Parenting without a Net

For god’s sake, let’s give Marissa Mayer, the incoming Yahoo CEO, a break. Good for her that she’s a little “gender blind” and didn’t notice that she was the only female in her computer science courses. Social cluelessness goes with being a code-focused nerd. No, she’s not a feminist, she doesn’t understand feminism, and she doesn’t have the right prescriptions for all women. But maybe we could decide, for a change, that she doesn’t stand for all women and for feminism as a whole, any more than Scott Thompson—her immediate predecessor in Yahoo’s churning top spot—stood for all men?

And yes, Stephanie Coontz is right that Mayer, by saying she’ll work through her pregnancy and maternity leave, is giving the wrong signal to the civilian men and women beneath her at Yahoo, who might actually want to spend time with their families. Family leave is essential to most family's health and well-being. But isn’t that part of why CEOs—especially of companies in desperate need of makeovers—get paid such absurd amounts of money: because we don’t expect them to have lives? They’re supposed to be on call all the time. They make enough money to hire folks to take care of their lives, which most of us can't do. That’s part of why BP chief Tony Hayward got such flak for saying he wanted his life back: the job is to assume the company’s responsibilities as your own. (Oh, that and the fact that he didn’t seem to care that his decisions had devastated the Gulf.) Maybe Yahoo’s HR folks will help Mayer think about making it clear to all her employees that hers is an extraordinary decision, and she expects them to have real lives.

So I’m going to hijack the Mayer conversation to write briefly about two parents whose heartwrenching travails aren’t going to get any serious attention. The first one is Dale Liuzza, who lost the son he’d raised from infancy when his partner figured out that he was the biological father (they’d mixed their sperm for the surrogacy) and absconded with their child:

But when the men's relationship fell apart, his partner determined he was the biological father and took the boy out of state to Texas and eventually to Washington State.

Louisiana does not recognize same-sex marriage or second-parent adoption, so Liuzza was left with no legal parental rights.

"I never imagined he would move out of state and I would have no say in the matter at all," he said. "I don't sleep at night thinking about [the child]."

It used to be only lesbians who behaved this badly: the biomom would take off with the child, arguing in court that the other mom had just been a roommate or babysitter. It just takes my breath away that any parent can be that callous toward the child’s need to stay attached to those she loves and who love her. We used to wonder why gay men weren’t as nasty. Turns out they can be—they just hadn’t had the opportunity before. This is why all U.S. states need family laws that enable children to have legal ties to both their parents, even those of the same sex—even those states that aren’t ready for full marriage equality. Children need that legal protection.

Here’s the second heartbreaking parenting story: Encarnacion Bail Romero was jailed, five years ago, for immigration violations. While she was in prison, the state terminated her parental rights to her son Carlos and let a local family adopt him. The state supreme court declared that a travesty and sent the case back down for re-trial. The judge has just ruled that Romero abandoned her child, now five, terminated her parental rights all over again, and is letting the adoptive parents re-adopt him.  

Makes Marissa Mayer’s challenges look positively simple, no?

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