Clark vs. Clark means hard choices and tough luck


At the risk of siding with the Neanderthals, I'd like to take the position that it's possible for a man to be right in a child custody case.

If it pleases the court, we'll introduce as evidence the Marcia Clark case.

Marcia Clark, as everyone knows, is the hard-working, tough-talking lead prosecutor in the O. J. Simpson trial. She's tough, she's smart, she's hard, she's soft, she's got that beguiling mole above her lip. In other words, she's a woman for the '90s.

And now her soon-to-be-ex-husband says he wants primary custody of their two kids -- ages 5 and 3 -- because she's hardly ever home, whereas he's home every night at 6:15. So dad, who's a computer engineer, can cook the kids dinner and read them bedtime stories and tuck them in and stay up all night if they have an earache. (Like this ever happened in real life.)

The immediate reaction is that this is another attack on working women, who must be unfit mothers because otherwise they'd be home wearing pearls while affixing bandages to all boo-boos. Instead, they're out cracking the case. Or lifting the bales. Or doing whatever women do these days, which is, in the best instances, whatever they want to do.

Working mothers do have it tough, of course. Most mothers work and yet are still expected to assume most of the child-care (and house-care) duties. If they don't do that well enough, then judges might snatch their kids away. And let's face it, the biggest child-care problem in America is that too often there are no fathers in evidence at all. Most mothers don't lead Marcia Clark lives. Many mothers simply struggle to get by.

A recent study shows that American dads spend an average of 42 minutes a day alone with their preschool children. (It could be worse: In Hong Kong, it's six minutes.) American moms, meantime, get their kids for 11 hours.

If this is clearly unfair, it's also exactly what everybody already knew.

But, there are men (there must be) who do their fair share. There are good fathers. There are men who will say that their children are the most important things in their lives.

And there's a truth in here that we all have to face. If women can be the equal of any man in the workplace, then it stands to reason that men can perform most of the duties associated with child rearing.

But often the argument gets framed as it did in this newspaper headline: "Should Marcia Clark Be in Court or in the Kitchen?"

This is not about feminism. It's about kids and their parents.

You could ask the question in a slightly different manner: If one parent works 16 hours a day, might not the other parent, who works eight hours a day, have more time to spend with the kids?

This becomes particularly significant in the Clark situation. In divorce papers, Ms. Clark has asked her husband for more money. She needs it, she said, for clothes and hairstyling during the Simpson case. She needs it, too, for child care.

"I have been working a six- or seven-day week for as many as 16 hours a day," she said, adding, "I now need baby sitters for the weekends while I work and someone to spend the evenings with my two children."

Meaning, Gordon Clark, who now gets the kids for two evenings and on alternate weekends, is being asked to pay for child-care when he is apparently willing to take care of the kids himself for free.

Now, I don't know the facts of this case or the people behind the facts. I don't know if Gordon Clark is just trying to get back at his wife, or if he's the father of the year.

And maybe after the Simpson case, Marcia Clark will have all the time in the world to spend with her kids. Or maybe she'll move on to the Menendez brothers next.

But there are some things we do know. Often, women can now safely be as ambitious as men. They can, for example, prosecute big-time court cases.

They can travel the world with their own Powerbooks and cell phones.

They can play the roles that were once left to men, and often they can even play them better.

But they can't play the game without the same costs these same high-powered men have traditionally paid, which is to chase fame and fortune instead of having the pleasure of chasing your kids off to bed.

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