Sunday, May 13, 2012

Dr. Laura and the Definition of Family

About an hour ago, I drove to the library to exchange some materials. While driving, I decided to listen to a rerun of the "Dr. Laura" radio program on Sirius XM. I'm not a huge fan of Dr. Laura's, but I've listened to her show off and on for nearly 20 years. I don't think she's as anti-gay as others make her out to be and she has given out some good advise over the years.

On the other hand, I hate it when she draws out a call by focusing on some philosophical point that interests her but that doesn't actually address what the caller needed to speak to her about. I also hate it when she derails calls to focus on "sluts" and "studs" that live together without the benefit of marriage. I get her point, but sometimes you need to accept that two people are living together and have an issue that they thought enough about her to seek her input. Unfortunately, Dr. Laura has no time for these folks and is usually pretty disrespectful to these callers. It's a predictable reaction that I can anticipate within seconds of these calls. I'm usually left wondering why these callers actually bothered to seek her opinion.

Case in point, a woman called during this particular rerun. She and her boyfriend of roughly 10 years live in the southwest corner of the country with their baby. Their families live in the northeast portion of the country. I'm sure she had a question and maybe they got to it eventually before I reached the library, but Dr. Laura was still grilling the woman about the issue of "family" when I finished my trip.

"Family is created through marriage, birth, or adoption. Did you adopt your stud? How is he related to you? Did you not hear me correctly?" The caller was speechless. I wanted so much for the caller to say something like, "We are a family through our child. I'm his mother and he is his father. That's how we are a family." Unfortunately, the caller did not have the sense to offer that type of response by the time I'd reached the library.

My husband and I technically were not married for most of our relationship. We had a commitment ceremony, but the law didn't recognize it. To most people, we were two guys sharing a house. Eventually, we became parents and adopted our son together. We were both legal parents to our son, but still were not legally married (or a family, by Dr. Laura's strict definition) until 2010. We were still family through our son -- and frankly we were family long before we ever met our boys.

I consider myself to be family with my son's birth parents, though technically I'm not. I consider myself family to my older boy's birth family, though technically I'm not. It's nice to imagine that "family" is this crisp and orderly relationship that falls into strict categories. But it often isn't that way.

The good people of North Carolina just amended their state constitution to make it so that the only legal relationship recognized within the state are married men and women. Does that mean that gay and lesbian couples are no longer family to each other? No. Does that mean that other families of choice or circumstance that fall outside of North Carolina's newly strict definition of family suddenly lost all sense of connection or affection? Of course not.

Frankly, Dr. Laura is focusing too much on trying to keep things neat and orderly. Unfortunately, people are not neat and orderly. She isn't going to nag that caller into a race towards marriage by treating her disrespectfully. She's just going to nag the caller, avoid the actual problem, and lose a fan in the process. Then again, the nagging isn't really for the caller. It's for the listeners.

Assuming that the caller never actually got to address her actual question without a brief brush-off by Dr. Laura, can I suggest that you find another call-in advise-giver to call? There are tons of them throughout the week on Sirius XM.

To the rest of us -- particularly those of us who have family who fall outside of bounds of "marriage, birth, or adoption" -- don't let others bully you into thinking that your family isn't valid or meaningful or wonderful. Family is about relationship. It doesn't always fall into certain categories. You don't need Dr. Laura's validation or anyone else's (mine included!) to know that your family is great.


northierthanthou said...

Dr. Laura often assumes a level of authority that she isn't entitled to. She treats callers like bad children and disrespects them in a variety of ways. This is just one of them.

Katy Anders said...

What do these folks say when the people in question really have taken every step possible towards solemnizing their relationship? You're blessed enough to live in a state that recognizes your marriage - I'm not, although we went to a same sex marriage state to get a license our state doesn't recognize.

Surely, the legality of it isn't the thing - I mean, no moralist worth their salt would say that the morality of something is dependent on the state's definition, would they?

Jon said...

@Katy: Strangely enough, Dr. Laura seems to view gay and lesbian couples these days differently. I think she's old fashioned enough to want a commitment ceremony, but doesn't seem to treat our legally unmarried couples the same as she treats legally unmarried hets. I'm not sure how much her views on gay parenting has evolved over the years. That's another topic for another day!

Sadly, there are plenty of people who believe that gay and lesbian couples, even those of us in marriage equality states who are legally married, aren't really families. They put quotes around our marriages and/or they call them faux-marriages.

@NotTheirThanThou: Dr. Laura does have a tendency to treat her callers disrespectfully and like children. It's always disappointing when she gives up on a call because she disagrees with some choice they made or answer they offered.