If to live means to shut my mouth,
And speak naught against evil and hate;
If to live in peace means to close my eyes,
to the bigotry and trees that prevail;
if to live in peace means to plug my ears
When the woe-begone weep at my door;
Then I'm not content to live in peace,
But would rather I live at WAR!
For to live in peace means to open my mouth,
And to speak out for righteous and true;
For to live in peace means to uncover my eyes,
To act - to kill wrong in its youth;
For to live in peace means to unplug my ears
When the call of the oppressed is heard;
It will only be when these rights I possess,
That I can live completely unstirred.
By Geraldyne F. Lee
My aunt wrote this many, many years ago. I often glanced at it while it hung on the wall of my parent's home as I grew up but never knew what it meant. After my divorce in 2008, I asked them if I could take a copy of the framed poem from their home back to New York.
When I read it today, it speaks volumes.
Divorce can have a significant impact on a family. It can affect you emotionally, psychologically, and especially financially. It influenced me in every possible way, including spiritually. I had a complete change of consciousness after seeing injustices occurring in the family court system firsthand. I couldn't believe what I saw.
As I walked out of the courthouse after my settlement on July 9, 2008, I realized that I had battled not only my ex-wife, but I won a war with an extremely biased court system. I was determined. Nothing was going to stop me from keeping all of my money, but more importantly, access to my children. I knew it was best for them to be with us equally. I was never going to be a 'Disney Dad' and see my kids every other weekend, and I sure wasn't paying anyone 'child support.’
After several therapy sessions, months of reflection, and years of research, I began to figure things out. It dawned on me that we have many unrealistic expectations concerning marriage and divorce in our culture. Most people seem to think that if, for instance, things don't work out with you and your partner/spouse, you get divorced, the father leaves, and the mother receives child support or spousal support. The kids see their dad every other weekend. Everything will be ok after that.
I began writing about my experiences and found my essays were reaching people in ways I hadn't considered. People would connect with me through various blogs I had over the years. Some of these people are friends with me today. I understood every divorce was different, but there were common threads through most of them. When I expressed myself and began questioning conventional wisdom, I had a way of connecting with like-minded individuals - mostly, survivors of the cruel and unjust system of family court. With my writing, I could make a difference in people’s lives. When people read stories that relate to their own experiences, they tend to discover new online communities and groups. I later, found myself becoming an advocate for divorcing fathers.
I focused my time and energy on writing and eventually found organizations that were working on updating the domestic relations law in my state. I found my voice as well as an outlet to bring about change. My new passion was to elevate the level of discourse around fatherhood and to bring about a higher standard for divorce cases where shared parenting is the end goal.
After my divorce settlement, and as time passed, I came to understand many of the laws in New York and how things actually work. I started hearing from several friends who, unfortunately, did not know what to do during their divorce proceedings. I began asking questions about their divorces and found they kept receiving poor advice from their lawyers, friends, and family. It appears they knew no other alternative than the scenario I described above. Most regret the choices they made. I studied the history of divorce, became more interested in how relationships could be improved. I learned about marriage customs and matrimonial laws around the world, custody issues, and began to connect the dots. I discovered that we have real cultural problems that need immediate attention.
Think this through; why must kids miss out on individual family relationships when parents separate? It's cruel for children, who love both parents, to suddenly lose access to everything they once knew when their parents no longer want to live together. Does a child's love and need for both parents abruptly end when parents decide to separate?
When parents split, even if it's amicable, it's a traumatic event. It's hard for parents, relatives, friends, and especially children. Barring exceptional circumstances, a child's right to both loving, fit parents should not be allowed to be used as leverage against the other.
Our culture needs a drastic paradigm shift. It's time to stop seeing one parent as the default and the other as just a visitor. These assumptions are often sexist and outdated. If the parents can no longer live together, the next best thing is for the child to have equal time with each parent - shared parenting.
Shared parenting establishes a presumption of joint custody when parents separate. Having shared parenting as the default in each state would create a default starting point for divorcing and separating parents. Judges should not have their hands tied. They should retain the ability to rule otherwise when one parent is demonstratively unfit and especially in instances where one spouse is found guilty of domestic violence or abuse. The presiding judge must show with clear and convincing evidence as to their reasoning for any deviation. Those judges should also be held accountable for their decision.
Bottom line? When both parents are fit, where there is no abuse or neglect, shared parenting should be a default in each state – rebuttable with clear and convincing evidence.
I see a direct link between our divorce culture and widespread fatherlessness. Poverty, crime, sexual promiscuousness, gang culture, drug dependency, domestic violence, and a host of other social ills are symptoms of the more significant problem that stems from generations of children growing up without fathers in the home. We seem to have lowered our expectations of what is acceptable. The realization that our society is comfortable with normalizing fatherlessness has been a wake-up call for me.
We need to make significant cultural changes to strengthen the family bond that I see being systematically dismantled. The contributions of mother and father make with the rearing of children are equally important. The time has come to rethink the way we handle divorce, especially when children are involved. I certainly did. I am living proof that there are alternatives to conventional wisdom.
I cannot live in peace until there is a radical shift in consciousness concerning the importance of men and fathers. People insist on writing men out of the picture, but I insist on debunking this myth and proving why fathers are needed.
I cannot live in peace until I see a bias towards mothers eradicated, and fathers are treated with equal respect in family courts. The absence of fathers has caused decades of havoc in many black communities. Fatherlessness is now affecting our larger society.
I cannot live in peace until our city, state, and federal domestic relations laws are modified to reflect modern life in America. There will be no peace if fathers are continuously pushed to the margins of family life.
I can only live completely unstirred when our culture views fatherhood as essential.
Clayton Craddock is an independent thinker, father of two beautiful children in New York City. He is the drummer of the hit broadway musical Ain’t Too Proud. He earned a Bachelor of Business Administration from Howard University’s School of Business and is a 25 year veteran of the fast-paced New York City music scene. He has played drums in a number of hit broadway and off-broadway musicals including “Tick, tick…BOOM!, Altar Boyz, Memphis The Musical and Lady Day At Emerson’s Bar and Grill. In addition, Clayton has worked on: Footloose, Motown, The Color Purple, Rent, Little Shop of Horrors, Evita, Cats, and Avenue Q.
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