June 21, 2013 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
Not long ago, one Gideon Burrows used the opportunity of Father’s Day to excoriate dads. According to him, fathers care less about their kids than they do about their “hobbies and other interests.” That of course is so much nonsense, but his main point was that fathers don’t do much for their kids. By that he meant they don’t change enough diapers. As Burrows understands it, working long hours to put a roof over the child’s head, food on the table, clothes on its back and send it to school count for nothing. Reading the child a story? Now that’s “the hard slog” of parenting!
Aside from the fact that most of what Burrows was saying was just flat out not true, his ability to empathize with fathers was essentially non-existent. Why might a dad be hesitant to step into the traces of fatherhood? The question never occurred to Burrows, I suspect because to ask it is to stand for an instant in fathers’ shoes and view the world from their point of view. The anti-father crowd never gets around to that one, because if they did, at some point they’d find themselves looking at fatherhood through Chad Milner’s eyes (The Root, 6/16/13). And if they did that, they’d come to know just how hard it is to force society and the courts to allow you to become a father.
What Burrows and his ilk don’t realize is that, although over 40% of children are born to single mothers, their rights and those of single fathers are nothing like the same.
Chad Milner and Timile Brown were engaged to be married. She became pregnant and gave birth to their daughter Cydney prematurely. Shortly after the birth, Brown discovered she had esophageal cancer, Type 4. The cancer quickly spread and the 25-year-old’s health went downhill fast. Due to the cancer and her treatment, she was unable to do much for her newborn, but Milner stepped in. Being a preemie, Cydney spent a long time in the hospital during which Milner was her major parental caregiver. He held her, fed her, changed her, bathed her. He was there at the hospital early; he stayed late. Despite her weakness and severe weight loss, Brown managed to post to her Facebook page.
In a post on her Facebook page during that time, Brown wrote, "Feeling better today. A little more energy today. Mommy put Cydney to bed last night and was very proud. Bonding time!! This has usually been Daddy's job. And he's so good with her!"
Brown’s cancer spread. By April, 2011, it had spread from Brown’s abdomen up to her neck. Doctors gave her a 20% chance of survival. Eventually she and Cydney moved in with her mother despite the fact that the two didn’t get along and Cydney’s grandmother didn’t have any use for Chad Milner. Just why that might be, the article doesn’t say. Milner is a college graduate and a stand-up dad.
Brown finally passed away in December of 2011. By that time, Milner hadn’t been allowed any contact with Cydney in five months. During the Fall of 2011,
Milner said that a feeling began to gnaw away at him. He believed that a plan was being put into action to make it appear as if Brown did not have a fiancée or a partner in the picture. He was encouraged to visit Brown in the hospital for small periods of time and during specific hours, when "a lot of people weren't around," he said.
Brown became too sedated to communicate with Milner after a while, and he received updates about Brown's condition only from her mother. He allowed his daughter to stay in the house with Brown's mother with the hope that Cydney would give Brown "a reason to live."
The last time Milner saw Brown alive, he told her that he would take Cydney up to New York for a week after he had a dispute with her mother over his access to his fiancée and daughter.
"No, two weeks," she whispered.
In a blog post, Milner described how an eerie feeling came over him when she uttered those words. Milner wrote that he later found out that the doctors had told Brown that she only had a few weeks to live. He took it as a sign that Brown had signed off on his pending status as a single father and wanted him to take their daughter to New York indefinitely.
"Looking back, she knew she wasn't going to be around much longer," he wrote.
Sure enough, Brown’s mother had decided that she, not Milner, should raise his daughter, but fortunately he had figured out what was going on. He went to court immediately to prove his paternity and get custody of Cydney.
One week after Brown died, Milner was in that Long Island courthouse, getting his custody papers photocopied by the rule-bending courtroom clerk. A couple of months later, he went to a Virginia court to appear at a hearing because Cydney's parents had filed a motion to get custody. When the paternity results came back in March, Milner went back down to Virginia and got his daughter, but not before a judge questioned him about his preparedness for taking care of Cydney.
Do you have a crib? Would Cydney have a room? Are there day care services for when you went to work? These were among the questions the judge asked Milner before awarding him custody.
Milner said that the process opened his eyes to the novelty of his situation, since he was a guy who, according to some narratives about black fathers -- particularly young black fathers -- should have been doing the opposite. [Milner’s mother] underscored this point when speaking about her son's experiences.
"When people think of African Americans, they don't think of generations of homes with the paternal aspect present. A lot of times, people don't recognize that we have that," she explained.
One of those people is named Gideon Burrows, but he doesn’t reserve his ignorance for African-American fathers or even young fathers; he assumes that all fathers are uncaring, self-involved children.
He also doesn’t notice what single men have to do to get the right to do what Burrows excoriates them for not doing – hands-on parenting. Notice that Milner did just that from Day One and notice that he did it well. Notice that he’s Cydney’s biological father, but that didn’t stop her grandmother from hatching a plot to make off with his daughter and deny him parental rights. And notice that, despite everything he’d done, everything he is, the judge didn’t just hand his daughter over to Chad Milner. No, he had to prove himself worthy.
And, whether Burrows knows it or not, that’s something no single mother anywhere has to do. If they work at it hard enough, mothers can prove themselves to be unfit to rear their kids, but they never have to prove their fitness from the start. Single fathers have to do just that. In Milner’s case, the mother of his child was obviously touched and pleased that he was so good with Cydney, but she, like every single mother is just the luck of the draw. Timile Brown sounds like a fine person, but if she hadn’t been, if she’d wanted to deny Milner a role in his daughter’s life, not a state in the country makes that very hard.
Then there’s this:
Milner said that the process prepared him for the rigors of parenthood in a special way. "It defined and solidified my bond with Cydney, and it made me realize I would go to hell and back for her," he said.
Yep, that’s what happens when a father gets to be with his child when it’s first born. Fathers undergo hormonal changes that bond them to their children immediately after birth. But they don’t undergo those changes if they’re not present. Mothers, laws, hospital regulations and the like often prevent that, with the result that that vital mammalian process of bonding parents to offspring doesn’t occur. Fortunately it did in Chad Milner’s case.
Too bad Burrows and the anti-father crowd will never admit it.
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