By Jose Gaspar
Next Sunday millions of families will be celebrating Father's Day, acknowledging the man who raised, loved and cared for them. Fathers hold a special place in a child's life. Dads can become involved in their child's sports, while others enjoy teaching their kids new skills or just spending precious time together. One young father admits it will be a difficult day for him.
"It's going to suck," said 18-year-old Christian Diaz.
That's because Diaz will not have his one-year-old son with him. You may remember Diaz from an earlier column. His then-girlfriend placed their son in adoption, without Diaz' consent. Both were teenagers when she became pregnant.
After a lengthy court battle, a Kern County Superior Court Judge ruled in January in favor of placing the baby with the adoptive parents. Diaz has never been able to see or hold his son, whom he has named Liam. The decision was a hard one for Diaz and his mother, Guadalupe, to accept. And it's taken an emotional toll on the family.
"He's been stressed over the court's decision denying him his father's rights," said Guadalupe, who also lost in having her first grandson.
In summary, the court never found Diaz to be an unfit parent. He has no criminal record and no record of drug or alcohol abuse. He holds a part-time job and plays football and baseball for his high school team. The court did find that he was not married to the mother and didn't do enough to support her during pregnancy. When he bought clothes and furniture for his baby during the pregnancy, the court actually criticized him for not sending them to the foster parents. Why should he send them to the foster parents when he is expecting to raise his own child?
"I tell him, 'Mi hijo, have patience, don't do anything rash. God is watching over this and he will help you'," said Guadalupe Diaz, a working single mother who's been supportive of her son's efforts.
The family is not rich by any means and had to rely on a court-appointed attorney to represent them.
"I feel helpless not being able to do anything," said Guadalupe Diaz.
She said her son who recently graduated from North High School is saddened by the court's ruling but is not giving up.
He has gotten help along the way.
The National Coalition for Men is supporting Diaz. And a nonprofit group devoted to family court reform called Fathers and Families got wind of the story and obtained the services of Marc Angelucci, a Glendale family law attorney to help out during the appellate process at no cost to Diaz.
Angelucci is convinced the Kern County Court erred against Diaz in several ways.
First, the judge denied Diaz a fundamental constitutional right to parent his child, for no good reason except that he's an unmarried father and that the court felt he did not support the pregnancy enough, said Angelucci. Second, the evidence did not support the decision; instead it was based on gender-biased laws that violate the equal protection rights of fathers like Diaz, claims the attorney.
Young mothers have a presumed right to their child; so should young fathers like Diaz, said Angelucci.
The baby turned one on June 4 and remains with his adoptive parents described as a well-to-do middle-class couple.
"I've been told that if I agree to consent to this adoption, I will get pictures of my son sent to me periodically," said Diaz. "There's no way I will ever agree to give up my son."
The issues involved in this case raise a host of questions over the legal complexities regarding an unmarried father's rights to gain custody of his child. In this case, the mother made the decision to give up her child for adoption most likely thinking it was in the child's best interest. But what is difficult to understand is how a father, who is willing to raise his child can legally be denied his own blood.
Last year around this time, President Barack Obama reminded deadbeat dads about their emotional and financial responsibility to their children. Kern County is a good example of that.
Now we have a case where an 18-year-old father who, well, wants to be a dad under all expectations but is rebuffed by a system many feel is biased toward single men.
In the meantime, Diaz still keeps intact the baby's room he set aside at his house, and it remains filled with a crib, clothing and everything a baby needs, in anticipation his dream may one day be fulfilled.
"I still don't have my son, so I don't have any plans for Father's Day," said Diaz.
Jose Gaspar is a reporter for "29 Eyewitness News, " and contributing columnist. These are the opinions of Gaspar, not necessarily The Californian's.