Family Law, Gender, Kids

Fathers’ Rights Are Having A Moment

My parents separated for a brief period of time when I was in the fourth grade. I don’t remember there being too much controversy over where I would be crashing as (a) the separation didn’t last long and (b) I was not exactly the prize pig over which anyone in their right mind would compete. Anyway, the one thing I remember about that time was how my dad treated me. My father, who had previously acted as the proximate cause in his son’s nervousness and irritable bowels, was now a prince among men. He took me to a basketball game and laughed at my jokes in a deeply insincere way. If you ask me, this is the highest compliment another person can pay you.

I tell this story to establish my bona fides in the areas of family law, custody disputes, and even the fathers’ rights movement. I’m pretty much an expert. In the past week, the issue of fathers’ rights has popped up in unusual ways and places. Fox News reported over the weekend that a group of fathers are suing the state of Utah over their adoption laws. Bode Miller, meanwhile, won a bronze medal on Sunday, which prompted Slate to reprint an Emily Bazelon post on Miller’s odd custody dispute. And finally, a law firm in Florida has elevated fathers’ rights to perhaps its highest purpose: marketing.

The question posed by all of this is what if, with all apologies to Shaq Fu, the biological does bother?

The Fathers’ Rights Movement is, of course, a social movement premised on the idea that children require the unnerving presence of their fathers in their lives. To this end, the eponymous fathers of the movement have lobbied governments across this land to vest fathers with more authority over the lives their sperm helps produce.

One such government is Utah, where Fox News reports that fathers are suing the state over its adoption laws:

A dozen men are suing the state of Utah in federal court because of a law that allows mothers to put their babies up for adoption without the biological father’s consent, or sometimes even knowledge. The civil rights lawsuit claims the Utah Adoption Act has resulted in what amounts to “legalized fraud and kidnapping.”

At issue is the fact that the fathers of children in the state have no say over whether the childish fruits of their sexual labor are put up for adoption. One anecdote that seeks to be instructive:

“Well, I thought I was going to have a son,” Nikolas Thurnwald recalled. He said he was thrilled by the idea of being a father while he and his live-in girlfriend, in 2004, waited for their child to be born. “We were together all the way up until the last couple of days before the birth.”

Then Thurnwald called his girlfriend, “to see if she maybe wanted to go to the movies, and her co-worker answered the phone at the department store that she was working at and basically let me know that she was in the hospital having our baby.”

Thurnwald immediately called the hospital. “They patched me through to her … and I asked her if she was giving our son up for adoption. And she said, ‘Kinda.’ I said ‘there is no kinda, what are you doing? Why are you doing this?’ And she says, ‘Look I gotta go.’ I dropped to my knees, dropped my phone that I was holding and just started crying. A grown man on a construction site crying his eyes out.”

Brenda’s coquettish indecision had been so boner-inducing before. Now it was just sad and hurtful.

Whether Utah is right to shunt fathers to the side in adoption decisions is a question for someone more morally serious than I. On one hand, it seems obvious that a child should be given a chance at an upbringing by at least one biological parent, if possible. On the other hand, depriving a child of the possibility of being adopted by someone rich and/or famous seems cruel. If my repeated viewings of the hit musical Annie are any indication, even little ginger scamps come out on top in the adoption game.

But what of the child before they’re born? After Bode Miller won a bronze medal this weekend, Slate republished an article by Emily Bazelon that took the skier, and the court system that abetted his custody fight, to task. At issue was a court’s ruling in New York that upbraided Miller’s baby-mama-to-be over her move while pregnant. The details:

McKenna moved to New York in December, when she was seven months pregnant. Two days after her baby was born in February 2013, she went to New York Family Court to petition for custody—the legal basis for keeping the baby with her and making decisions about raising him. The first step of the Family Court’s job—deciding whether it had jurisdiction, or the authority to hear the case—should have been easy. New York law, which is based on a uniform code for all the states, says that New York courts have jurisdiction when New York is the child’s “home state.” This was obviously the case for McKenna and Miller’s baby (she calls the baby Sam; he calls him Nate), who was born in New York. But the New York family judge who heard the case (called a referee for some reason) seemed to have it in for McKenna when he sent the case back to the California courts, accusing her of moving to New York as an underhanded attempt at “forum shopping”—picking one court over another. The judge/referee also overlooked the fact that “child” in state custody law does not mean unborn child, as in fetus, which is what the “child” was when McKenna moved east.

There are any number of interesting legal precedents being set by this case. But I’d rather discuss the fact that Bode Miller calls the baby a different name than his mother gave him. Not a diminutive or a nickname. The child’s name is Sam. And dad calls him Nate. If you want to read more about the case and the temporary resolution that was struck two months ago, click here. I’d wish little Sate/Nam luck, but he’s going to need soooo much more than that. So much.

Up to now, this post has dealt with important issues in the sober way that you’ve become accustomed to with my writing. But before we adjourn this master class in fathers’ rights, let us gaze upon the way in which these issues are distorted by this small and petty thing of ours. The NBC affiliate down in West Palm Beach, Florida, checks in on a law firm-cum-he-man woman hater’s club:

Some call it sexist, others have said it is discrimination, but attorneys at Kenny Leigh and Associates in Boca Raton say their men only law firm give men a fair shake when it comes to family law and divorce.

“It’s pretty clear that the firm is focused on men’s rights only and we only represent men,” attorney Temi Zeitenberg.

The firm, Kenny Leigh and Associates, has put up tacky ads along the interstate down in America’s crazy, hanging dong to advertise their men-only services. They say all the right things about fathers and the bum shake they’re getting in our nation’s courts. But if you think this is a noble, yet thankless, cause, you know nothing about the screaming need for these kinds of services:

The firm is expanding faster than expected since opening in April.

They say if business continues at this pace, they anticipate opening offices in Fort Lauderdale and Miami.

Apopka, here we come.

Fathers sue Utah over law allowing mothers to secretly give up babies for adoption [Fox News]
A Woman’s Right to Move [Slate]
Kenny Leigh and Associates: Law office in Boca Raton only represents men [WPTV]

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