Thursday, April 21, 2005

A Little Parity for Fathers, Please

I’ve got a friend whose wife divorced him a few years back. During the divorce proceedings, she decided to move out of state with the kids. I’m absolutely positive that there are aspects of the divorce that I’m not aware of, so I’m not going to make a value judgment on the divorce itself. After all, since this man is my friend, it’s fair to say that I’ve got a bias in his favor. But what I’d like to discuss today has nothing to do with divorce – it’s got to do with child custody and child support as it relates to fathers.

When my friend went to court for the custody hearing, his soon-to-be ex had already decided to leave the state. She wanted complete legal custody of the kids, complete physical custody of the kids, and the maximum amount of child support she could get. This was the only acceptable option for her. My friend wanted joint legal custody, and primary physical custody of the kids, but only because she was moving out of state. He’d have been happy with joint physical custody if she hadn’t decided to move. As it became apparent that he wouldn’t get primary physical custody, he decided that he’d ask for every third weekend with the kids, instead of the standard every other weekend with the kids. This, he stated, was because he didn’t want the kids to spend so much of their time on the road – he wanted what was best for them. So, when the custody was determined, he spent every third weekend, plus six weeks over the summer with his kids.

A year or so ago, his ex moved back to town with the kids and her new husband. My friend was ecstatic that he would now be able to spend more time with his kids, and indeed it started happening. He got them once in a while during the week, and saw them every other weekend. Somewhere along the line, he decided that he wanted joint physical care. Since he and his ex were living in the same town, this seemed like a reasonable request… at least it seemed reasonable to him. The boys’ mom, on the other hand, didn’t like the idea at all, and was completely unwilling to amend the status quo in any way, shape or form.

At this point, my friend realized that he had no other recourse than going back to court. The ex said that if they did go back to court, that she’d fight any changes in custody, and that she’d go for more child support. He wanted his boys, and she wasn’t willing to give him any more custody than he already had, so he had no choice but to go back to court. She made good on her threat and asked for more child support.

During the hearing, each of them presented their side of the argument. She said that the kids should know where their home is. He said that the boys should be able to spend an equal amount of time with their dad, especially considering they all lived in the same town. His attorney reminded the judge of the state law recently passed saying that joint custody and joint care was the preferred custody arrangement in new divorce cases unless one parent was proven unfit, or wanted less than full custody. The judge hinted that joint custody would be awarded when he said that an ideal custody situation is where a child says “I’ve got two homes” when asked about living arrangements.

In the end, it didn’t go exactly as my friend had hoped. He got a slightly extended version of every other weekend, with the visitations starting Wednesday evening during his custody times. He also got six weeks during the summer. So he essentially got the custody that she had set forth when she moved back to town. But here’s the kicker – he’s paying more child support. Yes, he got more time with the kids, but his child support went up, despite the fact that he’s spending more time with the kids. To add insult to injury, the judge made it retroactive to the beginning of the year, and the increase in child support is enough that he’s probably going to lose his home.

Based on everything I understand about the court system – and I’ve got personal experience with divorce and child custody – the stated goal of the courts when it comes to custody battles is the best interest of the child. Assuming that each parent is equally fit, how is a child not getting to spend equal time with each parent in the best interest of the child? How is it in a child’s best interest to wonder why he can’t spend more time with daddy? How is it in a child’s best interest to see a father lose everything he has because of child support payments?

I understand the deadbeat dad argument. I realize that men used to abandon their family, leaving them with nothing. I also realize that this still happens. But I’ve also got enough life experience to know that the deadbeat dad is the exception, not the rule. Despite the modern reality that most men want to share in the care and upbringing of their children, they are forced to be secondary parents, and pay through the nose for the privilege of watching their children grow up from afar. When it comes to parental rights, fathers are considered less emotionally able to care for their kids. And when these fathers are ripped away from their children, the court compounds the agony by forcing them to pay exorbitant amounts of money in order to keep things “fair.”

It’s time for this to change. While I don’t believe that all men are created equal, and I do acknowledge that some men are deadbeats, it’s unreasonable to assume that mothers are superior parents, just because of their gender. Men should be given the opportunity to spend an equal amount of time with their children. Not only should men be given the opportunity to be treated as equal parents, but the current child support laws should be revisited as well. If a father has equal custody of the children, then he should not be forced to pay support to the mother. Just as he has an obligation to work to feed his children, so does she. And if she fails to live up to this obligation, he should not be punished for it.

