The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

Poisonous Parenting: On Natural Families

I’ve never spent much time in or near family court. Even when Parker’s adoption was finalized, D.C. family court was having an “adoption day,” where almost nothing was on the docket but adoption finalizations. Our attorney told us that the judges really loved “adoption day, ” because it was such a welcome change from what they saw on a daily basis. But that day, we were so happy that we didn’t give much thought to what the family court judges see all day. After all, we hadn’t seen it.

But yesterday was different. We were among four families finalizing adoptions yesterday, but it wasn’t adoption day, so much as “adoption hour.” And we were in among the other families, who are in and out of family court for reasons a lot less joyful than our reason for being there. We sat beside some of those families, talked with them, saw the judge, finalized Dylan’s adoption, and went home.

I didn’t think much about the experience, until I got home and read the fallout from John McCain’s comments on gay adoptions.

No, I don’t mean how he flubbed his original statement.

“I think that we’ve proven that both parents are important in the success of a family so, no, I don’t believe in gay adoption.”

– Republican presidential hopeful John McCain tells The New York Times

This guy hasn’t got a clue. There are so many things wrong with this statement. Seriously, “both parents are important…”? How does a gay couple who adopt not comprise “both parents?” Oh, I get it – you don’t mean two parents, you meant two parents who are of different gender. Sure, I’m playing semantics with you here John, but if you are going to run for President, you have to choose your words carefully

I mean how his campaign flubbed an attempt to backtrack from his earlier statement.

“McCain could have been clearer in the interview in stating that his position on gay adoption is that it is a state issue, just as he made it clear in the interview that marriage is a state issue. He was not endorsing any federal legislation.

McCain’s expressed his personal preference for children to be raised by a mother and a father wherever possible. However, as an adoptive father himself, McCain believes children deserve loving and caring home environments, and he recognizes that there are many abandoned children who have yet to find homes. McCain believes that in those situations that caring parental figures are better for the child than the alternative,” – Jill Hazelbaker, Director of Communications

And how the religious right — the people he was trying to pander to with his initial statement — responded. No sooner had McCain’s statement on his statement hit the blogosphere than the Family Research Council responded with an email.

From: FRC Action []

Sent: Tue 7/15/2008 7:21 PM

Subject: McCain’s Adoption Stance Hits Close to Home

Family Research Council | July 15, 2008

McCain’s Adoption Stance Hits Close to Home

Trying to appeal to both moderates and social conservatives, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has generally tread lightly on some touchy values issues. That was not the case last weekend when the Arizona senator’s personal experience led him to make some candid comments about his opposition to homosexual adoption. The GOP nominee, whose daughter Bridget is adopted, answered questions about what type of parents are best suited for raising children. In response to New York Times reporters who said, “President Bush believes that gay couples should not be permitted to adopt children. Do you agree with that?” McCain said plainly, “I think that we’ve proven that both parents are important in the success of a family, so, no, I don’t believe in gay adoption.” When the Times pressed him with, “But your concern would be that the couple should be a traditional couple,” McCain replied “Yes.”

After the Times interview, McCain’s communications director, Jill Hazelbaker, reportedly issued a statement that qualified the senator’s remarks. If it came to choosing between remaining unadopted and or having homosexual parents, she said, “McCain believes that in those situations that caring parental figures are better for the child than the alternative.” The remark only muddies the waters. It’s incumbent on mother-father families to step up so that no child faces a dilemma like this. At the same time, abandoning the mother-father model has a cyclical impact by weakening the traditional family unit. The McCain campaign should not fall into this “lady or the tiger” trap and should emphasize the need to rebuild the natural family.

There it is again.

The “natural family.” By “natural” they no doubt mean families with two opposite sex parents, though they could easily mean parents raising children they conceived and gave birth too. After all, to hear them tell it, that — or the possibility of it— is the whole basis of marriage. Therefore, heterosexual adoptive parents could have been the parents of they adopt. So it’s OK for them. They’re a “natural,” if not biological,” family. But keep in mind that, during oral arguments before the California Supreme Court, their side let slip that “children are meant to be raised by their biological parents,” and the state has an interest in “supporting procreation and genetic affiliation.”

