Every so often I stumble across some great legal writing. Here is an interesting commentary by Judge Mosk in a decision he wrote in a 1979 California custody case (In re Marriage of Carney, 24 Cal. 3d 725). The basic facts were that a custodial father became quadriplegic and the formerly absent mother sought custody based upon the father’s new physical disability. The trial court granted her custody based upon the father’s limitations. The Supreme court reversed. The case, while 30 years old, provides timeless insights into what constitutes a parent:
On a deeper level, finally, the stereotype is false because it fails to reach the heart of the parent-child relationship. Contemporary psychology confirms what wise families have perhaps always known — that the essence of parenting is not to be found in the harried rounds of daily carpooling endemic to modern suburban life, or even in the doggedly dutiful acts of “togetherness” committed every weekend by well-meaning fathers and mothers across America. Rather, its essence lies in the ethical, emotional, and intellectual guidance the parent gives to the child throughout his formative years, and often beyond. The source of this guidance is the adult’s own experience of life; its motive power is parental love and concern for the child’s well-being; and its teachings deal with such fundamental matters as the child’s feelings about himself, his relationships with others, his system of values, his standards of conduct, and his goals and priorities in life. Even if it were true, as the court herein asserted, that William cannot do “anything” for his sons except “talk to them and teach them, be a tutor,” that would not only be “enough” — contrary to the court’s conclusion — it would be the most valuable service a parent can render. Yet his capacity to do so is entirely unrelated to his physical prowess: however limited his bodily strength may be, a handicapped parent is a whole person to the child who needs his affection, sympathy, and wisdom to deal with the problems of growing up. Indeed, in such matters his handicap may well be an asset: few can pass through the crucible of a severe physical disability without learning enduring lessons in patience and tolerance.