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Jewish World Review Dec. 13, 1999 / 4 Teves, 5760

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker
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When did fathers become fair game? --
THE FATE OF SIX-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 U.S. relaxed their rhetoric and began talking sensibly about the boys' 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 to essentially kidnap a child from his only living parent on the basis that, well, he's only a father.

My mail the past few days following 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 6th 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'd 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 sounds 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.

JWR contributor Kathleen Parker can be reached by clicking here.


12/09/99: Don't be stupid about at-risk kids
12/07/99: Pokemon is no substitute for a father
12/02/99: Blaming the victim --- men
11/30/99: Baby-killer's story has less-than-Precious ending
11/23/99: Pendulum swings back toward discipline, responsibility
11/18/99: Put the babies first in this mighty mess
11/11/99: Skip the applause for this baby news
11/09/99: Gore could benefit from a secret in Wolf's clothing
11/03/99: Who needs 'birds and bees' when we have MTV?
11/01/99: Women Can't Hear What Men Don't Say
10/26/99: Children's needs must take priority in divorce system
10/19/99: The deadbeat dad is less a scoundrel than an object of pity
10/15/99: Bullying boys ... and girls
10/12/99: Divorced dads ready to wage a revolution
10/04/99: A father's best gift? His presence
09/30/99: Sorry, guys, Faludi is no friend of yours
09/28/99: Science's new findings: Scary future for families
09/23/99: The great blurring of need and want
09/21/99:Focus on more than baby's first 3 years
09/16/99: Commentary from kids sheds no light on day-care debate
09/14/99: Fathers' group seeks to right inequities
09/09/99: Son now has a license to grow up
09/07/99: A slap in the face of domestic violence
09/01/99: No, ma'am: Legislation on manners misses the mark
08/26/99: For better boys, try a little tenderness
08/24/99:The ABC's of campaign questions
08/19/99: Male 'sluts'
08/11/99: Language doesn't excuse bad behavior
08/09/99: When justice delayed is still justice
08/03/99: Unemployment? Not in this profession
07/30/99: It's not about race -- it's about crack babies
07/22/99: Tragedy tells us what's important
07/19/99: Study denouncing fathers sends danger signals
07/15/99:'Happy marriage' belongs in the Dictionary of Oxymorons next to 'deliciously low-fat.'
07/11/99: 'Brother Man': An American demagogue in Paris
07/08/99: Only parents can fix broken families
07/06/99: America is home, sweet home
07/01/99: Tales out of Yuppiedom
06/28/99: Men aren't the only abusers
06/23/99: Is the entire country guzzling LSD punch?
06/20/99: The voice remains -- as always -- there beside me 06/16/99:Stating the obvious, a new growth industry
06/14/99: Calling for a cease-fire in the gender war
06/10/99: We owe children an apology

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