"Hey, everybody," says actor Jason Patric, an earnest, welcoming expression on his face, in a promotional video for Stand Up for Gus, his new nonprofit foundation. "I want to welcome you and thank you for all your support, all your donations." The camera pans around a little boy's room, filled with a wooden crib, crayons and toys. "We're sitting in Gus' room," Patric continues, curly black locks swept back on his head and bright blue eyes piercing the frame. "This is a place I don't come into or normally open the door, but I thought it was important to be in here," he continues. "It's painful. But it's also a reminder of what we're fighting for."
Though Patric is best known as the handsome, brooding star of late-1980s and 1990s movies like The Lost Boys, Rush and Sleepers, the fight he's waging today is far more personal, and contentious. For the past year, he's been making the rounds on major TV networks begging to see the four-year-old, Gus, whom he helped to conceive (and is the inspiration for his foundation). Withholding his "son" from him is "violence," he's said, and "child abuse." Gus' mother, Patric's ex-girlfriend Danielle Schreiber, however, argues that she always intended to be a single parent, and Patric was only her sperm donor. She alleges that Patric didn't want to act as Gus' father back then – and shouldn't be able to change his mind now.
Patric has a middling career these days – this summer, he stars in The Prince, an action thriller with Bruce Willis, 50 Cent and John Cusack – but he's supremely connected in Hollywood. The Irish grandson of Jackie Gleason, and son of actor-playwright Jason Miller (author of the Pulitzer-winning play That Championship Season, and the actor who played the Jesuit protagonist in The Exorcist), his command of the media is powerful, and more than $300,000 has been donated to Stand Up for Gus, which helps arrange legal counsel for other parents who don't have custody but want to see their kids. Celebrity friends like Mark Wahlberg, Chris Evans, Brad Pitt and Chris Rock, who told Patric "children want to love their mamas and their dadas," have supported the foundation.
Patric's fight has also become much bigger than just this fight: Today, he's a symbol for the "fathers' rights" movement, an offshoot of "men's rights" that is focused on supporting men in divorce and custody cases. (As a male activist put it on TMZ, "Mr. Patric is demonstrating the type of manhood that we should be celebrating as a society and honoring in the legal system.") Though legal scholars say the courts, which once overwhelmingly sided with mothers on these issues, have at least come closer to gender parity over the past decade, fathers'-rights supporters say American men need to hit back against women's alimony rackets, false domestic-violence and child-abuse claims, and cases of "parental alienation" – a woman claiming a monopoly over a child and cutting the man out of the equation, which is how Patric, and other stars, like Alec Baldwin, have characterized their experience.
Celebrity dads are a great way to get the fathers'-rights message across, and both the high- and lowbrow media have eaten up these stories, like Olympic skier Bode Miller's suit with a one-time girlfriend who moved to New York, when he was in California, wherein a judge declared that her "appropriation of the child while in utero was irresponsible, reprehensible." (Miller received temporary custody of the child, whom he even tried to rename, and they now share custody). When Patric threw a big bash to raise money for Stand Up for Gus in West Hollywood, paparazzi clicked pictures of all the stars who turned out for him: Matt Damon, Mel Gibson, Sarah Silverman, Chris Noth, David Spade and Kiefer Sutherland, Patric's friend of about 25 years. Patric, in a tuxedo, called the turnout "overwhelming, and amazing to me. I'm so moved and touched by all of it." He added in his video, "2014 is [when] Gus is coming home this year. He's going to make it."
The Jason Patric custody case, which has hit a nerve in America and commanded media attention for more than a year, is at its core about society's shifting notion of what constitutes a family. Like the debate surrounding marijuana legalization and gay marriage, the issue of whether a child has the right to a mom and a dad – even if the mom doesn't want the biological father involved – is fraught with cultural bias, as well as our unresolved feelings about our parents' roles in our upbringing, or lack thereof. It's no surprise that support for Patric and derogation of Schreiber's single-mother status has come from the usual places, like conservative Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly, who called Schreiber an "angry" woman. But, oddly, it's also issued forth from unexpected media outlets, like the women's daytime show The View, where Barbara Walters and others listened intently to Patric and murmured their support.
While Patric has granted many interviews presenting his case, Schreiber has only made a single appearance on TV, on The Today Show, about a year ago. Worried about Patric's perpetuation of what she perceives as a faulty narrative, she agreed months ago to speak with Rolling Stone exclusively (she is a friendly acquaintance of this reporter). "Single mothers are not incomplete equations," says Schreiber. To say otherwise "violates my civil rights. Think of the stigma of being a single mom, and the way people are threatened by it. It's associated with a woman who's financially dependent on the state, sexually irresponsible, maybe promiscuous. Or I'm seen as someone in the default position waiting to complete my family. But all I'm doing is trying to protect the family structure that I have."
As far as Patric is concerned, Schreiber says that he was psychologically and physically abusive to her. She adds, "Look, Jason is a great actor. But the Jason I knew was the role he played in Your Friends and Neighbors. People were impressed by the role. In hindsight, I'm not that impressed, because it's not that much of a stretch." In that movie, directed by Neil LaBute, Patric is memorably misogynistic, sadistic and delusional.
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