Orlando Sentinel

Pokemon is no substitute for a father

By Kathleen Parker
Published in The Orlando Sentinel on Dec 5, 1999

Politics make lousy parents. Yet politics -- and "best interest of the child" dogma -- are dueling for the life of a young Cuban boy who has drifted, literally, into a sea of conflicting interests.

Meet Elian Gonzalez, age 5, who was rescued off the coast of South Florida on Thanksgiving Day. He was one of three survivors from a motorboat that sank, drowning Elian's mother and stepfather, on the journey from Cuba. Elian survived two days adrift in the Atlantic Ocean, wedged in an inner tube. An orphan of the sea.

Not quite. In fact, Elian has a dad in Cuba. A real biological father, who wants his son back home.

One would think that such a simple matter is a no-brainer. But nothing is simple anymore when it comes to families, especially when the family is from an unfriendly country. In the past few days, Elian's story has become a springboard for debate on everything from fathers' rights to immigration policies to U.S.-Cuba relations.

Newfound friends and American relatives of Elian -- none of whom knew the child before he was rescued -- insist that Elian will have a better life in the United States. Certainly, he'll have more toys. Already, compassionate strangers have inundated the child with enough goodies to stock a small shop.

Back in Cuba, Elian's father, Juan Miguel Gonzales, is a doorman at a tourist hotel. What kind of future can he offer this modern Moses? All he can offer, say his American kin, is love. Get that? Just love from a real dad. Everybody in Los Estados Unidos knows that kids get by without real dads.

Meanwhile, the Cuban American National Foundation is fighting for Elian's "right" to stay in this country, where his future assuredly will be more promising. The organization has printed up thousands of posters with Elian's picture and this caption: "Another Child Victim of Fidel Castro."

Not surprisingly, the Cuban government has sided with the child's father. Why? Because Castro is still mad about the Bay of Pigs? Because he's a fascist who hates America? Or because it is right to support a father who has lost his child?

Perhaps we believe that communists, like men, can never be right.

In fact, the Cuban government is right, and all the do-gooders clinging to Elian's tragedy are wrong. They may want to do "the right thing" for Elian, but what is really right for Elian? Is it right to take this child from his only living parent so that he can enjoy the Great American Dream?

In whose nightmare is money more valuable than love? Children don't care if they sleep in a drawer as long as a loving parent tucks them in. A coveted Pokemon is no substitute for a flesh-and-blood father.

It is disingenuous to argue that keeping Elian in America is in his best interest. More likely, it is in our best interest. We want to fashion Elian into a little media star, to surround him with bright toys and send him on a free vacation to Disney World, to make him into a poster child for all that's right with America and wrong with Cuba. We want to feel good about ourselves.

Elian might feel good for a while. He's reportedly enjoying the attention, the toys. He even says he wants to stay in Florida. No doubt he's terrified to cross the water again.

But his father lives on the other side of that water. And no matter how much we might wish to make this child's life better, we have no right -- and no cause -- to remove him from a father who promises only love.

Kathleen Parker welcomes your comments at kparker@kparker.com

Posted Dec 3 1999 4:46PM

Copyright 1999 Orlando Sentinel Online.