Wednesday, November 4, 2009

My Dad Can Kick Your Dad', Case

by Sophie Littlefield

What fictional lawyer would you hire to defend you if you ever get caught?

I'd call my dad.

My dad is a law professor, or more grandly a legal scholar, a guy who thinks about issues of right and wrong for a living. He writes about the law, teaches it, and gives speeches about it; I guess you could say he's got a lock on the contemplation of justice.

Whenever I had an ethical quandary when I was growing up, my dad would not only explain current legal thinking on the subject but also provide historical context. My questions were about things like reporting waitressing tips (no one else did), or paying for things you accidentally smuggle out of stores in the bottom of the cart - nothing earth-shattering, and mostly it was just entertaining to hear how Dad would frame the question, because it was always different from the response you'd get from anyone else.

Bottom line, though, I was confident that Dad always acted within his own moral bandwidth. How many people can you say that about? Not many. I actually consider myself fairly ethically pure, but I fall off my own wagon just about every day.

At times, I've felt that dad is actually ethical to a fault. This might be what prompted my lifelong fascination with vigilantism. I am a firm believer in codes (personal more than societal) but I think that without the freedom to contradict ourselves we lose an important tool in our right-wrong arsenal. The slings and arrows of effective personal justice, in other words, must share the quiver with the occasional act of passion or vengeance or defiance.

But back to the subject - if I'm ever caught (and I must say that I find the question of what I have done in this fictional scenario to be more interesting than the nature of my defense) I'll call my dad. As an academic, he hasn't practiced law in nearly fifty years, which makes him, in my view, a "fictional" lawyer - but I'm confident he'd hold the court in thrall with his analysis of the case. Besides, I've never seen anyone win an argument against him.

(But I've beaten him at Scrabble. Just sayin'.)


CJ Lyons said...

Sophie, wow, your dad is like a living, breathing Atticus Finch!!! How awesome is that?

Hmmm....makes me feel a bit feral in my own ethical upbringing--pretty much taught myself what was right/wrong, good/bad and got a lot wrong along the way.

Maybe you guys can adopt me, lol!!!

Hard Boiled Mysti said...

My dad built bombs for democracy -- well, he didn't build them, he made the instruments that measure them last milliseconds longer with each test.

And he believed utterly in what he was doing, as did most of the folks at the Nevada Test Site, something I learned with a visit to the Atomic Museum in Las Vegas. It's cool.

Needless to say, backing out some of Dad's logic took me a while (and more than one nuclear apocalypse nightmare). I have, however, kept his tendency toward Quixotism, and I miss him a lot just now.

He always advised me to never talk to the cops about anything, call him and then a lawyer. This from a man who hadn't had a run-in with the law since he stopped 'liberating' watermelons in his teens. His logic about cops was unassailable -- it's their job, he would say, to control you, trick you, get as much damaging info as they can. No harm, no foul, just their contribution to keep the wheels of justice moving, and my goal was to keep from being crushed under those wheels. Odd talk from a life-long Republican, no?

I don't know what kind of trouble he thought I'd get in, but so far no lawyers, except entertainment attorneys. They don't count...

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Your post made me tear up, Sophie! What a wonderful endorsement of a childhood. Scout, too, was a little vigilante. Guess that's what happens when you grow up pondering the wheels of justice.

Thanks for such a great post.

Jen Forbus said...

Andy Gross and I were discussing "Top Dads" the other day on Twitter. He gave his daughter good advice and when I said I had gotten the same advice from my dad he was disappointed that he wasn't the "Super Dad." I told him to rest assured...every girl needs a "Super Dad" so there's plenty of room for all of them! I see your dad gets to enter the club, too!

Sophie Littlefield said...

hey guys, smiling here, the kids just read Cuckoo's Nest for school and Junior wanted to name the puppy Scout and T-wa wanted to name her Atticus. I'll have to tell Dad about the comparison - I'm sure he'll be flattered.

Mysti, I am not surprised by the picture you paint of your dad, but it seems exactly just right. AND you have absolutely got to work some of that into a story.'s November, get back to work!

And Jen, you're right - every child deserves a super Dad! I'm pleased to report that my kids have one...

Jen Forbus said...

Sophie...did the kids read Cuckoo's Nest or Mockingbird? I'm so confused? And is it Orlando Bloom who has a dog named after Atticus? Some celebrity does...personally, I might opt for Boo Radley! ;)