Archive for parenting

Teens and Race Part 3: Big D

Dear Son,

Last week I told you a few things about my birthplace and where I lived until your current age, 14.  Just before my 9th grade I had a triple shock: I would be going to an all-boys school, had to wear a uniform and we were moving to Dallas, Texas.

After WW II my parents returned to my Dad’s hometown of Kansas City, Missouri but the job prospects were slim there. So, he took a job in the once-again boom-town of Tulsa. A quarter century later he got a lucrative job transfer to the new boom-town of Dallas-amazingly both moves were about 260 miles south.

The city was quickly expanding north and my school, Jesuit College Prep had decamped from an inner city area to the north edge of the city.  Because it was considered the most prestigious Catholic school in Dallas, the students often came from wide distances, 10-30 miles was common. Unlike my Tulsa schools there was some diversity but only a handful of blacks and only one Jew! However, there were two big ethnic groups, Italians and Hispanics.  The ethnic slurs for those groups were much more widely heard than “the n-word”.

We moved into town in August, 1963 and my brother and I slowly adapted to very different environments.  At school in Tulsa politics=JFK.  The nuns were so proud of our first Catholic president that they engaged in propaganda (a good old Medieval Catholic word) that would probably be banned today. In Dallas my teacher was a black seminarian who had us analyze Dylan songs and discussed civil rights. In fact the next year he and a couple other teachers got up and left, seemingly on very short notice, to march for civil rights in Mississippi and Alabama.

At the end of my third month in Dallas, my political instincts had been stoked to the point that I was very excited to hear that we would be released from school for JFK’s visit and that my Dad wanted us to see him at the airport.  Three years earlier we’d seen Nixon do a quick drive-through in Tulsa but this sounded more intimate and indeed it was.  The car-caravan was just beginning so we got a relatively good look.

On returning home I was listening to my beloved rock and roll on the radio when an announcer broke in to say, “The president has been shot!” Of course we all couldn’t conceive of the president actually being gone, so we immediately turned on the TV for updates.  Within a few minutes, though, the terrible truth emerged. I recall a huge controversy at the time, “Should the NFL cancel its games that were scheduled only two days after the assassination?”

To me, watching the news and sports that weekend, it seemed that the country was roughly evenly divided.  The NFL decided to play its games but I vividly recall that my new team, the Cowboys, played in Cleveland and there were big “Dallas Assassins” signs evident for parts of the game.  The media also jumped in and defined Dallas as “The City of Hate”. I believe that some strong political polarization existed there (both JFK and LBJ were lightning rods) but that racial attitudes were no worse than the Texas average, LBJ himself being a staunch segregationist until the 60’s. Attitudes in the Deep South were far more hostile as evidenced by the fact that blacks joined college sports teams earlier in Texas than in the Deep South.

Fast forward 53 years to July 7, 2016 and it is clear to me that Dallas is now one of the better US cities for race relations. The fact that people of all ethnicities were praying for the officers while they were being treated at Baylor Hospital (where my Mom was a nurse in the 60’s) and later engaged in a long and deeply-felt mourning period. Best of all of course were the words, tone and actions of Police Chief David Brown. Dallas citizens were so moved that police job applications are up 344% in the 18 days since the second most tragic day in city history.  In fact the whole nation was clearly moved and I can’t help but feel that if he’d been leading our nation the last few years that race relations would be far better.

 

 

 

 

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Teens and July 4

http://www.ushistory.org/paine/crisis/c-01.htm

The above link is to Thomas Payne’s “The Crisis”. It was written six months after the Declaration of Independence and at a very low point for the American Revolutionary War effort. It begins with the immortal words, “These are the times that try men’s souls: the summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country…  It was so inspiring that George Washington asked Payne to read it to the troops, just before the crossing of the Delaware and a surprise victory over the king’s mercenaries, the Hessians.

I came from a military family on both sides and at times I felt that I was overdosing on patriotism.  It didn’t help that my teenage years coincided with the Vietnam War, when, in both high school and college, male students joked that grades should be A, B, C, D and V for instant Vietnam draftee.  My own dad had fought on the bloody islands of Okinawa, just south of Japan’s mainland, and our president’s recent trip to Hiroshima made me realize that I probably wouldn’t exist today if President Truman hadn’t had the political courage to drop two atom bombs. These bombs, it has been estimated, saved the lives of a million GIs and up to 20 million Japanese teens (and even 12 year olds!) who were being trained with sharpened bamboo to repel an American invasion from the south and a Soviet one from the north.