While all of this was unfolding, there we sat in a hallway outside of a New Jersey family court, waiting to be declared a family. There were four adoptions being finalized that day, but we were the only same-sex couple on the docket that day. The family just ahead of us was a young heterosexual couple who were adopting a baby boy, and who had brought their extended family with them. (Including two grandmas and two great grandmas as well as assorted aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends.) The couple just after us was a heterosexual couple who appeared to be in our age bracket, adopting a little girl who was just starting to walk and wanting to get lots of practice. They came by themselves, as we did, with no extended family to witness the moment.

As we sat there and chatted amongst ourselves about our families, etc., it became obvious that the hallway was less-than-ideal place for such a large gathering. Just across from us was a window where people signed in for matter related to child custody, child support, child visitation, domestic violence, restraining orders, etc. A row of chairs lined the hall all the way down one side, for people who checked in at the window to wait for their names to be called. In many cases they had to walk through the large pocket of adoptive families waiting outside the courtroom door, if they could hear their names called at all over the excited chatter.

At some point, I started watching the families who weren’t their for adoptions, and it was a stark contrast. I saw children coming in for visitation, arriving with blank faces and looking sadder when they left than when they arrived. I remembered being struck by how silent they were, compared to Parker’s constant chatter. I saw people arriving to have matters like child custody and restraining orders adjudicated. One woman stood waiting, and talking to the older woman who’d accompanied her (her mother) about the custody battle with her son’s husband, who had apparently picked their son up from school when he wasn’t authorized to do so. I saw another couple there for domestic violence issues, who had to wait at opposite ends of the building, and I heard an officer at the police desk just outside the courtroom explaining their policy was to keep parties in such cases separated while they waited to see the judge.

But it wasn’t until we started talking to another woman who was waiting to be seen that the contrast really hit me. She was a grandmother, Latina, and she figured out that we were there to adopt. We got to know each other a bit, and I learned that she was there with a young woman who was either her daughter or grand-daughter, and who had a seven-month-old of her own. She’d been talking to the woman next to her, an African American woman who was filling out forms while the young Latina woman bounced the African American woman’s baby on her lap. The Latina grandmother explained to me that the African American woman was there with her grandson, whom her son had brought to her house and simply abandoned. She was there with the baby’s mother to apply for custody.

The Latina grandma said that she had been waiting there for two hours herself, but never said why she was there, except to say that it was “for something sad.” Instead, she asked about Dylan and Parker. And at some point (as people usually do, she “did the math” on our family, and asked me a question.

“Are you one family?” she asked, gesturing from me to the hubby and back again. I braced myself, and said yes were were, and that we’d adopted both Parker and Dylan as infants.

Her response was simply “That’s wonderful,” and she looked me in the eye and told me how wonderful she thought it was that our boys have two parents who love them, care about them, and want to be their parents and to be responsible for them, because we’d clearly worked on becoming parents. “That’s the most important thing.” Right about then, her case was called up, and she disappeared behind the door next to the one we walked through a few moments later.

It was remarkably quiet in the courtroom, compared to the hallway and all the family dramas contained there. The process took less than 10 minutes, and involved us simply answering the judges questions, for the record, since the paperwork had already been done and everything was in order and approved by the necessary persons. I couldn’t help noticing that the judge was unfazed by having two gay dads in front of him. In fact, he seemed truly happy to declare our adoption final and us to be Dylan’s legal parents “will all the rights and obligations of birth parents.”

It wasn’t until we were on the way home that I realized why the judge was happy to see us and to “legalize” our family. I sat in the hallway outside family court for just an hour, and couldn’t ignore the great amount of pain, sorrow, and sad stories that ended up there. But I’d only seen the tiniest fraction of what that judge sees every day. It made sense to men then.

