Elian Is a Victim of Disregard for Dads

  • Share
  • Read Later

The Elian Gonzalez case is too black or white. Too either/or. Too binary.

The satisfying political solution (the boy stays in Miami) does not square with the commonsense human solution (he belongs with his father).

Why should they square? Exile itself is binary — and, almost by definition, enraged. Exile politics festers with wounds of separation — the loss of homeland, culture, family, of an essential part of one's identity. The boy's mother drowned between homeland and exile. The child is perched on the far shore. But he is suspended in the most complicated, inconclusive state of multiple loss (home, mother and, quite unnecessarily, father too). Cuban exiles, of course, have built another Cuba in Florida — a better Cuba in its essentials (notably its American freedom and American money), but nonetheless not Cuba, really. Where exactly is Cuba in this boy's mind? He lost his mother. Cuba is his father.

I am astonished by the blitheness with which American television commentators (for example, ABC's Cokie Roberts on Sunday's "This Week") dismiss consideration of the father. I do not mean merely "the father's rights." That's a legalism that assumes the father is as selfish, as narcissistic as most Americans have become in asserting their "rights." I am speaking of something deeper, more basic, more fundamental, more humanly essential — the father's love, his connection with his son. If the boy has a basic right, it is the right to his father.

Americans have grown stupid and confused about the meaning of fatherhood. That stupidity is the reason, in this case, that mere politics, however principled or however sleazy and craven (sometimes misbegotten principle curdles into sleaze), has been allowed, so casually, to trump what should be a reflexive respect for the father's place in the picture.

Don't look for such respect in America. It has vanished in the incomplete American transition out of, er, patriarchy. Americans operate as if fathers were secondary and essentially dispensable. The destruction wrought by that premise is strewn about the landscape — in the form of crime, drugs, suicide, family misery.

The alternatives in the Elian Gonzalez case have about them the simple-mindedness of mere politics — a raw power struggle especially obscene when its object is a six-year-old boy. The law will ultimately, maybe messily, win. In the worst nightmare version, there could be riots, Cuban exiles in pitched battle with the National Guard, and a screaming six-year-old dragged out to be delivered to Fidel. On the other hand, perhaps the law will change. Maybe the Al Gore bill (granting Elian permanent resident status in exchange for Florida's electoral votes in November) will compose a happy American ending.

I keep wondering how much Elian knows about all this, how much he understands. One news story says the Miami relatives claim that the father is abusive, that he yells at Elian on the telephone and tells the boy his mother is still alive. Does Elian believe she is still alive? When he grows up, what will he be like? Will he be sane?

What a stupid mess. The little boy is lost, the grown-ups are fools, and politics is a vicious idiot.