by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

In this country, land of the free, the Supreme Court just heard arguments over whether grandparents have rights to see their grandchildren.

Those in favor say a child needs a grandparent’s love. Nothing, they say, is more important than family.

In this same country, land of the free, lawyers claim that a 6-year-old boy is better off away from his father than with him. They say that returning Elian Gonzalez to Cuba, where his father lives, would be bad for the boy. Some things, they say, are more important than family.

I ask the obvious question:

Which is it?

Either you believe in family first or you don’t. Either you believe a child belongs with his parents or you don’t.

The amount of double-talking, speech-making, hypocritical sympathy and nationalistic finger-pointing in the Elian Gonzalez case is enough to make you give up on grown-ups forever. This is a simple matter, always has been a simple matter, and is only a complex matter because some people simply can’t accept that what applies to others should also apply to them.

When a child’s mother dies, the child belongs with his father, unless that father is dangerous or abusive.

Where he lives isn’t part of the equation.

But you can’t tell that to the people who have blocked Elian’s return since he was found floating at sea after a boat accident killed his mother and 10 would-be refugees in November.

Some of these people are his relatives. Some are politicians. Some don’t even know this child or his family, but are convinced they know what’s best. They make speeches. They talk to TV cameras.

And meanwhile, the days go by, and the one bond that we say we respect more than any other in this country, the bond between a parent and child, is ignored like a homeless dog.

What if the tables were turned?

I don’t mean to be unpatriotic, but who are we to say what country is the better place to raise a child? I know Americans enjoy more freedom, prosperity and open dialogue than Cubans. But do I know whether a child can be loved and cherished better on this soil than somewhere else? No. And neither do you.

But I do know what would happen if the situation were reversed. Let’s say an American child survived a plane crash that killed his mother upon returning to Cuba. The father, in the United States, wanted his boy sent home. The Cuban government said, “Not so fast.”

Relatives in Cuba insisted the boy stay there. They said his mother was flying in, not flying out. They said to return the boy to America would be sending him back to a capitalistic, imperialistic, materialistic society, which would be a horrible life to impose on the child. Meanwhile, the father was distraught. He was a loving man, a good parent.

What do you think our reaction would be?

I’ll tell you. We’d all but roll tanks into Cuba. People on TV would scream about a government interfering with a family’s rights. The child would be labeled a hostage, the father a tragic victim. The proper place for a child, we would insist, is by his father’s side.

I repeat this question: Which is it?

Another American trait

The federal government has examined this case and has, for once, made a clear and intelligent ruling. The child belongs with his father. He must go home. We would not be condemning the boy to a horrible life. We would be recognizing that the world is a varied place, and although we may not agree with how other countries do things, we have to treat individual citizens the same way we want to be treated.

Certain Florida authorities aren’t interested in that. Certain judges, lawyers and politicians believe they know better. They have blocked Elian’s return and have invented more legal trapeze work than a congressional subcommittee. One lawsuit now claims Attorney General Janet Reno violated Elian’s constitutional rights.

Wow. That was quick.

Forget all that noise. Ask yourself, once more the simple question: Where does a child belong?

The answer is obvious. Many of the people who most loudly insist that Elian Gonzalez stay here are former Cubans themselves who came to this country for their own reasons. Now they believe what they want should be naturally imposed on others.

Unfortunately, that’s an American trait, too.And they picked it up pretty quickly.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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