Sunday, June 21, 2009

A Father's Day They Won't Forget

Happy Father's Day to all of you fathers (and chosen fathers) out there. I hope your day is filled with love, laughter, and joy.

No doubt, it will be for Eric Mongerson. Today, for the first time, his children will be able to meet his partner, as this article explains:

Kids To Meet Gay Dad's Partner On Father's Day
: Kids To Meet Dad's Partner For 1st Time On Father's Day After Judge Tosses Ga. 'gay Ban'

Eric Mongerson's kids couldn't meet his partner of two years, much less join the couple for ice cream. His friends couldn't cheer on the children at concerts or Little League games.

The divorced dad spent thousands of dollars fighting an unusual ban imposed by a county judge in 2007 that kept the three minors from having any contact with his gay friends or partners.

He felt unfairly scrutinized every moment he spent with the kids, though he never was looking to make a statement. He just wanted to spend a day with his kids and his partner, Jose Sanchez _ together.

This Father's Day, he finally will.

"It's a fairy tale ending," he told The Associated Press after the Georgia Supreme Court overturned the ban.

I would say so. Heartbreaking that it ever even came to this - or that it COULD come to this, but it did:
The ban stemmed from the bitter divorce between Mongerson and his ex-wife, Sandy, who were married for almost 20 years and had four children. Mongerson said the marriage ended when his wife discovered he was gay in November 2005, but he would not elaborate.

The dispute played out the next few years in court, as Sandy's attorney claimed he had several affairs with other men and subjected the kids to an array of "wholly inappropriate conduct" during a trip to Arkansas.

The arguments helped sway Fayette County Superior Court Judge Christopher Edwards to award Sandy Kay Ehlers Mongerson custody of the children. The judge also issued a blanket order banning Eric Mongerson from "exposing the children to his homosexual partners and friends." A fourth child is an adult over 18 and had no restrictions on contact with Mongerson or his gay friends.

Edwards said in his ruling that the decision was meant to reflect "the trauma inflicted upon the children" during the Arkansas trip.

Ah, yes - because all parents who have had affairs and gotten divorced have had to keep their partners away from their children by court order. Oh, wait, you mean they haven't?? No, of course not, just some:
Mongerson, though, said it only made him feel like he was being targeted for coming out of the closet. For almost two years, Mongerson said he feared losing more time with his kids and walked on egg shells during their weekly four-hour visits.

He didn't hide the fact he was gay from the kids, but they couldn't be around his partner, Sanchez. He was afraid to invite straight friends who might be accused of being gay. And he wouldn't dare bring his children to his place in downtown Atlanta, even though his wife once brought a boyfriend to his daughter's concert.

"I was always afraid of the 'What if?'" Mongerson said. "I felt isolated, alone. She could go get friends, have them watch the kids, but I could never because I was gay."

Sanchez, fearful of somehow violating the order, would run through all sorts of scenarios.

"What if you and I are on a plane, and your kids happen to be on the plane?" he would ask incredulously. "Do I jump out?"

Mongerson, a restaurant manager who routinely works 13-hour shifts into the night, said he scrounged together more than $10,000 to challenge the judge's decree, partly by wracking up debt on his credit cards.

That is one helluva way to have to live - under constant fear that anyone or anything could jeopardize one's ability to see one's own children, not because of any wrong-doing on the part of the parent, but just the mere PERCEPTION that who they were, whom they loved, was unacceptable. Finally, cooler heads prevailed:
In court arguments in January, attorneys Hannibal Heredia and Kimberli Reagin contended the judge had no evidence that exposing the children to Mongerson's gay friends would damage them.

On Monday, the Georgia Supreme Court unanimously agreed. Justice Robert Benham wrote in the scathing 10-page ruling that the trial court abused its discretion without evidence of harm to the children. He concluded it "flies in the face of our public policy that encourages divorced parents to participate in the raising of their children."

The decision was quickly applauded by gay rights advocates who say the judge's order was rooted in decades-old misconceptions about gays and lesbians. Jeff Graham of Georgia Equality called the top court's decision a dose of "common sense and fair mindedness."

Sandy Mongerson's attorney, Lance McMillian, said the mother does not plan to appeal.

"My client is interested in putting it behind her," he said. "Other than that, we don't have anything to say about it."

As news of the court's ruling filtered down to Mongerson on Monday morning, he picked up the phone and called his partner. It didn't take long to work out their schedule for Father's Day, when they'll finally go out for that ice cream.

"I cry at commercials _ he cries before commercials come on," Sanchez said. "He's very emotional. He said, 'Happy Father's Day. You get to meet my children.'"

Here's the thing. What makes this even more egregious and offensive is that studies show that children raised in same-sex parents' households are perfectly well-adjusted:
"There are a lot of children with at least one gay or lesbian parent," says Ellen C. Perrin, MD, professor of pediatrics at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston. She revealed the findings at the American Academy of Pediatrics Conference and Exhibition.

Between 1 million and 6 million children in the U.S. are being reared by committed lesbian or gay couples, she says. Children being raised by same-sex parents were either born to a heterosexual couple, adopted, or conceived through artificial insemination.

"The vast consensus of all the studies shows that children of same-sex parents do as well as children whose parents are heterosexual in every way," she tells WebMD. "In some ways children of same-sex parents actually may have advantages over other family structures."

Say WHAAAAA???? How can that be? Ahem. It's an interesting article, if you want to go take a look, but I don't want to get too far away from this joyous story.

So, back to the Father's Day happy ending, and a happy ending it is. Finally, this father can share the joy of his children with his partner. The children will have yet another person in their lives who loves them, and that is a good thing indeed.

Again, Happy Father's Day, you dads. And to the all of the children (adult, I assume) reading this, remember that every day is precious with your parents - I lost my dad almost 4 years ago, and you never know which Father's Day is going to be the last. So, treasure it, treasure your dad, and your mom, too, and remember that time is fleeting. Share the love. That's what it's all about, anyway...

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