When did fathers become fair game?Kathleen Parker
Columnist Published in The Orlando Sentinel on December 12, 1999.
The fate of 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez, the Cuban boy rescued off the coast of Florida after his mother and stepfather drowned, seemed closer to a sane solution as the weekend approached. Both Cuba and the United States relaxed their rhetoric and began talking sensibly about the boy's return to his father and homeland.
Regardless of the outcome, however, the debate has shed light on a strange evolution in American thought. Forget politics; forget ideology; forget immigration policies. Try to remember how we once valued fathers.
During the weeks since Elian's Thanksgiving Day rescue, stateside discussions have said much about our contempt toward men generally and toward fathers specifically. The persistent negative messages about fathers as abandoners, "deadbeats" or batterers is so pervasive -- and has been so successful -- that we readily condemn men guilty of nothing.
Just as readily, apparently, many Americans have been willing essentially to kidnap a child from his only living parent on the basis that, well, he's only a father.
My mail the past few days after a column in which I insisted the boy be returned to his father -- Juan Miguel Gonzalez -- underscores the strength of this bias against fathers. Though the majority agreed, a disturbing many questioned the father's "motives" in trying to get back his son. Love isn't enough, apparently; there must be an ulterior motive.
Readers suggested variously that the father might be an abuser. After all, he and his wife were divorced, surely through no fault of the woman's. Or, as one wrote, "He may have been boozing, whoring, gambling, etc, instead of loving. ... It may be that she [the mother] went to such desperate measures to escape his influence on her son. ..."
Maybe. Then again, maybe not. Shouldn't we presume that fathers are as good as mothers absent evidence to the contrary? Why do fathers have to prove they're fit while mothers enjoy our instant support? The gender bias implicit in such questions -- and the inherent prejudice against fathers -- has rarely been so clear.
The fact is, were we talking about a mother in Cuba who wanted her child back, the boy would have celebrated his sixth birthday in Cuba rather than in Miami. Not only that, if the father rather than the mother had drowned taking Elian from Cuba (and away from his mother), we wouldn't be canonizing him for trying to transport his child to freedom. We would be vilifying him and the stepmother for kidnapping the child and risking his life by placing him on a motorboat overloaded with human cargo.
Critics of Elian's return to Cuba have justified their position by saying we know nothing of the father. We don't know his birth sign or his suit size, that's true, but we do know that the father loves his child and had an ongoing relationship with him, according to Elian's own U.S. relatives.
That's good enough for me, but there's more. Juan Miguel Gonzalez was a custodial parent, caring for Elian during the day while his mother worked. Elian's mother cared for him at night while his father worked as a doorman at a resort hotel. Theirs seems like the kind of cooperative post-divorce relationship most(Americans couldn't manage if world peace depended on it.
Now, imagine that your own child, whom you love and care for every day, suddenly disappears and is found days later floating on the open sea. Suppose he is rescued by citizens of a foreign nation, which refuses to return him to you on the basis of your country's political system.
Let's just say that if I were Juan Miguel Gonzalez, the people detaining my child should consider me armed and dangerous. Juan Miguel Gonzalez deserves not only his son but an apology and, perhaps, a congressional medal for self-restraint.
Kathleen Parker welcomes comments via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, although she cannot respond to all mail individually. Write to her at The Orlando Sentinel, MP-6, Box. 2833, Orlando, Fla. 32802-2833.
[Posted 12/11/1999 5:08 PM EST]
Copyright © 1999 Orlando Sentinel Online.