Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Falsely Accused Fathers 

Wendy McElroy is at it again. In her column, ifeminist, she addresses a recent court ruling that concerns fathers' rights. Actually, the case concerns the rights of men falsely accused of being fathers. Read the column.

I cannot find a reference at the moment, but there was a landmark case in NC (if I recall correctly) of a man discovering that he was not the biological father of his wife's two sons. One child was ill and the man was tested as a possible donor. In the course of the testing, the man was informed that he was not the father of either child. His wife admitted having an affair. The children were the products of the affair. In the divorce, the courts imposed child support payments on the man who had been proven was not the father of the two boys. The case was profiled very briefly in the media. The man's appeals were denied and the last time the case was mentioned, he was still making child support payments.

The court decision in California may offer some justice to one set of victims (accused men not fathers).

I am not surprised that the women get a pass on the issue. No mother has gone to jail for falsely claiming that a man is the father of her child. Not really much that could be accomplished in courts anyway. On a rare occasion I watched, one of the Oprah-like shows was running a series on paternity tests. One particular mother had not accused the correct man of being the father of her child in 6 attempts. SIX DIFFERENT MEN had been brought on the show to be accused of being the parent. Yet, no one ever turned to the mother and said "Get your life straightened out and be a parent." I did not watch the final episode to see if the 7th man accused was actually the child's father. I have serious doubts that should the father ever be identified he would be a positive influence on the life of the child.

But what I cannot fathom is the absolute defiance of the courts to offer justice to the falsely accused. There are non-profit organizations that pay for DNA testing for convicted killers. The difference in the two examples is that the convicted killers were given the benefit of a trial. The accused fathers are not even given a semblance of a trial. It is not a kangaroo court because these men do not go to court. According to the reports, most of the men are tried in absentia with no real effort to inform them of the proceedings.

Also, I notice no mention of the rights of the child. I will write more of this issue later. For now, what can be done?

Being a father is not a matter of biology. There are mounds of cases to discredit that notion. Families of adoption, fictive kin, step-families, and others show us that biology is not a necessary ingredient to being a father. But what we have here is an intimate betrayal by a women against a man and the children. The emotional injury is beyond description. A man is fraudulently lead to believe that his wife's children are his biological children. He relates to them as.. as... as, well as a father. Only later does he find out that he is NOT the child's father. The basis he used to establish a relationship with the child is ripped away. What now?

I have no clear perspective on this issue other than knowing that falsely accused men do not deserve to be punished by an unjust court system. The issue is so intimate though, that the next step in parsing out this issue is cloudy. What rights should a non-biological yet participating father have in the life of a child? What stance should the courts take on a mother who falsely identifies a man as the father of her child? Who should receive penalties? Who is entitled to recovery? Jail? Repayment?

I need to think about this. My cultural heritage pushes me towards a feeling of knowing what is "right". But, the issue gets really complicated fast. What about the kids? What about the supposed grandparents and extended families?

I suggest that we all think hard on this issue.

Balanced Parents 

There is a political battle brewing in California (nothing new in that statement). Apparently, the California State Education Secretary, Richard Riordan, made a comment to a 6-year-old girl that has become political hay. The girl asked Mr. Riordan if he knew what her name, Isis, meant. Instead of answering "Egyptian Goddess", Mr. Riordan said "stupid dirty girl." You can read CNN's coverage here.

Okay, obviously a bad call. But obviously an attempt at teasing. (BTW, I would have played on the pronunciation of name with something like "Isis means more than one ice - which is ancient Egyptian for colder than chilly but warmer than frosty." Get it?) The local NAACP has attacked Mr. Riordan (predictable as always) for making the remark. Apparently, the organization sees the remark as indicative of Mr. Riordan not understanding the nature of children. Hmmmm?

What I would like to focus on is not the remark or the predictable political fallout. I hope you noticed the mother's response. She accepted that Mr. Riordan was teasing, accepted his apology as authentic, and has moved on with her and her daughter's lives. The money quote: "I'm not going to sue them for therapy bills."

It is balanced parenting. Responding in an appropriate manner as an advocate for your child.

