Friday, December 28, 2007

Port in a storm

From an article in the Worcester Telegram & Gazette:

Before she reached her 12th birthday, Theresa Chidester found herself pulled in two directions.

Trapped in a messy custody battle surrounding her parents’ divorce, Chidester had to choose between living with her father and moving in with her mother. So instead of listening to her parents, Chidester decided to rely mostly on her lawyer.

“She was more of a parent to me than my parents were,” Chidester, 19, says of Justine Rakich-Kelly, a lawyer who is also the executive director of the Children’s Law Center of Connecticut.

Dogg is no dog

The three children of rapper Snoop Dogg and his wife Shante can thank their dad for staying out of divorce court:

Rapper Snoop Dogg decided against divorcing his wife because he could not bear the thought of another man raising his children.

The hip-hop star - real name Cordozar Calvin Broadus - filed for divorce from wife Shante in 2004 after seven years together.But the star quickly changed his mind after realising he had too much to lose.

"I was going to split up with my wife - my wife wasn't going to split up with me," he said.

"You know, I was caught up with Hollywood, and the girls and the night life. I thought I was the man and I was willing to give up what I had at home for that, until I realized that what I had at home was irreplaceable, so I gave that up to go back home.

"I just don't want another man raising my kids. That was the main goal. I had kids with my wife because I wanted to be with my wife. And those three babies are all wanted, and I wanted to be with them."

Border-crossing divorce

An essay in the Travel section of the New York Times talks about the journeys that children of divorce make, physically and emotionally:

The holidays are synonymous with travel for many people. For me, a child of divorce, add international relations to the Christmas-New Year’s maelstrom. When my parents split in the 1970s, my father moved to Montreal with Susan, the woman who would become his wife and my stepmother. Since I was 6, I’ve gone across the border and back at least 100 times.

I know how it must feel to be a global peace negotiator: needing to be in two places at once, my allegiances split.

New splits for the new year

Two fairly long (as Hollywood goes) celebrity marriages are on the way out. Former Princess Bride Robin Wright Penn and actor Sean Penn announced their split after 11 years of marriage, while Brendan Fraser of George of the Jungle and The Mummy fame announced a split with Afton, his wife of 9 years. The Frasers have three children, while the Penns have two.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Movie review: Kramer vs. Kramer

Although my TV is gone, I can still watch plenty of movies on my laptop (and kudos to my brother for ordering me a widescreen, giving me the full viewing experience). My public library offers oodles of movies, with no late fees and two week check-out intervals, so I've been strategically building my Netflix and library lists. Whenever I run across a movie I want to see, I check the library first. Only if the library doesn't have it do I add it to my Netflix list.

So, the library did have a copy of Kramer vs. Kramer, which I had never seen, until last night. The story line is vastly different from most of the movies that deal with children of divorce today, because it reflects a different era. Some early reviewers of my book questioned a comment I made about most of us living with our mothers. Back in the 70s, that was the reality. The court system was skewed toward mothers getting custody of children. Kramer vs. Kramer shows that reality.

If you haven't seen the movie, Meryl Streep plays the role of Joanna Kramer who leaves her husband (played by Dustin Hoffman) and young son to "find herself." After stumbling upon herself in California, she returns to seek custody of Billy. Although he's been the sole caretaker of their son for a year and a half, Ted Kramer finds himself in a desperate fight to retain custody.

I won't spoil the outcome for you. This was a good movie though. The parents were portrayed as flawed individuals who were both, at one time or another, good parents and lousy parents. Little Billy, caught in the middle of all this, is written believably, as a normal boy who wonders what has happened to his family, who misses his mom, and who bonds with his dad in a new way after mom leaves. If you haven't seen it, it's a good addition to the children of divorce movie library.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Switching sides

From Mitch Albom's One More Day:

My father once told me, “You can be a mama’s boy or a daddy’s boy. But you can’t be both.”

So I was a daddy’s boy. I mimicked his walk. I mimicked his deep, smoky laugh. I carried a baseball glove because he loved baseball, and I took every hardball he threw, even the ones that stung my hands so badly I thought I would scream.

...I was a daddy’s boy, and I remained a daddy’s boy right up to a hot, cloudless Saturday morning in the spring of my fifth grade year. We had a doubleheader scheduled that day against the Cardinals, who wore red wool uniforms and were sponsored by Connor’s Plumbing Supply.

The sun was already warming the kitchen when I entered in my long socks, carrying my glove, and saw my mother at the table smoking a cigarette. My mother was a beautiful woman, but she didn’t look beautiful that morning. She bit her lip and looked away from me. I remember the smell of burnt toast and I thought she was upset because she messed up breakfast.

