Right Opinion

Marriage & Divorce

Burt Prelutsky · Jan. 21, 2013

The other day, my wife and I were in the car listening to a radio talk show. The host, while referring to Barack Obama, insisted that in spite of his many faults and deficiencies as a president and commander in chief, one had to acknowledge that he was a very good father. To which Yvonne said, “How does he know what sort of father he is?”

It struck me as an excellent question. I think there is a widespread belief that Obama is a good family man, but we have no grounds for coming to that conclusion. The only time we see the family together is when they’re taking off for a taxpayer-funded vacation or posing for campaign photos. Other than that, we never see Obama with his daughters. Surely Malia, who’s 14, is certainly old enough to play golf with her father, but I never see her out on the course with him. Instead, it’s those same three guys whose full time job seems to be to make up a foursome for the president, whether it’s Eisenhower, Ford, Clinton or Obama.

I’m not suggesting that Obama is as bad a father as he is a president, but it does seem to me that if he took the role as seriously as he should, he’d use his bully pulpit to admonish black men to start shouldering their responsibilities and to be ashamed of their part in dooming the 71% of black babies being born to unwed mothers to a life of ignorance, poverty and crime. You would think that in four years, he could have taken a few minutes off from deriding Republicans and Tea Party members to deliver a few well-chosen words to those sperm donors who have turned every inner city in America into an urban cesspool.

It also wouldn’t be out of line for Mrs. Obama to quit yakking about cookies and calories long enough to expend some of her political capital on young black women who don’t seem to think twice about condemning themselves, their offspring and future generations, to lives of quiet degradation.

Recently, I heard from a woman in Florida who referred to the man she lives with, a man named Charley, as her partner. In replying to a question I posed in my response, she explained that there were a great many older people in Florida who are divorced or widowed, but refrain from getting married again because one of them would have to surrender his or her Social Security checks.

I was shocked. I always thought that the federal government did everything in its power to encourage marriage. When Congress finally stops wasting its time trying to outlaw guns, they should get around to changing the law so that these old folks can afford to stop living in sin.

The more I thought about it, the sillier it seemed to me that people of any age who are cohabiting or canoodling have decided to refer to the other party as a partner. I couldn’t help picturing a guy named Hank at a social gathering making introductions: “This is my partner, Susan, and this is my other partner, Charley,” while people gasped, and whispers of “ménage a trois” swept through the lodge hall, unaware of the fact that Charley is the other half of Hank & Charley’s Plumbing Supplies.

Later that same day, a different radio host was devoting an hour to the topic of divorce. He insisted that it was essential that for the good of the child, no divorced parent should ever speak ill of his or her ex.

It is something we have all heard so often that we generally accept it as folk wisdom, along the lines of never running in a house while holding scissors or regularly consuming large amounts of fruits and vegetables. But this time it triggered something in me, and I found myself thinking, “Why not? What’s to be gained by lying?”

When I got home, I sent the following email to the fellow on the radio: “I found today’s discussion about divorce fascinating, but I must take exception to your rule about not speaking ill of one’s ex-mate to the children.

"As you know, many, if not most, kids assume they have played a major role in causing the divorce. So on top of the unavoidable trauma, if people took your advice, it would force the children to deal with unnecessary guilt.

"It seems to me that when parents split, you would like them to say insipid things such as, "Mommy and Daddy still care for each other and we both love you very much, but we no longer love each other” or “Your Mommy (or Daddy) is a wonderful person, but we both just feel it was better if we lived apart.” I can’t imagine any child whose response to the first bit of malarkey wouldn’t be ‘So what?’ or to the second, ‘Better for who?’ Or ‘Better for whom,’ if one of the parents happened to be an English teacher.

“Even to my 73-year-old ears, those are going to sound like very shallow, selfish reasons for breaking up the family unit and leaving the child, in most cases, fatherless.

"I’m not suggesting that anyone should wash the other parent’s dirty laundry in front of the kid, but I think that trying to whitewash the other party is going to leave the child with a great deal more anger and confusion than if you at least indicate the truth of the matter.

"Some parents, after all, are simply wicked and evil, and there’s no compelling reason to add hypocrisy to the mix, thus making a bad situation even worse.

"It goes without saying that the explanation for the split be age-appropriate. But in most cases, between the raised voices, the sulks, the sighs, the occasional slaps and the slammed doors, kids of any age are going to be aware of friction in the home, even if the deluded parents are convinced they possess the acting chops of Meryl Streep and Michael Caine. Regards, Burt Prelutsky”