Black History Month and Equal Parenting Part II

This blog began a little over 13 months ago, on MLK Day in 2015.  I decided to have my first blog entry relate to Dr. King because back in 2009 I had addressed the State of California Elkins Family Law Task Force in Los Angeles and used that nexus to family court and received a hearty response.  I had been very nervous before the speech because my family court judge was on the panel but, as it turned out, she was absent that particular day.

For the first time on this blog, I’ve decided to devote a blog entry to autobiographical information.  One reason I am doing so is that I believe that I’m one of a minuscule minority of family court litigants who was also active in the civil rights struggles of the 1960’s.  I beg your indulgence for also making this my first stream of consciousness entry.

The first element of this civil rights-family court connection is being raised Irish Catholic by parents who were older than the average.  Today it is very common for a woman in her late 30’s to be a mother but in mid-century America it was very uncommon.  It was also very rare that the wife was several years older than the husband, a factor which could have led to me finding it easy to oppose a majority opinion.

One of my earliest memories was my mom telling me that the Ku Klux Klan had placed a burning cross in her family’s yard in upstate New York when she was a young girl, in the 1920’s. Thus I learned early that religion, as well as race, could spark the flames of bigotry (the consensus is that the Klan targeted blacks first, followed by Jews and then Catholics).

The other part of being Irish Catholic was being sent to 12 years of parochial schools.  During my eight years of grade school, the most significant event was the election of John Kennedy as president.  The nuns in my school may as well have had pom-poms they were so enthusiastic in their devotion to JFK. This became even more poignant in 9th grade when I saw him at the Dallas Airport just a few minutes before his assassination.

In high school I was taught by the Jesuits, traditionally known as “God’s marines”.  This was the mid to late 60’s when many of my teachers were caught up in the civil rights struggle that was on everyone’s mind, particularly in the South.  A few of the priests and seminarians who taught us even left teaching to demonstrate in deep-Southern states like Mississippi and Alabama.

The second element of my civil rights-family court connection has been my background in athletics.  Like most Texas boys I loved football and that was my first choice in sports but I was rail-thin and the coaches just laughed when I tried out.  The next sport was basketball and I was undergoing a 9th grade growth spurt which made coordinating my newly-found long arms and legs very difficult.

The next sport was track and I was so humiliated by losing in a middle distance race to a chain-smoking classmate that I vowed to train hard (inspired by the 1964 Tokyo Olympics) and became a two-time State of Texas two-mile champion.  I was lucky that it was still the pre-Title IX era (hey, we need something like that for dads in family court!) and I received a full scholarship to SMU in Dallas.  The other great thing about track was that, unlike with other sports, I compared my performance to runners all over the world, which stimulated my lifelong interest in world affairs (I even recall writing an essay on South African apartheid in high school).

Southern Methodist University had its own connection with civil rights when it gave the first athletic scholarship to a black athlete in the entire Southwest Conference, football player Jerry Levias.  In my sophomore year there, I became good friends with one of the very first black students at LSU, Louisiana State University.  He made me aware of local civil rights issues and I can still vividly recall the trepidation entering the athletic dining hall in 1968 and being the only one (even including the few black athletes) who wore a “Save Matt and Ernie” t-shirt. These were two Dallas activists, Matt Johnson and Ernie McMillan who received a 30 year prison sentence for staging a protest against high food prices in local black neighborhoods.The other important point about track and field is that “the stopwatch doesn’t lie”: the sport is a pure meritocracy.  In the 1950’s athletes like Willie Mays and Jesse Owens had to be “twice as talented to be considered half as good (something that surely applies to dads seeking equal custody in most family courts today)”. It is no coincidence that the Congressman that I consider to have done the most to expand economic opportunities for minorities was also an athlete, the late great Jack Kemp.


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