“I’ll eat cereal,” I said.

I took a bowl from the cupboard.

She cleared her throat. “What time is your game, honey?”

“Do you have a cold?” I asked.

She shook her head and put a hand to her cheek. “What time is your game?”

“I dunno.” I shrugged. This was before I wore a watch.

I got the glass bottle of milk and the big box of corn puffs. I poured the corn puffs too fast and some bounced out of the bowl and onto the table. My mother picked them up, one at a time, and put them in her palm.

“I’ll take you,” she whispered. “Whenever it is.”

“Why can’t Daddy take me?” I asked.

“Daddy’s not here.”

“Where is he?”

She didn’t answer.

“When’s he coming back?”

She squeezed the corn puffs and they crumbled into floury dust.

I was a mama’s boy from that day on . . .

Child killer of divorce

Last week, the Christmas season was brutally shattered for at least eight families when a troubled teen chose to end his life and the lives of others in a shooting rampage at an Omaha mall.

Robert Hawkins' parents divorced when he was three. According to an article in the Washington Post, he had substance abuse issues and mental health problems. His family had given up on him, and he became a ward of the state at the age of 14. The article says he "had been a ward of the state from 2002 to 2006" but if you do the math, you realize that this kid simply aged out of the system. If he was 19 now in 2007, he turned 18 in 2006. And if you read the article closely, you realize that Hawkins was not in foster care, but in a mental health facility.

When he left the mental health facility, it wasn't because he was cured or that his mental health issues were under control. It was because he failed to complete community service that was required by the program. There's a shocker -- someone with a mental illness failing to follow the rules. Instead of realizing that this kid had more serious issues, the courts declared him "nonamenable to further services." In other words, we wash our hands of him.

Appallingly, a spokesman for the health department stated that "all appropriate services were provided when needed for as long as needed." Well, clearly that wasn't the case.

What happened in Omaha is eerily similar to what happened at Virginia Tech last year. A kid who was widely recognized to have mental health problems failed to get the proper treatment or be in the proper setting and, as a result, lives were lost.

I've seen traditional mental hospitals and understand why a lot of people are turned off by the idea. I've volunteered at more residential, kinder, gentler, homes for people with mental illnesses and appreciate their ability to care for nonviolent individuals who cannot live on their own in society. Perhaps what we need is a thoughtful combination of the two. As it is, we let most of the violent, mentally ill individuals in our society live behind prison bars, which can't be better than the old-time mental wards, or we make them live in the world, tempting fate that they won't, like Hawkins, find a cache of weapons or other means of hurting others and themselves.

As a society, we are failing these weaker members, these citizens whose brains war against them. If any good can come of these horrible tragedies, perhaps it is that we will wake up and find some solutions to offer real help and protection for the mentally ill.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Marriage is green

Want another reason to stay married?


Rising divorce rates mean that fewer people are living in each household, causing them to take up more space and consume more energy and water, a new study suggests. "People talk about divorce hurting the children. Divorce also has an impact on the environment," said Jianguo "Jack" Liu, senior author of the study and the Rachel Carson chair in sustainability at Michigan State University. "Nobody knew about it."


Pandas are naturally solitary creatures, living separately from each other. Humans, on the other hand, tend to be more social. But when the social bond falls apart and people start living more like pandas, the drain on the environment is greater, Liu said.

One for the boys

Reader Brad Carlson emailed me to ask: "I was curious if you are going to opine on the Hulk Hogan divorce. Given that I was a fan of Hulk back in the 80s and have seen his family up close on their VH1 reality show, it saddens me somewhat. They seemed like a solid family unit despite the potential pitfalls of fame and fortune."

Thanks for the tip, Brad. I had seen announcements of the Hogan divorce, but hadn't taken the time to cover it yet. Sadly, the news of this divorce comes on the heels of their son's arrest in connection with a street racing accident that left a friend in a coma. Tragedies like this put a tremendous strain on families; some emerge stronger and closer, but others fall apart.

The really sad thing is that this is a completely unnecessary tragedy, and one that the family appears to have courted. This post includes an embedded YouTube video that shows the family, and especially mom Linda, to have a history with street racing. We've all done stupid things as teenagers (I once went around a corner on two wheels with my mom and two small brothers in the car--which the boys thought was totally cool, but Mom wasn't so happy about it; it was completely unintentional, by the way), but we're supposed to grow up and learn from our mistakes, not keep at them and teach them to our kids.

Still, a divorce is one additional tragedy this family didn't need.