“Paradise by the Dashboard Light”
In 1977, recording artist Meatloaf recorded the album “Bat Out of Hell.” My favorite track from that album is “Paradise by the Dashboard Light.” If you carefully listen to the lyrics of that song, Meatloaf is teaching an important lesson. How, you may ask, can this possibly have anything to do with a legal column? Well, download that MP3 if you don’t already have it, stay with me a while and you’ll see.
I practice about 80% of the time in family court and most of the rest of the time in criminal court. Of those family court cases, many involve questions of child custody, child maltreatment, child support, child visitation…all things child related. The most difficult of these cases stem from the one-night-stand babies and the casual sex babies. In these situations, you have two people who do not even know one another, but who nevertheless had sex, trying to parent a child. Aside from the obvious yuck-factor, this is a situation fraught with difficulty. The first issue that many of the parties have is even admitting that they have a child from the one night stand. Because while the parties were willing to engage in the moment, they are not willing to face the consequences of the act. It’s embarrassing to explain the situation at work, at church, to friends. Yet here is little Susie and folks are asking questions.
Some of those cases might go by the wayside if the mother is self-supporting. She just never tells the man, assuming she even knows him, that he has a child. Of course if he finds out later, there may be trouble. On the other extreme, if the mother applies for any form of welfare, the state will seek child support benefits on behalf of the child. This is only fair, as the taxpayers are paying to raise that child. But the child support action leads to a visitation case, which leads to conflict, and maybe even a custody battle. And it is invariably the child that suffers the most. So the parties go to attorneys and a Judge sets a schedule. The child goes back and forth between two strangers. Judges are just human beings elected by our legislature to make decisions. Tough decisions. They are not Solomon. They apply our law to the case and are forced to make decisions for warring parties who cannot parent on their own, even though they got along well enough to have fifteen minutes of paradise by the dashboard light.
So the parents see the Judge. Problem solved? No way. Problems are just beginning. Why? Because the problems go far beyond what happens in court.
What does one say to one’s child who was conceived in the backseat of a Plymouth behind the local bar? Or in the parking lot during a break at work? Yes, I have had cases involving both of those scenarios.
How does the parent explain that lack of connection to the other parent? What does the child learn from that? The child learns irresponsibility. The child learns mistrust. The child may even learn hate. One thing the child cannot be is emotionally healthy.
These people find themselves in the revolving door of the family court system. There are legal actions after legal actions, hearings after hearings, orders after orders. But nothing takes away the stigma and the pain and the fact that a child is involved.
So what does Meatloaf, the sage of the late 1970s, teach us? The lyrics tell us that the young man promised to be with the young woman forever. But you can tell from the rest of the song that things do not turn out well. Meatloaf is telling us, for starters, uncommitted sex is a bad idea. And rushed commitments are also a bad idea. If one is compelled to have sex with a stranger, use a condom. But a better idea is not to have sex with strangers. Instead of just doing what feels good, maybe people should think about the qualities that they would like to see in the mother or father of their future children. Ideally, one should give careful consideration to one’s spouse and only have children with one’s spouse. Parenting should be done with a partner, a true companion with whom one shares moral values, ideals, economic interests, a life and even dreams. And even in that best case scenario, it’s tough. Unfortunately for all of us, more than half the children in South Carolina are now born out of wedlock. This is a shocking and sad statistic. So, if you haven’t already done so, give some serious thought to the person with whom you may parent a child. If you find yourself reading this and are later in your life and have raised your children, teach the younger generations how to select a partner. Tell them what matters. It is certainly not that “we’re gonna go all the way tonight.”
If one fails to heed this sage advice, one may find one’s self in the midst of a never ending legal and emotional battle and “praying for the end of time.” That is no way to live.