I explained to my 14 year old why I was opposed to the Vietnam War (which had instantly ostracized me from my peer group, top level Texas high school and collegiate athletes): First, the great Dwight Eisenhower had warned of the dangers of ever getting involved in an Asian land war.  Second, the topography and geographic position of Vietnam made it virtually impossible to interdict enemy supply lines through Laos, Cambodia and China.  The coup de grace for our troops was the elaborate system of hundreds of miles of tunnels, 1-2 meters below the surface, which which made their people impervious to bombing.

I then went on to give my new teen his own set of “trying times”:

*For the first time ever the jihadist terror group ISIS has had three attacks in the same week-in Iraq, Turkey and Bangladesh, each ironically a Muslim nation.

*For the first time in our 228 year election history, the two major party candidates both have more negatives than positives in the voters’ minds.

*For the first time ever a president will finish two terms not having a single year of 3% GDP growth, our long term average and a record avoided even during “The Great Depression” of the 1930’s.

*For the first time we’ve had two consecutive presidents who will have eight years each of doubling the national debt, which will be a heavy burden on both our kids AND grand-kids.

Don’t forget to have a “July 4th talk” with your teen-they’ll be a voter either this year, 2018 or 2020!

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Antipodean Child Custody

http://www.stuff.co.nz/life-style/parenting/78241201/mum-taking-child-custody-battle-to-the-united-na

I probably need to explain the first word of the title to my American audience. I first came across this word two decades ago when I was supervising the foreign staff for a large Japanese training company.  Very soon after being recruited from California, I was told that I should quickly fire two staff members: A “Kiwi” who came to work with a “gloomy face” (ignoring the fact that he came from a close-knit rural family and two of his family members had recently died) and an “Ozzie” who was considered too uppity because he had near fluency in Japanese and therefore was the only “gaijin” in the office who could decode the local staff’s conversations.

Needless to say I fought my bosses on their “Antipodean antipathies” and we all left the company within 18 months.  The experience did help me get reacquainted with a unique culture that I had first encountered with an Aussie college roommate in the 70’s.  The second definition of “antipodes” is “the exact opposite” and that certainly fits in child custody, as it does in many other areas.  Stated simply, the typical Antipodean child custody case should have less conflict than a US one, simply due to demographics: New Zealand is 86% urban and Australia is 89%, making them two of the most urban nations in the world, especially if one excludes Europe and the many small island nations.  What’s more, 32% of Kiwis live in one city, Auckland, and Aussies are concentrated in the southeast corner of the country.  This is crucial because studies have found that four years after separation or divorce, up to 75% of custodial parents move away.  In a very mobile and widely separated nation like the US, this invites deep conflict, assuming both parents desire regular access to their children.

The Antipodes, however are the opposite when it comes to the probability of being involved in an international child custody case.  The above kink is to a Kiwi court case but it’s actually an Irish mother!  Within the article is a link to another Kiwi family court case but this one involves an American dad and his fight to bring his kids to the US to visit their grandparents (maybe the Kiwis haven’t yet discovered this, but in the US this is typically done by posting a substantial bond with the court). These cases will no doubt become more and more common since New Zealand has a very open economy and thousands of foreigners have been lured there by the weak Kiwi currency and the breathtaking scenery featured in the Lord of the Rings films.

As for Australia, I would invite the reader to google “Australia 60 Minutes Lebanese child custody case”.  Apparently this spin-off of the famous US show doesn’t have quite the same high journalistic standards.   The story involves the show paying for kidnappers to abduct her children from their father in Lebanon!  I suppose it was intended to be a mini-version of the compelling Sally Field drama, “Not Without My Daughter(in which an American mother tries to smuggle her child out of Iran in the 1980’s)”.  The show was unsuccessful in pulling off the caper but I would guess that it garnered high ratings down under.

In summary, these cases seem appropriate for a high UN Commission but that organizations track record of spending most of its time, money and energy on issues of political correctness would offer little hope for the unfortunate parent involved in an international child custody case.

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The Election and Family Court

Having followed presidential elections since 1960 (my dad drove us to a Nixon rally that year and to Love Field in Dallas to see JFK just a few minutes before his 1963 assassination) and read a bit of history for the elections before then, I’d offer my opinion that this is the wildest presidential election campaign since 1860, in which Lincoln won in a four man race with only 39.8 % of the vote.