This year during Vacation Bible School at our church, I served as recreation coordinator. Back by popular demand from the children was tug-o-war. (I am amazed at children's interest in classic games in the day of computer dominance). Well, the third graders beat the fourth graders in the first 2 pulls on one particular day (best 2 out of 3 format). On previous days, I had made adjustments to the teams to let the losing team have at least a good chance at winning. This particular time, instead of coaching each team, I arranged the time-honored classic of one team pulling and one team letting go (the old 1-2-3-let-go trick). The third graders thought it was hilarious. The fourth graders (sitting hard on their hind-ends) had a different reaction but seemed to dismiss the prank.

One fourth grader (a daughter of my Sunday School classmate) did not appreciate the joke. That night when her mother asked her about VBS, she broke down crying and indicated that her feelings were hurt and that she no longer trusted me. Her mother committed one of the greatest acts of insight and deduction in modern parenting. She did not rebuff her daughter or attempt to explain away my actions. Obviously, she knew whatever had happened that my intentions were honest. Had she rebuffed her daughter, it would have set a dangerous precedent. Later in life when her daughter needed to confide in her, she may not based on previous encounters.

What my friend did was simple and profound. She spoke with me. She explained her daughter's feelings and reactions. She asked me to apologize to her daughter. Not because I had done something wrong. The mother accepted that whatever had happened I was trying to entertain. She wanted her daughter to experience the resolution and to reinforce the idea that if her daughter needed to confide in her, the mother's response would be rational and balanced. She did not sue me or demand that I be removed as recreation coordinator. She did not bring the matter up at the next church council meeting. She did not ask the church to form a committee to investigate possible teasing in VBS and to recommend policies to avoid the problem in future VBS programs. She did not contact the Bishop or go public with accusations of teasing cover-ups in the church.

We need more balanced reactions by parents. The Supreme Court should see fewer cases concerning parents. School principals should not get a nervous stomach each time a parent requests a conference.

Be a balanced parent.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Stupidity and Vaccinations 

Glenn Reynolds (aka Instapundit) has a Tech Central column on vaccinations for children (specifically whooping cough). Read it.

When I teach undergraduates, I am constantly approached with challenges to the material. The student has come across an article that contradicts the material I have presented in class. Dutifully, I examine the material. Without fail, I find that the material is biased, junk science, pure conjecture, or the production of a twisted mind. Junk science is becoming more common. My strategy has been to gracefully and meticulously walk the student through the material pointing out the errors. Then, when the material has been reduced to insignificance, I remind the student of the one great maxim not found in the course textbook that I teach, "People are stupid."

Not all people, all of the time. But put in the right position, we all are prone to poor judgment. Parents are prone to poor judgment constantly. We are bombarded with breaking news, new research discoveries, and advisory information. Knowing what is real and what is junk takes time and practice.

A good friend of mine recently sent home an article she had been given about the dangers of milk. She has a gracious nature and caring heart. She was concerned for the safety and well-being of the children in our church program. She asked me to evaluate the information. She is smarter than most people I know. She realized that she did not have the expertise to evaluate the information. Few people are willing to admit that they do not know. I am no smarter than she is. However, she recognized that I have had enough training and education to evaluate the information. I took a few days to research the material. The information was bogus, but it looked convincingly scientific. The group responsible for producing the information was a more respectable front for PETA. They are stupid.

People are stupid. The real challenge of today is to be able to tell the stupid from the not stupid. My friend is not stupid. The person who gave her the information is stupid. The group that has thrust horribly inaccurate (and often false) information on the rest of us is stupid. Anyone who blindly follows the advice of others despite suspicions is stupid.

That doubt in the back of your mind, that uneasy feeling you get, that nagging suspicion that won't let you sleep, that is a clue that you may have heard something stupid. Vaccinations are dangerous? When you hear that statement, regardless of what is offered in the way of supporting information, you should at least question its veracity. You should ask someone who has the training and knowledge to know. Despite all my training and education, I still took the time to ask our pediatrician about each vaccine for our daughter. Otherwise, I would be stupid.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Weblog Commenting and Trackback by HaloScan.com