Conservative Disease

Recently, I came across an article on a local news website that detailed a custody situation. The players in the battle were the woman who had given birth to the child, the father and the child. The woman, Sara McKenna, was an ex-marine who had been working as a firefighter at a marine base in California up until she realized that job was too dangerous for both a pregnant woman and a young mother. The father, Bode Miller, is a famous ski racer. The two of them had a relationship that did not result in marriage, but did produce the child in question. The child is a 9 month old boy.

The gist of the story is that the mother, when she was still pregnant with the child, decided to move to New York from California in order to take advantage of a situation that offered her, with her veteran status, a good chance to finish school and thus have a less dangerous career than firefighting with which to raise her child. Bode Miller was not happy with this and pursued Sara through legal action. He said he was only after his rights as a father, not to prevent Sara from moving. Miller is now married to another woman altogether, so any attempt by him to prevent her from moving is apparently being construed to come down to child custody rather than relationship brinksmanship.

A judge in New York determined that McKenna had not moved to New York in order to take advantage of the education benefits, but rather to enjoy the state’s longer length of term for receipt of child support payments, until 21 rather than until 18. The judge said that she had only come to New York in order to better her argument over custody of the child. She did file for custody in New York and was told that the jurisdiction belonged to California. The judge in the New York case went so far as to call McKenna’s move “reprehensible” and “irresponsible”.  “Her appropriation of the child while in utero was irresponsible, reprehensible,” and her “wrongful conduct must not be rewarded,” the judge said in May.

Somehow Miller wound up with the child after this took place. A California court had awarded him temporary custody. McKenna’s lawyers felt that the damning New York decision had been responsible for Miller being awarded temporary custody. A state appellate court just agreed. They said, “putative fathers have neither the right nor the ability to restrict a pregnant woman from her constitutionally-protected liberty.” With that the case was back in New York and a court there has just given McKenna custody again, until December 9, when a there will be some kind of new hearing.

Of particular interest to me after reading this story were the comments that appeared after it. I like to read the comments people leave.  Here is a sampling:

Someone named PamConner wrote, “How did Miller end up with the baby after he was born? There is SO much more to this crazy story that it is hard to figure our even with this ‘essay’.”

RaymondCism wrote, “Here’s a thought. Wear a condom until you’re sure and married.”

RogerEvans wrote, “Once a baby is conceived, the desires and wishes of the biological mother and father vanishes except to raise the child in a loving and nurturing environment.”

He also wrote, “A baby deserves the natural right to have a Biological Father and a Biological Mother raise the child.”

AnnPirie replied to the last by RogerEvans, “Not if one of them is broken.”

Finally DaleGross said, “Women would not be too happy if the roles incidental to nature were reversed. If men were the ones carrying babies in the womb, and doing whatever they wanted with no consideration for the mother, women would not like it one bit. But the mother should not be held hostage either. Parents need to act reasonably. If they don’t, the courts must decide issues for them. But courts should give the benefit of doubt to the party who acts most reasonably.”

My first question is, why would Sara have to file for custody in New York to begin with? The child was, after all, born out of wedlock. While there are laws that place financial responsibility upon the father for some portion of such a child’s upbringing do they also give the father the same powers as someone, a husband, who is actually acting as part of a concerted team to both raise the child and to be a part of a relationship that provides the basis for a nuclear “mother and father” relationship? I have to infer that she had enough reason to be afraid of Miller that she felt she needed to apply. The sad thing is that she ran into someone, that custody hearing judge, who was afflicted with Conservative Disease.

Ok, so what is Conservative Disease (I’ll stop capitalizing it now)? Basically, Jesus said in Matthew 7, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” You can be forgiven for thinking, given the state of political rhetoric today, that I apply this as a political term, it isn’t. What conservative disease is, the simplest way to say it, is that it is a feeling of certain judgment that comes directly from an individual or a group’s innate or long-term learned sense of right and wrong. That is, it is the ‘plank’.

