Archive for divorced dads

Mexico-US Child Custody

Mexican father battles to raise his U.S. son

The above article refers to a situation that will no doubt be a harbinger for future custody cases.  Back in the 80’s we had a cartoonist, Gary Larson, who often used animals to point out the many foibles of American society.  My all-time favorite showed two scientists, with their obligatory white smocks and clipboards, that were finishing a dolphin communication research project. Two dolphins were in a pool and one said to the other, “Como esta usted?” and the other one replied, “Estoy bien, gracias”

The two scientists both had looks of extreme frustration on their faces and one of them exclaimed, “Let’s call this off, we’re never going to understand this dolphin language!”

Last week I went to a couple of websites because I was curious about the nations with the highest and lowest percentages of bilingual speakers.  It should surprise no one that the US was near the bottom of the list with only about 14%.  It’s a global disgrace that foreign languages are almost never part of an American elementary school curriculum and that 14% figure is even more ludicrous when one considers that our nation is roughly 15% Hispanic and that the state in question, New Mexico, has perhaps the highest percentage of both Hispanics and bilingual speakers in the nation!


Leave a Comment

Black Fathers Matter

This title is the speakers riff on the organization that in 2015 became a media darling, Back Lives Matter.  Despite the fact that proportionally far fewer black men have been killed by police now, as compared to 50 or 60 years ago, this group had been given almost blanket media coverage.

The speaker on this five minute tape, Larry Elder, is one of the most compelling commentators on race relations in America today (I’d love to hear a debate between him and Mr. Obama on the topic).  He notes that in the “bad old days” (one could choose that same 1950-1965 era or even go back to the days of slavery), a black child was as much as ten times more likely to be born into an intact family than he/she would be today.

The New York Times chose to celebrate this year’s Fathers’ Day by pointing out that a foundation had recently come across a few letters that Barack Hussein Obama Sr. wrote to his son.  The Times noted that so far the junior Mr. Obama has shown no interest in the letters.  Unfortunately, this same lack of interest has been demonstrated by him in regard to how one of his main group of political contributors, the trial lawyers, prop up a family court system so prejudiced against fathers that most of them “abandon ship” early. This is one of the main factors leading to a 73% chance, in black families (and a 53% chance in Hispanic ones), that the dad won’t be around when the child is born, which in turn has lead to the 20 trillion dollars in “War on Poverty” spending since 1965.


Leave a Comment

Black History Month and Equal Parenting Part III

Since the Oscars were on this week it seemed appropriate to talk about films for this topic.  Race was certainly the overhanging theme of this year’s event and kudos must be given to Chris Rock for making it  a relatively light-hearted four hours after the media had brought a couple of months of “Sturm und Drang” by constantly linking race and the film industry.

I plan to bring these two disparate topics together by comparing and contrasting two films from 1967.  The first of these is “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”.  I read that it was the biggest box office comedy in history until surpassed by “The Graduate”, which was released just a few months later.  “Dinner” had a trio of dramatic actors, Sidney Poitier, Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy.  Tracy and Poitier were multiple Oscar winners and Ms. Hepburn still holds the honor of the greatest number of “Best Actress” Oscars.

The film harks back to last week’s observation that in the 50’s and 60’s a black man had to be twice as talented/successful to be considered half as good.  Poitier’s character is off the scale completely: an Ivy-League educated physician who does Dr. Schweitzer-like work for children in Africa.  To add to his saint-like demeanor, his wife and young son had died in a car crash a few years earlier.  Thus, he was even able to surpass Tom Hank’s character, in “Sleepless in Seattle” who merely had to cope with a wife’s cancer death (having been in a couple of relationships with women who were turned off by my custody battles, I can tell you that there’s an incredible difference between having to cope with a widower and dealing with a shrieking ex-wife).

Overall, one must say that “Dinner” was a superb combination of great acting, a lively script (winner of a Best Screenplay Oscar) and a delicate interweaving of comedy and drama.  There was great chemistry between all three sets of couples, the dazzling young pair, Poitier’s working class mom and dad and of course Kate and Spencer, probably the best on-screen (and some say off-screen as well) couple of all time.  The film certainly captures the race relations of its era  perhaps better than any in history.

Also in 1967 was “Divorce American Style”, or in this context it could be called “Guess Who’s Not Coming to Dinner”.  It was directed by Norman Lear, who was considered a comedy genius in the 70’s for “All In The Family” and “The Jeffersons”, both of which tackled race relations with full gusto but that topic is completely missing in “Style”.  Virtually the entire cast was lily-white but the dads in the film certainly had as much second-class status as most minority groups.  Two of the great comic actors of the 60’s, Dick Van Dyke and Debbie Reynolds, play the main divorcing couple and Van Dyke is shocked to find that he now has to live on $87/ week ($31,000 per year in 2016 dollars) and of course has only a token amount of time with his children.  Two other Oscar-winning dramatic actors, Jason Robards and Jean Simmons round out the cast. Pardon the pun but one would have to classify this one as a “black comedy”.

Alimony is a real obsession for the men, and to be fair, this was reformed a bit in the 70’s under “no fault” divorce laws.  What has not changed is attorney’s getting rich over the dad’s misery.  Near the end of the film Jason Robards’ character sadly laments: “The trouble is the legislature.”  Truer words were never spoken, especially in California.  Over the intervening four decades, many equal parenting bills have been introduced but they don’t make it out of commitee thanks to trial lawyers and taxpayer-subsidized feminist groups. Indeed a father in California in the 21st century has about as much chance of achieving equal time with his children as a black man found getting equal justice in Mississippi in the 1960’s: as seen by that other great 1967 Sidney Poitier film, “In The Heat of the Night”.



Leave a Comment

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.


Leave a Comment

Equal Parenting in the UK and the US

With the holidays approaching we should all recognize the fact that millions of parents around the world will miss seeing their children due to parental alienation syndrome and/or shortsighted family court decisions. While American males (along with Australians) are generally considered to be among the “wildest and craziest” on the planet, it is noteworthy that only British dads have caught the media’s attention for their death-defying feats to bring attention to our cause.
The Scotland Yard expert cited brought us a statistic very similar to American ones: “90% of UK gang members grew up in fatherless homes”. In the US this is often seen as mostly an African-American issue but the author here quite rightly notes that there’s been a 40% hike in suicides for ALL British men in their 40’s.
This statistic correlates quite well with last month’s Princeton University study which found that death rates for white Americans aged 45-54 climbed one-half percent per year from 1999-2013, in stark contrast to the previous two decades when the death rate had fallen 2% per year for the same group.
The authors of the Princeton study took their data from the CDC, who said that the greater number of deaths was due to drugs, alcohol, suicide and liver damage.  The Princeton researchers were both economists, which no doubt led to them attributing this steep increase in death rates to economic factors alone.
Perhaps these two economists should interview Mr. Daubney of The Telegraph to get to the root of what I like to call a “jurigenic disorder”. Fatherless kids might also be the basis for a question for this week’s last presidential debates before the holidays.

Leave a Comment

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.

Leave a Comment

Celebrity dads and the work-life balance
In the above article the New York Times sees Paul Ryan and Joe Biden as great role models for American fathers and they are right of course. Now if only the Times would lobby for family courts to enter the 21st century and abandon their default position of sentencing divorced dads to a life as “Disneyland Dads”: every other weekend and every other Wednesday night with their kids.

Leave a Comment