but in the last few years, when the data didn’t seem to support much, if any warming, it was climate change. This was very handy since the climate has been constantly changing for the last four billion years!
Besides CNN, the Weather Channel (in early 2015 the most widely distributed cable channel, with over 97 million subscribers) has been prominent in hyping natural disasters and giving the impression that they are increasing at an alarming rate. They are owned by NBC and thus are the tag-team weather-disaster champs. Among many “inconvenient truths” they both ignore are the fact that we haven’t had a category three hurricane hit the continental US in ten years (a category four in more than 20 years!) and that Americans consistently rate global warming/climate change either at or very near the bottom of a list of national problems.
If one wants a balanced approach to climate, one should google Bjorn Lonborg, the Danish scientist who believes that man-made climate change is real but that the trillions of dollars being proposed in Paris to transfer from the US and EU to kleptocratic third world dictators could be much better spent on clean water and natural gas projects for those same nations.
So where’s the media on child custody? Despite deifying science when it comes to the above topic, they ignore the majority of social scientists who have found that fathers are crucial for a child’s development. The Lifetime Channel (I used to tease my mother when she watched it and called it the Life-Crime channel) is the dramatic equivalent of the Weather Channel and its villains are evil husbands/boyfriends who want to either take or kill their children, rather than hurricanes, fires, droughts and floods.
As for news channels, they completely ignore any American father fighting for the right to have equal parenting time while concentrating on two high-profile international cases, both of which were only covered after the mother died. They thus played it safe by glamorizing widowers as did 1960’s sitcoms like “The Andy Griffith Show” and “My Three Sons”.
The most recent of these was the David Goldman case. It began in 2004 when the Brazilian mother took her son back home and refused to return. Despite signing the Hague agreement on child custody, Brazil refused to cooperate, as is very common in international cases. In 2009, after the mother died, NBC finally became interested when the mother was out of the picture and it had become a battle between Goldman and the Brazilian grandparents. NBC Dateline’s coverage of the case inspired Congress to become involved and the boy was fairly quickly returned to his dad after that but only after losing more than five years of parental contact!
The other international case was that of Elian Gonzalez in 1999-2000. In this one the mother died in a raft trying to reach Florida from Cuba and the boy was taken in by his relatives in Miami. The Cuban government put strong international pressure on the Bill Clinton administration to return the boy. I happened to be visiting Cuba to practice my Spanish in early 2000 and saw what was reported to be a million people, all wearing red and white Elian T-shirts, marching through the streets of Havana. After a few months, Attorney General Janet Reno became involved, sent in a SWAT squad and the world witnessed perhaps the most famous child custody case ever as aunts, uncles and grandparents tried to tug the boy away from the heavily-armed SWAT soldiers.
60 Minutes did a follow-up several years later and of course made Cuba look like a tropical paradise. The inconvenient truth they downplayed there is that Mr. Gonzalez works in hospitality and garners higher earnings through tips than a Cuban physician does and thus Elian’s house was far nicer than the typical Cuban abode and, in fact, the house has now been turned into a national museum.
To close I’ll briefly cover child custody in films. Somewhat parallel to the 60’s TV single dads who were all widowers, these first three films show kids abandonded by their moms. Last week I talked about Pierce Brosnan’s starring role in “Evelyn”. Two other ones with “runaway moms” were Dustin Hoffman in “Kramer versus Kramer” and Will Smith in “The Pursuit of Happyness (sic)”.
All three had tremendous performances by the fathers but only Kramer was an actual custody struggle, when the mother returns halfway through the film. It was also the only one of the three that received Oscars.

Two film deserve special attention.  The first is the “tour-de-farce” Mrs. Doubtfire.  My 13 year old son enjoyed this one, probably the only one here he would like.  There are rumors that it approximated Robin Williams’ own divorce and the humiliating visitation scenes so many of us have been part of.  It’s also rumored that his suicide was partly due to the financial pressure of alimony/child support payments which would have forced him to re-enact more painful visitation scenes in a sequel.

The only international child custody film is the remarkable “Not Without My Daughter”.  Sally Fields shines as the heroine after being a “nice villainess” in Doubtfire.  It certainly spotlights Iranian-American cultural differences and fits easily in our current zeitgeist of Middle East conflict.
Finally, I must mention “Sleepless in Seattle” since it fits the 60’s single dad-widower stereotype. One poll named it runner-up in “The most romantic film of all time”. For one who has spent many years as a single dad, I can candidly reveal that real life is almost never like that!

In conclusion, just as “climate change” will go down as one of history’s greatest political slogans, so too will “best interest of the child” as the basis of child custody decisions.  Unfortunately, in the latter case, the media has mostly been conspicuous in its absence.