As I say this should be the standard, I do realize that some men are either unfit or do not want equal time with their children. Allowances should be made for these exceptions, and child support is still warranted in these situations. But considering how much times have changed, realizing how much society has evolved, and understanding that it’s the standard – not the exception – that men want to be actively involved in their children’s lives, it’s time to change the laws and court practices to reflect this new reality. It’s time to let men be equal parents, and in these circumstances, it’s time to ask the women to stand on their own two feet and not expect the men to keep subsidizing their portion of the child-rearing.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

A little about Political Correctness

When I was a kid, I used to play dodge ball. When I first started playing, I wasn’t very good, so I got hit – a lot; and it usually hurt – a lot! But I enjoyed it, I learned from it, and eventually I got better at it. Now kids aren’t supposed to play dodge ball because they can get hurt from it.

I used to play baseball and Red Rover too. I was a small kid, so I sucked at both of them and was often one of the last kids picked. Occasionally I was the last kid picked. But I still had fun playing with my friends. I never got as good at baseball as I did with dodge ball, but I did get better as I practiced. Eventually I was one of the middle kids picked. Sometimes my team won, sometimes we lost. You can still play ball at school these days, but I guess they don’t allow scorekeeping until you’re a little older… something about not wanting to make the losing team feel like losers.

Am I the only one who thinks that Political Correctness has gone waaaaaayyyyy off the deep end, and did so a looooonnnnnngggg time ago? Come on! This PC crap has gotten so bad, that you can’t have a conversation with anyone without worrying about who you’re pissing off and how their fragile little psyche will recover. What’s up with that?!? When did we get to the point that we began to worry more about what everyone else thinks than we cherished our freedom of speech? When did we get to the point that it’s more important to worry about how someone may interpret how you say something, rather than exchanging thoughts and ideas, promoting critical thinking or encouraging free expression? How is it that society finds it less acceptable to offend someone than to express truth, promote thought, or exchange ideas?

Is it possible to have a conversation and still be mindful of another’s sensitivities? Ummmm, yeah. And I agree with the premise that social interactions call for some modicum of sensitivity and interpersonal awareness. But when you get to the point that it takes five minutes of “smoothing over” to convey what could be said in 30 seconds, that’s just nuts!

Let’s go back to dodge ball and baseball for a second. How does it benefit kids to ban a sport because someone might get hurt? How does it benefit kids to forbid scorekeeping in a competitive sport? It doesn’t! Not only does it “not benefit” the kids, it is detrimental! Why? Because in the game of life there are winners and there are losers. In the real world, we all keep score. How does it help kids to shield them from this harsh reality when they’re young? It doesn’t. It hurts them, because by shielding them from the reality of our competitive society, kids don’t get the opportunity to learn the skills necessary to succeed and excel. They’re not equipped to deal with criticism, they haven’t had an opportunity to learn perseverance, and they haven’t been taught that the world really can be a cruel place. If they haven’t learned these lessons, how can we expect our children to succeed in life?

Let’s think about this from another angle. Who wants to be politically correct? Aren’t politicians among the most despised people on the planet? Aren’t politicians known for smiling in your presence, shaking your hand, and then sinking a dagger in your back as soon as it’s turned? Aren’t politicians renowned for their ability to screw over the common man in the pursuit of their own interests? Aren’t politicians considered contemptible for their inability to level with people, with straight talk and straight answers? How is it that our society detests these traits in our elected officials, yet strives for these same qualities in our own social relationships?

I say enough’s enough! Screw the bleeding-hearts and their overblown sensitivities. Tell an insensitive joke. Forget about protecting our children’s fragile psyches for a moment and let them keep score in a baseball game. Throw caution to the wind, and let them play dodge ball. It may sting a bit, but they’ll be better adults when they’ve learned that in our society, there are winners and losers. It may hurt their pride occasionally to lose, but it will teach them to persevere if they wish to succeed. If you really love your kids, throw the idea of political correctness out the window, and let them lose. Let them hear tasteless jokes. Hell, tease them yourself from time to time (just let them know that you’re teasing and remind them that you love them). They’ll be better off for it in the long run.