“The important thing is that we show solidarity with Dr. Watanabe,” said Neal Natoyan, a medium-sized man of dark coloring. His deep brown eyes flashed with passion.
“Did you check him out, Neal?” Michael asked, not for the first time. “Because-“
“Yeah, I checked him out,” Neal growled. “I’m not an idiot.”
Michael sighed. Natoyan wasn’t an idiot, so much as he was so hooked into his passion cause of father’s rights that he tended to overlook things. And Michael was not happy with where Natoyan stood on the issue of George Watanabe.
But there was no time and Michael, Natoyan and the host, Cheryl Giddens, who looked like she was all TV-pretty, but in fact, had a lot more substance than folks gave her credit for, were all seated around a table with the cameras ready. The stage manager signaled.
“We’re back,” Giddens said. “I’m here with Neal Natoyan, president of the Father’s Rights Association and singer Michael Wheatly, vice president of the group, to talk about the current custody battle between Dr. George Watanabe and presidential advisor Dr. Karen Tanaka. Neal, you say that the courts habitually discriminate against fathers in these battles. Why is that?”
“I think it’s part of the whole gender thing,” Neal said confidently. “We automatically assume that it’s best for kids to be with their moms, and there’s no real evidence that this is so.”
“The point of our organization,” Michael said, jumping in, “is not to keep kids from their moms, but to give fathers a fair shake in custody cases. Kids need both parents. It’s just that fathers often get overlooked in custody hearings.”
Giddens smiled. “There are those who suggest that this is a spite battle – that Dr. Watanabe is simply suing for custody to spite his ex-wife.”
“That’s always the assumption,” Neal began.
“But I definitely suspect that’s what’s happening here,” Michael cut in. “I have no reason to believe that Watanabe has any real interest in raising his daughters.”
“How can you say that?” Neal exploded. “I’ve met the man. I’ve talked with him. He wants to raise his kids and his ex is denying him that chance. Seriously, Michael. You haven’t met the man.”
“No, I haven’t,” Michael said. “And that’s exactly my problem. I’ve been trying to since last April. My daughter Jodi met and became friends with Kira and Allie Watanabe last spring. Dr. Tanaka works with my sister and that’s how they met. So like any good parent, I’ve been reaching out to Dr. Watanabe. I’ve emailed, called, and gotten absolutely no response. My ex-wife has, too. On the other hand, both Cameron and I have had multiple phone conversations and emails with Dr. Tanaka, who is a lovely person.”
“Who kidnapped her kids,” Neal shot back.
“No. The girls are gone with Dr. Watanabe’s written permission.” Michael pulled a piece of paper from his shirt pocket. “Here’s a photocopy of the permission slip that Dr. Watanabe gave my sister Susan off of his prescription pad. You’ll note there are no dates and times. And I might add, he gave Susan the permission slip after a five-minute chance meeting at a hospital fundraiser. Can you imagine giving a total stranger permission to take care of your kids just because she said her niece was friends with your kids? That’s exactly what Dr. Watanabe did.”
Giddens smiled. “I can’t imagine doing that, but maybe he knew your sister better than she thought he did. Do you know where the girls are?”
“Not specifically,” Michael shifted. “Jodi knows where they are. She and her friend Tiffany have been visiting. I am assured that they will be in court for their respective interviews on time. But Kira has made it very clear that she does not want to be with her father, and if that’s how he’s acting, I can understand why.”
“Maybe it’s because Tanaka poisoned the girls against their father,” Neal said sourly.
“That’s what we’re supposed to believe,” Michael replied. “But I have never seen any hint of it from Dr. Tanaka. My sister, Sharon, says she has never heard Dr. Tanaka bash her ex, nor has she heard of anyone saying that they’ve heard Dr. Tanaka bash her ex. And here’s the thing. I’d love to support Watanabe. I completely agree with Neal that fathers don’t get fair consideration in custody battles. But it’s guys like Watanabe who make it that much more difficult for the ninety-percent of good fathers out there. I’m not saying women don’t play similar games, but when a father does, it just makes it harder for the good guys.”
Neal looked like steam was about to blow from his ears. Giddens looked like she was going to continue the debate, but decided to heed the signal from her stage manager that it was time for a commercial break and the show’s next segment.