Of course he was glad to see us. After seeing families torn apart and tearing themselves apart every day, and having to make decisions that couldn’t help but be painful for someone, and should never have to have been made in the first place, we were a welcome relief. He was happy to have in front of him two people who wanted to be parents, who wanted to love, care for, nurture and protect their children — children who weren’t their biological offspring — and who wanted to be parents badly enough to have gone through a long and arduous process. It didn’t matter to him that we were two gay men. We were a family — both when we walked in the door before his declaration, and when we walked out of it afterward.

We just as welcome a sight as the heterosexual families finalizing their adoptions that day, because (like the Latina grandmother said) the most important thing was that our children had two parents who wanted them, loved them, cared for them, and went out of their way to take on the responsibility of raising them.

But that’s in the eyes of the judge. To the FRC and others like them, we are not a “natural family” by any definition, and thus not really a family at all.

Georgia Alexander is a “natural parent,” who took her eight-month-old along on a drug deal.

Undercover officers arrested Georgia Alexander and Brodney Wallace after a police operative allegedly bought crack from Alexander.

According to officer, inside the car with Alexander was her son asleep on Wallace’s lap. Also in the vehicle was crack, powder cocaine, marijuana and Ecstasy pills.

Wednesday morning, Alexander was also charged with a slew of drug charges in addition to child neglect. She was being held on $66,000 bond.

The closest we’ve come to taking our kids along on a drug deal is taking along with us to CVS to buy allergy medicine or pick up prescriptions. But we’re not a “natural family,” so we’re not on par with Georgia Alexander.

Alexis Seda and Tankia Chester are a “natural family,” but their daughter ended up in the hospital with cocaine in her system.

Deputies with the Lee County Sheriff’s Office say on February 27, they were called to Lehigh Regional Hospital when they learned of the child with cocaine in her system.

Detectives say they eventually found out that the girl was brought to the hospital because she was suffering from what seemed to be a seizure.

But in the ER, doctors discovered that seizure-like behavior was because of the cocaine. The girl was then taken to HealthPark where she remained for several days before making a complete recovery.

They were able to find out the girl accidentally ingested the cocaine because there was some of it in the home.

Upon their discovery, warrants were issued for 25-year-old Alexis Seda and 27-year-old Tanyiki Chester on charges of child neglect.

Since Dylan started rolling over, I never even lay him down on the carpet or his blanket without first making sure there’s nothing he can pick up, put in his mouth, and choke on. Never mind having stray cocaine laying around. But we’re not a natural family, so we’re not on par with Alexis Seda and Tankia Chester.

Jessica Zacarias is the “natural parent” of three children, and let them lived in filthy, unsafe circumstances.

On Friday, a Florida Department of Children and Families investigator and Leesburg police officers arrived at the home of Jessica Zacarias, 30, after receiving an anonymous report that she was neglecting three children in her care. The DCF report alleged that three children, ages 3, 8 and 12, were living in a home with several adults who abuse alcohol and drugs and said their bodies were covered in rashes, according to an arrest affidavit.

Authorities would not disclose Zacarias’ relationship to the children, citing privacy laws.

Zacarias was not at the home when investigators arrived. The woman watching the three children told investigators that Zacarias, the three children and four other adults live in the four-bedroom apartment, according to the affidavit.

Investigators found the three children had large red welts on their skin that appeared to be staph infections. They also found little food in the home, which was littered with empty beer cans and dirty dishes. The bathtub was moldy, and roaches crawled along the living-room walls, according to the affidavit.

We do laundry once a week, run the dishwasher on what seems like at least a daily basis, empty the garbage on a regular basis, vacuum regularly, and our kids don’t have welts or infections. But we’re not a “natural family,” so we’re not on par with Jessica Zacarias.

Joseph Rochford isn’t a parent, but being heterosexual qualifies him as a “natural parent” if he marries the mother of children he scalded and burned.

zz39605e19fd3.jpg Joseph Rochford, 19, and Justin Bramlett, 16, are each being held on one count of child abuse, a third-degree felony. Rochford is engaged to the children’s mother, according to his mother Traci Rochford, and Bramlett is half-brother to one of the children.