The two biggest differences between 1860 and today of course are the more than ten times increase in population (from 31 million to 323 million) and the explosion of mass media. I first encountered the importance of media during the Nixon-Kennedy debates of the 1960 campaign in which television viewers swore that JFK won whereas the radio audience said the opposite.  After eight years of the grandfatherly-like Eisenhower in office, the new TV generation was now much more oriented toward a telegenic personality like Kennedy.

Fast forward to 2016 where the media has gone from radio and three TV networks (with only 15 minutes per day, minus commercial time, of national news) to the 24 hours cable news cycle, talk radio and the Wild West of the Internet). This new media environment has been feasting on what many consider the two most flawed major party favorites in US history, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.  The latter in particular has been able to dominate the media, as has no candidate in history: a company called Mediaquant estimates that he received over $400 million in free TV time last month and others have estimated that it’s been over $2 billion for the campaign to date.

Readers of this blog know that equal parenting after divorce is a state, rather than a federal issue, so why the headline to this blog entry?   I might point readers to the 1964 campaign in which Lyndon Johnson switched from his long history as a states-rights segregationist to being a forceful (much more so than JFK had been) advocate of federal laws to supersede segregationist state laws.  He was doing so under the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment, just as was done in Brown vs. the Board of Education case in the 1950’s. I of course content that this too applies to a child’s right to equal access to both parents after a divorce.

As stated in my last blog entry, I have been following this issue for almost 15 years.  In that time there have been four presidential campaigns and I can only recall the 2008 campaign where it came up as a topic.  In that year both John McCain and Ron Paul responded to an audience question (it was at separate venues, but who knows, it could have been from the same questioner!) and both, as I recall, seemed to give lip service to approving the idea of equal parenting after divorce.

In this year’s campaign I regret that no one seems to have given that question to Mr. Trump, because, with his four children and two divorces,  he could be the poster boy for my contention that family courts around the nation tend to discriminate against fathers and less-well connected mothers.  With his vast financial resources (although Forbes magazine says his net worth is only a fraction of what Trump claims), does anyone doubt that Trump had no problem whatsoever having access to his children after either of his divorces?   A celebrity counter-example would be Alec Baldwin, who had roughly equal financial resources as his ex-spouse Kim Basinger and thus had a very difficult time gaining access to his daughter, as documented in his book, “A Promise To Ourselves”.

At this point I’d like to raise  another topic raised by Trump in a completely different context: waterboarding.  My more psychologically-oriented readers might call this a “loose association”, but bear with me.  Trump, although he disparages George Bush for starting the Iraq war, seems to come to his defense by calling for bringing back waterboarding when ISIS prisoners are interrogated.  This was a very big issue in the 2004-2008 period  and the American public seemed roughly divided on the issue, although world opinion seemed to definitely be against it.

I recall vividly in 2004, when I was only allowed to see my son two to four hours a week that I would gladly undergo waterboarding in lieu of that deprivation.  In fact, my local Johnson Correctional Facility that year stated on its website that 12 hours per week was the optimal child visitation time for prisoners there.  Thus I, like thousands of other parents around the nation, was treated far worse than a violent felon even though I, and thousands of other parents, had completely clean criminal records.  The other point to be made in this regard is that for prisoners in both maximum security US prisons and for those accused war criminals in Guantanamo, solitary confinement is considered the maximum punishment: isn’t that a rough equivalent of only being allowed to see ones child a couple of hours a week?  How about the 14th Amendment on that one?

The California  Supreme Court has at least shown some awareness on how move aways can impact this parental-child access issue.  In the 1990’s custodial parents were given almost carte blanche to move away with their children after a divorce, but shortly after the new millennium, the La Musga ruling set out six criteria for allowing  move aways.  It was cited when the Appeals Court granted me a “trial de novo” after my ex-spouse was allowed by the local court to move to a very remote location.  However, I experienced what many California parents do when the case was retried: La Musga is only window dressing to allow the courts to give themselves an image of fair-mindedness: in a 1,000 page trial transcript reference to the La Musga criteria covered less than a page and I, and my son, lost.

