Tuesday, September 4, 2007

About Fathers (Part 1)

Yesterday, the Miami Herald published letters regarding the controversial Cuban child custody case. Its a mixed bag of opinions from the Herald's readership, but I noticed one letter that provided some interesting insight.

The letter comes from Gordon E. Finley. Some readers might recognize the name because Gordon E. Finley is also the name of a respected psychologist who has worked extensively on the subject of relationships between father and child, and has a Ph.D. from Harvard and now teaches at FIU.

It is very likely that the letter published yesterday comes from Dr. Finley, and he raised an interesting point: "The reality is that were the gender of the two parents in this international custody dispute reversed, the Cuban mother would have been on a plane to Havana with her daughter within hours of the girl's circumstances coming to light."

He may be a little too confident in his remark, but I believe that our stereotypes of gender has been a crucial factor in this case, as was in the Elian Gonzalez case. Dr. Finley's beliefs come from his extensive research in divorce cases, where he notes that the court system "awards either sole custody or primary residential parental responsibility to the mother around 85 percent to 90 percent of the time." Finley also points out that a father's loss of child custody can have severe effects on the father's life, such as "substantially higher [compared to divorced mothers who lose custody] rates of: suicide, depression, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, poor health, work problems, relationship problems, and social isolation." These facts may point out our social bias towards always supporting the "nurturing mother" in custody cases.

Finley, without question, is a strong advocate for equal gender/parental rights, and rightly points out gender bias on other issues, but he's most concerned about what he calls "the silent epidemic of the demise of fathers from the lives of our children." According to Finley's own research based on children of divorce, interviews showed that these individuals (looking back) felt they had lost "intangible assets" after divorce, such as "
the 'being there' assets of affection, emotional connection, and companionship with their fathers."

While I disagree with Finley's general assumptions about what lies behind our gender stereotypes, I think his findings are important points to consider in the Cuban child custody case. The weak allegations being made against the Cuban father, Rafael Izquierdo, by the Florida Department of Children and Families may be based on these negative biases that society generally has on fathers in custody disputes. There is still no evidence indicating that Izquierdo is an unfit father.

This fact may explain why DCF and lawyers for Joe Cubas have so far provided radical arguments in court to deny Izquierdo custody of his 4-year old daughter.

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