On Monday, deputies were called to a home in Bokeelia to investigate possible child abuse. They spoke to two witnesses during the investigation that reported they had seen the abuse, according to sheriff’s reports.

One witness told deputies of how the 6-year-old girl screamed as Rochford burned her hand with a spoon he heated with a lighter, causing a blister to form. The other witness said she had seen Bramlett burn smiley faces on the 13-year-old boy’s left arm and right shoulder with a lighter.

The men were taken into custody from a home on Phillips Street in Bokeelia.

I check the temperature of Dylan’s bath water at least a couple of times before I put him in the bathtub. When I’m cooking, I’m nearly obsessive about making sure any pot handles are turned toward the back of the stove and not toward the front were they can be grabbed by little hands or accidentally bumped by Parker. (I’ve heard too many stories about accidental scaldings.) But we’re not — and can never be — “natural parents,” so we’re not on par with Joseph Rochford (who could still marry his fiance, even if he’s in prison, so long as she’ll have him).

Clarissa Pierce is a “natural parent” who waited at last five days to take her son to the hospital after her boyfriend scalded the child, leaving him with second- and third-degree burns.

The 22-year-old mother of a 2-year-old boy has been arrested for child neglect after the child was scalded by the woman’s boyfriend.

Clarissa Pierce is accused of waiting too long to get professional medical treatment for the child after he suffered second- and third-degree burns to half his body.

Twenty-4-year-old John Cellner was arrested last week on a child abuse complaint for allegedly spraying the child with hot water for up to 15 minutes.

Investigators say the boy was scalded June 27th but wasn’t taken for medical treatment until July 2nd.

Like I said, we take extra care to protect our kids from burns, so they don’t have any so far. I know how much Parker screams when he bumps his head or falls down too hard. I cannot imagine what a child experiences when he has second- and third-degree burns that go untreated for several days. Nor can I imagine letting a child in that condition go untreated. But we’re not “natural parents,” so we’re not on par with Clarissa (who, if she still wants him, can marry her boyfriend even if one or both of them are in jail).

Niurka Ramirez is a “natural parent” who hosed her daughter down the a pressure hose, to “calm her down.”

zz27d2fbe8rt0.jpgNiurka Ramirez, 22, turned herself in to police in March after security footage of the incident was released. She was charged with felony child abuse.

The girl was examined by a public health nurse at the time of Ramirez’s arrest and was found to have no visible injuries. She is under the care of relatives and said to be in good condition since the incident, reported.

Surveillance tape shows the woman getting out of a white Hyundai Elantra and putting money into a pressure washer. Another woman is seen bringing the girl out of the car. As the child tries to get away, one of the women sprays her with the high-pressure hose.

The woman sprayed water at the child’s legs, chest and face. She then stripped the wet clothes off her, leaving her nude in the wash bay, authorities said. The child was dressed into dry clothes before the suspects fled.

Gee, when we want our kid to “calm down” I give him a time out. But we’re not “natural parents,” so we’re not on par with Nurika Ramirez.

Ramsey Lengal is a “natural parent” who wrecked his car while driving drunk, with his three-year-old daughter in his lap.

A 27-year-old Las Cruces man has been charged with drunken driving and child abuse after he wrecked his car while his three-year-old daughter sat in his lap.

According to investigators with the Dona Ana County Sheriff’s Office, Ramsey Lengal was attempting to cross a rain soaked intersection full of debris from runoff when the crash occurred.

Witnesses told investigators that the little girl was sitting unsecured in Ramsey’s lap while he drove.

As a result of the crash, the car’s air bag deployed and the girl sustained injuries to her face from the impact from the device. She was treated at the scene by paramedics.

Neither of us drives drunk (I don’t drink, and the hubby rarely ever does), and our kids have never been in the front seat of the car. But we’re not “natural parents,” so we’re not on par with Ramsey Lengal.

Andrey M. Young and Tina Bougher were “natural parents” who let their son die of dehydration while they went about their lives.

