Sharing last name no indication of father-child bond

Lesson No. 1 in journalism school: Never assume. There’s even an acronym for what happens to you (and your editor, usually the one who’ll really hammer it home): It makes an ass of u and me.

Assumptions run rampant when it comes to last name choices. In late October, Detroit News editorial page editor Nolan Finley’s column inspired me to write my first-ever letter to an editor. The column was over a Detroit-area father, Steven father_childNicholson, charged with the horrifying crimes of killing his own two toddlers. Finley wrote of the coverage of Nicholson’s case:

“It gives his name along with those of the children, Jonathon Sanderlin and Ella Stafford, and their ages, 13 months and 15 months, respectively. One father, two children, three different names. Nicholson impregnated two women at roughly the same time, married neither one, and provided precious little parenting to either child.”

I wrote Finley objecting to the piece’s implication that because parents and children don’t share last names, the parents are unmarried, irresponsible, uninvolved, or even harmful. Never heard back from him, but his column today— unfortunately– vindicates me. This one is about another accused father, John Skelton, a downstate man who was the last to see his three sons before their mother reported them missing when he failed to return them to her custody after Thanksgiving. Skelton has been charged with kidnapping, and authorities have said they are not optimistic that the boys will be found safe.

Yet all five of the Skelton family members – father, mother, three sons — share a last name.  So what are we to make of it?  Nothing. Judging family relationships based on last name uniformity, or lack thereof, does exactly what I learned back in journalism school.

I wish Finley could read this Traverse City Record-Eagle story about Greg and Jacqueline Baker and their son Geoffrey Pierick, age 5. Greg and Jacqueline married earlier this year so that Greg could adopt Geoffrey, who is keeping Jacqueline’s maiden name. (The adoption was part of an annual group adoption ceremony held the day before Thanksgiving, hence the story.) One family, two last names. Yet Greg Baker epitomizes the kind of father that both Nicholson and Skelton’s children – all children – deserve. How could that be?

The answer is we’re living in the 21st century, thankfully, where families can choose whatever name(s) feels right for them. Maybe in the 22nd, we’ll be at a place where they can do so without fear of baseless judgments, too.

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