One of my classes this semester is on public policy. The only real assignment I have in that class is an 8-10 page policy analysis. Being a divorced dad and having seen many of my other divorced friends screwed over by their ex-wives (and because it was likely to be a topic few others in the class chose) I decided to do a policy analysis on child custody laws.
I have learned two things in the reading I've done so far. One, child custody has little to do with children and is mostly about gender politics. Two, based on the garbage produced by fathers' rights advocates, it's no wonder no one takes them seriously. Hoping for a more complete picture, I sought books authored by both sexes. The two books I have written by men—namely,Betrayal of the Child: A Father's Guide to Family Courts by Stewart Rein and Where Have All The Good Fathers Gone? by Douglas O'Brien—have left me frustrated and angry, but probably not for the reasons you might suppose.
Neither book is well documented. Both give statistics and make claims about child development with only vague citation of sources, if any. Entire quotations are often given with no obvious reference to the source. Scanning back a page or two you might find reference to one professional or another. The best you can do is assume that is the original author of the quotation, but it's even odds as to whether or not the specific source is identified or not. How the hell do they get away with this? Who edited these things? Oh, and is there some new age school of grammar I'm not aware of where punctuation always goes outside of a quotation mark?
This would be frustrating enough, but it doesn't stop there. Mr. Rein's egregious misuse of bold face, italics, full caps and scare quotes is baffling. Am I the only one who sees irony in a man having discovered a way to make writing look hysterical and emotional? Mr. O'Brien lost my respect as soon as he used the term feminazi. Oh, he dressed it up with dictionary definitions to try and give it a rational context, but I wonder if he's heard the phrase "polishing a turd." He also has a penchant for going to great lengths to come up with derisive acronyms such as FUNIFARM (Feminazi UNIfied Feelings Are Really Manipulation theory) or JUST BS (JUnk Science Theory Bashing Syndrome) (pp.15-16).
Both men raise valid points, but how can they possibly expect to be taken seriously? This kind of writing might work to incite the masses, but do these guys really think they're going to influence policy makers with this crap? Oh, and Mr. O'Brien, labeling social scientists as SS isn't going to win you any friends in that arena either. Both men characterize the writings of women on child custody as radical, hate filled attempts to disenfranchise men and set up a matriarchy. In contrast fathers' rights groups are logical and rational (O'Brien 1997, p.20).
The one book by a female author I have read so far—The Custody Wars by Mary Ann Mason, Ph.D., J.D.—by contrast, is well reasoned, and well documented. In fact she agrees that the system is broken and has nothing to do with the best interests of the children, such language existing in most statutes notwithstanding. She does, however, make the assertion that fathers' rights advocates aren't as interested in their children as they are in maintaining their own rights and power. Gee, I can't imagine why.
O'Brian, D. (1997). Where Have All the Good Fathers Gone? Child Support and Custody. Fairbanks, AK: Skid 18 Press.
Rein, S (2001). Betrayal of the Child: A Father's Guide to Family Courts. Tobyhanna, PA: Lotus Press.
I recently discovered the blog of Secret Simon. It begins as the story of a man coming to grips with his sexuality and his marital status. It's been interesting reading, what little I've read so far. I've only read the first few months of his blog, which started in January of this year. I can relate to much of what he says. It has spawned flash backs to the time in my own life when I was dealing with many of the same issues. It makes me wonder what my blog would have looked like had blogging been the rage back in '99.
It's interesting that he started his blog in early January and by mid February he had come out to his wife and family. Denial is like that. A glass house. One well placed rock and the whole thing comes down.
Something I read has rubbed me the wrong way, which is hardly surprising. It's a pet peeve of mine. One moment while I get my soapbox.
To the chagrin of both of us, it seems as though some people around us want to move things along at warp speed, as if it's a life and death matter to "rescue" my wife from the clutches of my influence. I'm probably just too close to what's going on but I can't help feel that's been the major point of contention. There are now also some crazy notions flying around. If anyone can direct me to the "secret savings account" that apparently I've got stashed away (because you know it only makes sense that I plan on being a major ASS about this) please let me know.1
Why? Why is it that we always expect the worst of people? Is it so we aren't disappointed when it turns out they really are jerks? It seems to me that people tend to be what we expect them to be. There are limits of course and people are always free to tell the world to go to hell and be who they want to be, but that takes more courage than most people seem to have.
So why not make it easy on them? Why do we not expect two individuals to be grown up and mature about getting divorced? Why do we not expect people to continue to think about someone besides themselves, even during divorce? Why cannot we not allow two people to come to the realization that it is not going to work and walk away before things get worse? I read constantly from conservative pundits how devastating divorce is on children and families. Difficult? Absolutely. Devastating? Only because most people are generally too worried about their own petty sense of justice to be grown up about it.
Don't get me wrong. I don't know anyone who just walks away from a marriage, nor do I mean to imply it is that simple. It is hard. It is very hard. When you got married, you agreed to let someone into your life and put their needs at least on par, if not above, your own. Getting divorced doesn't change that. There are always hurt feelings on both sides. Anger is an emotion humans often use as a shield, to hide from the pain, shame or grief we are really feeling. Still, most people learned that unbridled expression of your feelings is not the acceptable course of action by the time they were four.
Almost two years after H and I split, I took her to dinner. I wanted to tell her about someone I had just met, someone I was very interested in. It was the first time we had discussed my private life since our split, and I was not entirely certain how the evening would go. I did not for one moment think she would be surprised that I was dating a man, but it can be difficult to tell how people will react to such information. Had she felt it necessary to limit my access to my children, I would have been devastated.
The evening went very well, however, and in the course of the conversation I thanked her for having had the courage to end something that was not working for either one of us. She teared up (which doesn't happen often) and said, "I didn't think I'd ever hear you say that." It was the first time I had made her cry for a good reason.
My ex-wife and I are still friends. I was the photographer at her wedding when she remarried. When she and her husband finally bought a new home and moved out of the one she and I had lived in, I helped them move. I am still welcome at her parents' home for Thanksgiving dinner and other special occasions. People just don't get it. Honestly, I love to watch the gears grind.
My favorite story is still when she sold the house. My name was still on the title so I had to go in to the closing. The title company was aware of the situation. The lady who would be handling the closing came out to ask me about the proceeds from the sale and how that would be split up. H arrived shortly thereafter with her new baby boy. He was only a few months old at the time.
Something had been fouled up in the paper work and we sat in the outer office for some time waiting for it to be sorted out. H's son, L, was getting fussy in his car seat so I took him out to entertain him. It was at least 20 minutes before they finally called us back to sign the papers.
By the time the title officer entered the room, H had given me a bottle to feed L. The title officer sat down and took in the situation. She got a very confused look on her face and said, "Now, he's her baby, right?"
I just smiled and said, "Yep."
She shook her head and said, "I need to bring my son and his ex in to see this."
The last time I went to dinner with my former in-laws was several months after I had moved out. H's mom took me aside in the parking lot on the way out. "This has been a very difficult time for everyone. You have been nothing but a gentleman through the whole thing and we love you for it." I don't know if she knows how much that meant to me. H's parents are truly wonderful people.
It can happen, people. I know of other similar situations. They just aren't the ones that make the evening news. I dated a guy for a little while who could have been in a similar situation except that her family got involved and totally messed things up. Fortunately for Simon that doesn't seem to have happened to him.
In the end, folks, it's none of your business. It is between the husband and wife and no one else. The urge to protect and defend is understandable, but if you really want to help, butt out and don't create problems in an already difficult situation.