Andrew M. Young, 27, and Tina M. Boughner, 29, were ordered by circuit Judge Diane Druzinski to spend at least 71 months and up to 15 years in prison for last July’s death of Wyatt Young in their Sterling Heights home. On separate drug charges, Young was sentenced to a concurrent 6-year, 4-month sentence (with one year of jail credit), and Boughner one concurrent year in the county jail.

“You owed it (care) to him and you completely disregarded your responsibility and obligation and caused his death,” Druzinski told the couple standing before her. “You both deserve to be punished.”

Assistant Macomb prosecutor William Dailey said in court the couple appeared to be “wrapped up” in their lives as Young had lost his job months before, and they were about to be evicted from their home. It appeared Wyatt was not given food or water the day before he died – July 9, 2007.

The boy’s cause of death was dehydration, but Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Daniel Spitz said Wyatt also suffered from malnutrition. He also had a bleeding ulcer from a diaper rash that defense attorneys argued could have contributed to the dehydration. Hot weather and lack of an air conditioner also played a role, attorneys said but a good portable air conditioner doesn’t have to be large.

Our kids get fed when they’re hungry, and something to drink when they’re thirsty, and they’ve never been dehydrated. (Plus, kids have a way of letting you know when they need something, unless they’re ignored for too long. They they just give up.) But we’re not a “natural family,” so we’re not on par with Young and Bougher.

Ricardo Gonzalez is a “natural parent” who locked his daughters in a cage, in the back of his truck, because he didn’t have a babysitter.

A suburban Chicago man locked his two young daughters in a wire cage hidden in the back of his pickup truck because he didn’t have a baby sitter, officials said Thursday.

Ricardo Gonzalez, 35, of Midlothian, was arrested Monday after a woman at a gas station in Posen heard a crying child and spotted him pushing small hands back into a cage, police said.

He had a wire cage behind the front seats of his truck, police said. Black-tinted windows and a large plywood board in the back window concealed it.

Gonzalez told police he used the cage because he didn’t have a baby sitter. He also said he wanted to control the girls, ages 2 and 5, so they wouldn’t run away. Police said the girls did not live in the cage.

Like I’ve said before, none of these people are exemplary parents, and none of their actions are presentative of all heterosexual or biological parents. (If that were the case, I wouldn’t be here to write any of this.) But they are “natural families,” parents with the correct “genetic affiliation” to their children, etc. Their actions and crimes against their children aside, they meet the base qualifications for marriage and for being a family in the eyes of of the FRC and others like them. If they can just stop abusing their kids they’ll be fine parents.

But whether they do or not, they’re better parents than the hubby and I could ever be, because they’re heterosexual and have made (or could possibly make) babies with an appropriate opposite sex partner. What they do to those babies afterwards, actually doesn’t disqualify them.

Of course, many (I hope most) people know better. The judge knew better. I guess that’s why he smile so broadly at us as he reached across the table to shake our hands, and why he said as much to us before we left. The grandmother I spoke to before she slipped through that other door, to face whatever sad situation brought her there on the same day our happy occasion brought us to the same place, knew better too. Both of them, the grandmother and the judge, had seen more than enough sadness, destruction, and despair — in “natural families” — to know better.

I don’t know all the stories of all the other families that came to family court yesterday. I don’t know what brought them there, what random circumstances or unfortunate decisions they faced that brought them to the point of needing to go to family court. But I know that my family is no less a family than theirs, whatever our future holds, and whatever unknowns lay down the road for us.

Like any family starting out, we can’t know. (If anyone ever did, probably few would take the leap.) So, we just stepped out into the day as a family and started making our way. We’ll do it every other day too; loving, caring for, and supporting one another as though it were the most natural thing in the world.

Because it is. And that’s what makes us a family. It’s what makes any family.

One Comment

  1. Terrance,

    GPop and I are always a bit surprised by the teachers, social workers, doctors, etc., who are so happy that we take an active and loving interest in our son’s development, education, growth, and upbringing. Evidently, this is not as common as one would hope.