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Irish Divorced Dads

Last week’s post covered parents in France and Belgium who must be constantly vigilant in regard to their teenagers’ choices of websites. The above link refers to another European nation, Ireland, one I know far better than those two francophone countries. Three quarters of my ancestors are Irish and I was raised Catholic, as were over 90% of the citizens of the Republic of Ireland (as opposed to the Protestant Northern Ireland, which is , for the most part, proudly part of the United Kingdom).
Most Americans don’t realize the huge impact the Irish have had on the USA. We are the #2 ethnic group, behind only the Germans. The Irish have become secularized, as have virtually all Americans, but the Catholic Church has yet to fully liberalize divorce and remarriage, so there remains a bit more stigma to single parenting than that found among the typical American. One of the most interesting statements from the article is that divorced dads can help their ex-spouses pursue their careers by helping with childcare.
This points out the #1 difference with life here because in the US 75% of custodial mothers move within the first four years after a divorce, often making such arrangements impossible. Ireland is like the Scandinavian nations featured in last years fantastic film, Divorcecorp, where childcare is easily shared because up to half the population lives in one metropolitan area.
Speaking of films, I should point out the wonderful Irish father-custody film, Evelyn. It stars Pierce Brosnan, who ironically was the bad-guy in perhaps the most famous father-custody film, Mrs. Doubtfire. In that he portrayed that archetypal villain all divorce dads hate, the suave, handsome, wealthy suitor of one’s ex. Brosnan really makes amends for that role by being a loving father of three who loses custody of his three kids, partly due to that bete noire of the Irish, alcohol.
It is based on the true story of a man who takes his case to the Irish supreme court and won. As one who wrote his own brief to the California Supreme Court, won, and received no benefit whatsoever, I can only congratulate that hero, Desmond Doyle, on having the luck of the Irish!

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Rise of the “Bedroom Jihadists”

I heard this term for the first time on Friday in reference to the shocking events in Paris.
It refers to the fact that in nations such as Belgium and France there are a significant number of teenagers who have become radicalized typing away on their computers at night, with many parents unaware until it is too late.
The above link is to a 2014 story of a Belgian dad who felt it was his responsibility to bring his son back from Syria. Having succeeded in this perilous venture, he felt obliged to help other parents caught in their own dangerous dilemmas.
As a parent with a teenage son who loves video games, I find myself constantly monitoring his choices of web sites. Although this is undoubtedly more of a problem with boys, girls too, both in the US and Europe, have fallen victim to the siren call of online radical jihadists.
Last week’s post focused on the fact that conservative commentators on “family values” are oblivious to the deleterious effects of family courts.  This new peril of “cyber conversions” is yet another reason for family court judges to make absolutely sure that BOTH parents have regular access to their children after divorce because it is far easier for a teen to fool one parent rather than two.

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Boys’ Development, Family Court and the Media Redux

Last week’s post covered the literary luminaries on the right and their utter ignore-ance (no,that’s not a typo) of family court and its deleterious effect on American society.
Today it’s only fair to turn to the New York Times, the bulwark of the media’s far larger left side. The above is an example of a well-written and well-researched article that ignores the elephant in the room: family court, which incentivizes one parent to deny their childen’s access to the other parent. It is as if one did an analysis of the antebellum South and ignored race.
Speaking of which, the media has come under sharper focus this week because of its handling of autobiographical comments by the Republican Party’s first serious black presidential candidate, Dr. Ben Carlson. He contends that his life has come under a microscope compared to the relatively scant media coverage given to Mr. Obama’s early years.
I find it very interesting that these two men, one from the right, the other from the left, but both from single parent homes and very media-savvy, have followed the lead of both the left and right media and ignored this leviathan that looms over the lives of millions of American children.

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Conservatives, Family Structure and Family Court

The above link is to an excellent article by Jonah Goldberg entitled “Why family structure matters”. Mr. Goldberg is near the top of a group of insightful conservative commentators that includes Peggy Noonan, Charles Krauthammer, George Will, Charles Murray and last, for comic relief, Mark Steyn.
All of them have made brilliant observations on the ills of modern American society and yet I can’t recall any of them referring to family court as an elemental part of those ills.
I’m singling out Mr. Goldberg because he is occasionally printed in that liberal bastion, the L.A. Times but also because he wrote what I consider to be the best book on historical politics in the last half century, “Liberal Fascism”. He uncovers amazing and long-hidden gems like the thousands arrested for treason under Woodrow Wilson and the radical environmentalist proclivities of Adolf Hitler.
In this article he cites the old master of family structure analysis, Daniel Patrick Moynihan (would that we had a mind like his in today’s Democratic party) as well as more contemporary observers of the importance of family structure. After citing a couple of them, Goldberg notes that while two loving biological parents in an intact family is the ideal, “The choices facing couples in the real world are always about comparing imperfect alternatives.”
This would have been the perfect time to insert that fact that one viable imperfect alternative is a divorced couple working out a practical co-parenting plan that includes significant time with both parents. There is a real role for the family court here in facilitating this co-parenting, rather than the more typical outcome of devising an apartheid-like program of assigning one parent the humiliating role of “visitor”.
The fact that virtually all of these conservative cognoscenti seem unaware of this blight on our society is truly tragic and correcting this oversight is my main goal for the next decade.

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