The wealth of op-ed, television and other commentary on the taking of Elian from the home of his relatives in a Miami suburb convinces us of the extraordinary symbolic richness of the situation itself. Who hasn’t told us what they think? The commentators have all weighed in: George, Michael, Thomas, Charles, Gary, William, Tim and Peggy, to mention just a few by name. Not since the O.J. jury decision have we heard and read so much passionate but not unreasonable and mostly interesting and sometimes fascinating commentary on what by itself seems a relatively minor incident in the flow of American and world history in the 21st century. Why is this so? The answer is not hard to find. It’s present in the situation itself, and it’s present in the commentary. On the one hand there is a young boy who has lost his mother in a tragic drowning at sea, and who thereby finds himself separated from his father. For some of us this is enough: we say put the boy back with the father. On the other hand, the mother who drowned was bringing her son from a closed, totalitarian dictatorship to a free, open, and democratic society. For others of us this is enough: we say allow the boy to remain in freedom. Without even entering into the battle of means, in particular the taking of Elian by force in the night by armed men, the battle of ends wages on because both ends touch us to the quick. Fatherhood and freedom, are not usually opposed, especially in our free and democratic society, but when they are, well, get out of the way, the sparks will fly.
So is this just one of those situations from our high school literature class when the teacher makes us feel our inability to decide with certainty between, say, beauty, truth and goodness? There are those of us who may have felt at one time that the greatest of them all was… But, persuaded as we may have been during English class that goodness did outdo truth and beauty, we probably haven’t held that conviction throughout our years, if not a lifetime, of real life experiences. If nothing else living does, or should, because so many believe what they have been told rather than what they have learned through their own efforts, convince us of our inability to place our highest values on the steps of a ladder, and more and more as we mature we place them all on the same, high shelf, most of them probably well out of our reach. Fatherhood and freedom are certainly up there together, and if we favor the one over the other, as apparently so many do in the present instance, it’s only because we don’t recognize in this instance the one or the other as being a legitimate example of the thing valued. Fatherhood? Well some say he’s not a good father, why look how long it took him to get to our shores. Four months! "How long would it have taken you to retrieve your shipwrecked son?" Then how often did he see his son when he and his son’s mother were no longer living together? How well does he know his son? Others will say a six year old can’t yet know what freedom means. Furthermore, freedom is about something other than living in Miami or living in a small town in Cuba. Freedom is something that will gain importance as the boy comes into his own over many years. Freedom is probably not all that important when one is still very much a child. In fact, it may even be abused, as some will thus characterize the behavior of the Miami relatives. But the boy, every boy, does need a father, and the boy, and especially the child in the boy, probably understands exactly what this means. This is always the way, isn’t it, in order to decide between two things of equal worth we have to take away the worth of one of them. Look again at the commentary, that’s what’s really going on.
So, where do I stand in all this? It’s probably apparent that I do believe that the values of fatherhood and freedom are real and are here present, and that both sides have rightness on their side. The real opposition of the two allows for the richness of the commentary, assures an on-going discussion, one that will not end, as many would like to see it end, in just a matter of days and weeks. We’ll hear about this for months to come, certainly through the presidential election in November of this year. Where do I stand? I believe that so far the proponents of the rights of the father have made the better case. Perhaps an easier case to make than that for freedom in the example of a six year old boy who has lost his mother.