In conclusion, it’s only fair to say a bit about the other party, the Democrats.   On the Sunday talk shows Bernie Sanders was, as my mom used to say, breaking his arm patting himself on the back for winning six of the last seven primaries.  He wasted no time in condemning Mrs. Clinton for her huge financial windfall from Wall Street. What he neglected to mention, as stated in last week’s entry, was that she receives three times as much from attorneys as she does from Wall Street. What percentage of that amount goes to family court attorneys (many of whom are working hard to keep parents from their kids), would be a great subject for investigative journalism, if that still existed in the 21st century.  That little factoid no doubt slipped Mr. Sanders mind because he himself gets a substantial amount of his campaign funds from these same trial attorneys.

 

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Anglo-Saxon vs. Scandinavian Justice

http://www.torontosun.com/2016/03/09/judge-blasts-warring-parents-who-squandered-500000-on-custody-battle?token=db3361ee5840f67968b2701686f39a47

I began weekly entries for this blog on Martin Luther King Day, 2015.  I chose that day because I’d been part of the 60’s civil rights struggle and I saw numerous parallels between that era and the 21st century fight that thousands of parents have had for equitable access to their children.  I chose “Magna Carta” as its title because it was the 800th anniversary of that document and because child custody and the Magna Carta both involved fundamental human rights.

The above link is to an article from the Toronto Sun regarding an extraordinary child custody case: a 36 day trial, $500,000 spent on attorneys and stretched over more than three years. To lend a personal perspective, my own case just concluded successfully after passing the midway of its 15th year, after three trials, a successful appeal to the California Supreme Court (which changed absolutely nothing) and a personal loss of over $1.3 million in attorney fees, travel expenses and lost wages.

Canada, the US, Australia and the UK can all be considered to be part of the Anglo Saxon legal tradition, probably the world’s oldest.  What an irony that the world’s oldest system of justice denies equal rights to fathers and less-well connected mothers for probably the world’s most fundamental human right, access to one’s children.  Scandinavia, on the other hand, was featured in what I consider to be 2014’s most important documentary film, Divorcecorp.  It shows family courts in, as I recall, Sweden and Iceland, who make it a priority to give children access to BOTH parents after a divorce, sparing both parents and kids the trauma of separation and the financial ruin that child custody cases in Anglo Saxon nations entails.

Another irony is that in Scandinavia the population tends to be very concentrated, making physical access easier and therefore shared custody practices less important than in the A-S nations (this of course is only one factor because in the most concentrated of the four A-S nations, Britain, perhaps the strongest parental justice group has formed, Fathers4 Jusice: famous for scaling monuments to publicize their cause). When population density is lower, move-aways by one parent should be severely restricted, unless the second party has no interest in parenting.

Of the other three nations, this would be least important in Australia, where the vast majority of the nation lives in the southeast corner and second would be Canada, with only three large population centers, Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.  My own move-away case was within the state of California, but it was 720 miles.  As I pointed out to the court, this is the same distance as Chicago to Arkansas, New York City to South Carolina or London to Milan, Italy!

In summary, despite finally winning my 15 year struggle for equal access to my son, I will continue to try to help the thousands of parents trying to do the same.  I consider it an international disgrace that this Canadian judge could render such a long, detailed verdict without apparently making reference to the common sense solution to these type of cases: a legal presumption of 50/50 custody after divorce.

 

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Equal Parenting Bill in Florida

http://www.tampabay.com/blogs/the-buzz-florida-politics/senate-passes-divorce-law-change-advocating-that-kids-split-time-evenly/2266468

The above article shows that equal parenting as the default presumption in child custody cases is halfway to being a law.  The author feels that a similar bill will be passed in the Florida House, where it will await Governor Scott’s signature.  This of course is extremely important because Florida is now the third most populous state.

I am a registered independent because I believe that equal child custody should never be a partisan (or a gender issue, for that matter) However, one can’t help but see that the two advocates for the bill are Republicans (and both men), while the one opponent cited is a female Democrat.

As noted in my previous blogs, two of the biggest impediments to a legal presumption of equal parenting are trial lawyers (who profit handsomely in the current adversarial system, and the media, who normally ignore international events, but when it comes to child custody it’s the ONLY cases they cover (see Elian Gonzales/Cuba and the Goldman/Brazil case).

Speaking of the Democrats, a recent Wall Street Journal cover story showed that Hillary Clinton received three times as much money from attorneys as she did from financial firms/investment banks, her second most lucrative source of funds.  Interesting that the media repeats ad nauseum the link between Wall Street and politicians while totally ignoring what politicians are doing for trial attorneys.  Even more interesting when many of the latter are working hard, and being extremely well paid, for keeping parents from their children around the nation.

 

 

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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”.

 

 

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