This woman, Sara McKenna, may have indeed committed some type of wrong by doing what she did, but it was by no means a huge error or wrong done on her part. What she did was akin to the ‘speck’.

You can say, along with many of the commenters on the article, that we have to look past whatever is going on between the parents in favor of the welfare of the child, but the child’s welfare is in clear dispute if the situation of the ‘plank’ and the ‘speck’ is not actually resolved. They both have rights, but they both have limitations and ameliorations working upon their rights. The truth is what we’re getting at here, not a lie designed to act as a cradle, presumably until such time as the child can decide for itself. That cradle can’t possibly hold, neither for that period of time nor for one much shorter. In fact, it will serve only to become another ‘plank’, this time for that child, down the road. No, we have to seek justice now.

One of the things that people do in relationships is that they do not enter them with the motive of unconditional love. What they commonly do is to enter them with brinksmanship in mind. They want to better their own position in life. They experience feelings prompted by chemicals surging throughout their bodies and they give in to those feelings. They forget that they allowed themselves to get to that point because they sized up their potential partner to begin with. “He”, or “she”, “makes a lot of money”, or, “is famous.” Maybe they exhibited certain traits that the evaluator’s parents also exhibited? This isn’t all that bad, as it can lead to knowledge of the other in a relationship, which fosters intimacy. That intimacy does, however, take time and willingness unto vulnerability and loss of arguments. It takes a willingness to both grow and to understand. It can also be a big part of loveless struggles upon which society is likely to place the moniker of love. A case in point would be a man for whom intimacy is a foreign thing, for him intimacy comes with too much vulnerability and the need for him to argue rather than to force his position. It calls for him to communicate and for such men that is a hard thing, like asking someone afraid of speaking in public to speak to a crowd of 10,000. When such loveless relationships go south both parties tend to battle rather than negotiate.

Could that kind of battle be what is happening here? Because Bode Miller is now married to another woman there is an assumption that he is not engaging Sara McKenna in this manner. I don’t really think you can ever just assume such a thing. The bias is to look past the ‘plank’. How can you look past the plank in order to remove the speck, that is to arrive at some kind of a custody arrangement that allows for Miller to be involved in his child’s life but does not give him the rights that even an ex-husband would have – given that they were never married, when the plank is definitely in the way? The plank is in Miller’s argument and it is in the original judge’s words. If he did not want to seek custody then he would not have gone to the legal steps he did, so far as to gain temporary custody in California. Perhaps, even having gotten custody, he would have relinquished it. His lawyers know what to say to make him look good, but his actions speak for themselves. “You will know them by their fruits.”

Incidentally, this is also something that tends to come up in “men’s rights” movements. They like to say that they are in favor of representing their rights, when it almost always becomes apparent that they can’t stand losing any part of the argument they see themselves engaged in with their ex-spouses. If this were not so then men’s rights groups would embrace gay rights groups and positions. They would embrace gay rights because it is precisely those arguments that gay people engage in after the dissolution of marriage that would help their named cause, that deal with post-marital situations in a gender neutral way. But what really happens? They tend to violently refute any connection with gay people or gay causes because of the image of it, the plank again, that they perceive. Their innate or learned reaction trumps something that actually works in their favor because they have a visceral reaction that they cannot overcome. It’s too easy to see something as “plainly wrong”.

Now I’m not saying that Bode Miller can’t communicate, nor that he is some kind of monster. There may be more to this that has compelled him to action. We don’t, for instance, know that Sara is not mentally ill or something, although that would probably have come out by now, don’t you think? In any case, we shouldn’t judge him any more than we should judge her. It is apparent, however, that a good deal of plank style judgment is going on here, both on Miller’s part and the part of the original New York judge. It is also apparent that the smell of that judgment is not going to leave Sara McKenna alone. She will be harassed by it long beyond this point. Even if she does clean up the speck on her part she will continue to rightly fear what the judgment of conservative disease might mean for her and her child, well past when he is 21 by the way.



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