Levi Johnston, the teenage father of Bristol Palin”s 1-year-old son Tripp, has had to fight to be a father to his child. Johnston claims (and the Palins backhandedly acknowledged) that Levi’s access to his son has been restricted, and that for a long time the Palins weren”t allowing him to take his child out of their home for visitation, effectively requiring Levi’s visitation to be supervised by them.
Now, in a power play so unfair that even feminist writer Emily Bazelon of Slate.com is criticizing it, Bristol Palin is demanding sole custody of Tripp. In Why Bristol Palin Shouldn’t Get Sole Custody (12/30/09), Bazelon writes:
[W]hat has Levi done that warrants sole custody for Bristol at this early moment in a child’s life? Nothing is the likely answer…Modeling for Playgirl doesn’t make Levi a model for decorous fatherhood, but it’s hardly enough to strip him of his right to help make decisions about his son’s life, which is what sole legal custody for Bristol would mean…
In her court filing, Bristol goes after Levi by arguing that he “remains without a regular job or steady source of income. He has obtained money by selling stories to the media about his son Tripp, ex-fiance Bristol and the Palin family. … Recently he has engaged in modeling, including risqué modeling for Playgirl magazine.” OK, so Johnston isn’t on his way to an investment-banking career. But Bristol’s accusations hardly show that he’s a bad father…Levi deserves the chance to keep his promises to the judge and to Tripp.
Unwed fathers–particularly those young and poor–are often stereotyped as uncaring and irresponsible. Yet the new “Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing study’–the most comprehensive long-term study of poor, unmarried parents ever conducted–found that young, poor single fathers often see caring for and protecting their children to be their highest calling.
Harvard Sociologist Kathryn Edin, one of the study”s authors, says “When we ask guys, ‘What would your life be like without your children?”…we expected them to say, ‘Life would be so much easier, I”d be so much better off, I wouldn”t have these child support obligations.” Instead, they say…’Everything good in my life is because of my kids.”‘
Levi’s dad, Keith Johnston, told People magazine that his son is a devoted and “proud father.” Levi said his son means “everything” to him.
“He’s my little boy. I don’t know what I’d do without him,” he said. “When I hold him, it’s an amazing feeling. I just shake.”
Fathers & Families believes that Bristol Palin and Levi Johnston should share custody of their son. Fathers & Families’ Board Chairman Ned Holstein, MD, a Harvard-trained public health specialist, explains:
Research shows that father involvement is critical for children. Many teen/young fathers like Levi Johnston are pushed aside after the relationship with their children”s mothers ends. We often hear phrases like ‘deadbeat dad” and ‘abandonment,” yet young dads are often kept out of their children”s lives by intransigent mothers and a family law system which is often indifferent to their bonds with their children.
Back in the Spring of last year, Bristol Palin and the Palin family told reporters that they were going to respect Levi’s important role in Tripp’s life, and we publicly commended them for it. It is unfortunate that the Palins have now reversed themselves.
In my experience as a physician, I’ve seen countless young fathers who are conscientious and devoted to their children. I’ve also seen many children who utterly adore their young fathers. Tripp needs Levi as an important and equal parent in his life–anything less is harmful to both the child and his father.