I was born in 1963, so I don’t remember where I was the day President Kennedy was assassinated. I vividly remember the morning of September 11th though, and having coffee with my wife on the West Coast. December 14, 2012 is another of those days I can’t forget. Sitting at my desk, my heart broke a little more each time I heard the news from Newtown, Connecticut.
President Obama spoke eloquently that day of our nation’s collective sorrow. He also said how eager he was to give his own children an extra hug that evening. Parents across the country were thinking the same, only half of the population of divorced parents felt a disconnect — they didn’t get to hug their children that night. Their kids didn’t get the hugs they needed from both parents that night as well as so many others.
The incident brought on national conversations about guns and mental health just as they did about guns and race after the tragic death of Trayvon Martin. As has become the norm, however, these discussions quickly faded into the background. A few weeks ago, Trayvon’s parents released a book, and if it’s time for them to speak again, I think it’s time to add divorce to these national conversations as well. In fact, we are remiss in our condolences for those affected by these tragedies if we do not.
The role divorce may have played in Newtown is simple to identify. The divorce rate for parents with special needs children, like the parents of the young adult who hurt so many lives that day, is reportedly higher than the divorce rate generally for married couples with children. The mother of the Newtown shooter was living with her son while his father was with his new wife a half hour or so away. That’s not to say the father wasn’t involved in the care of their son, but living with your troubled son and giving him the foundation of a family, versus living with your new wife a half hour away, are very different situations.
The role divorce may have played in Trayvon Martin’s death is also simple to identify. Trayvon lived with his Mother in Miami, and while serving his third suspension from school, was in Orlando spending time at his father’s girlfriend’s home – the girlfriend after his father’s second divorce. We say “father’s girlfriend“ or ”mother’s boyfriend“ these days and don’t even blink an eye anymore. It, along with second and third husband or wife, rolls off the tongue as easily as we breathe.
My heart aches for Trayvon Martin. My heart also aches for Trayvon’s parents and the pain they have and continue to endure. Call me cold, however, but five years ago I had a hard time watching Traci Martin, Trayvon’s father, portrayed as a victim on the television talk shows, at protests, and on Capitol Hill. During the course of two marriages, he cheated on both wives and had girlfriends lined up before he left each marriage. Regardless of what did or didn’t happen that fateful evening, divorce had a role in Trayvon acting out in school. If he’d come from a stable home, would he otherwise have been in the path of George Zimmerman in the first place whether guns were harder or easier to access, whether Trayvon was black, white, green or purple?
In addition to guns and race, the possible violation of Trayvon’s civil rights was a topic of conversation five years ago. Again, if we are to discuss Trayvon’s civil rights as they pertain to guns and race, we ought to discuss them as they relate to divorce.
On November 20, 1989, The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child went into effect. To date, 196 countries have ratified it, including every member of the United Nations except the United States, a country with one of the highest divorce rates in the world. The preamble reads in part:
“Convinced that the family, as the fundamental group of society and the natural environment for the growth and well-being of all its members and particularly children, should be afforded the necessary protection and assistance so that it can fully assume its responsibilities within the community “
”Recognizing that the child, for the full and harmonious development of his or her personality, should grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding,”
The reasons why the United States has not ratified the convention are complicated; the details of the Martin’s marital problems probably are as well. Regardless, the problems aren’t the problem. The real problem is we as a country have deemed it acceptable behavior to divorce in large numbers, thereby violating our children’s civil rights! Billy Graham said a few years back:
“The broken home has become perhaps the No. 1 social problem of North America, and ultimately it could lead to the destruction of our civilization. The basic unit of society is the home – so when the home begins to break, the society is on its way to disintegration. This problem does not make screaming headlines, but like termites, it is eating away at the heart and core of our social and moral structure.”
It’s been fifty-three years since our nation lost JFK, a visionary leader. Husbands and wives, ask not what you can do for yourself, but what you can do for your spouse and for your kids and for your family!