What do you say we thumb through some statistics for Father's Day? Here's a good one--twenty-five million children in the U.S. (40%) living without fathers.
What's shocking about that, given all the hype about deadbeat dads?
Except, those 25,000,000 children weren't exactly abandoned by their fathers since over 80% of the divorces are filed by women, who get custody 90% of the time. Or the fact that fathers pay child support in full 90% of the time when both parents are awarded joint custody. Modify that to visitation "privileges," and the rate drops to 78%. Take away all fatherly contact and that's when the deadbeat dads show up--only 40% pay support.
Gee, how surprising, take a guy's kids completely away and he stops paying for them. Further inflating deadbeat dad statistics are things like the fact many of them actually are dead, others have moved back in but the files haven't been upgraded, not to mention about 690,000 of the 1.2 million-plus prisoners in this country are fathers.
But, male bashing in the media is such popular sport, dads as a whole are routinely maligned. We've just lived through the worst of what I call the "Disposable Dad" decade, just now abating. A telling interview was that of Princeton researcher Sarah McClanahan on Peter Jennings recently. In 1980 she began research to prove women could single parent without fathers--you know, the Murphy Brown myth. After a decade's research, she was forced to rewrite her thesis statement and admit that parenting without fathers is on par with child abuse.
The most insulting thing is that anyone ever assumed you could do it without fathers. The reality is that 70% of American prisoners grew up without fathers, and teen pregnancies are over double in fatherless families. A host of other social ills follow suit.
But, when the current socio-legal mind set is to throw the bum out if he isn't a perfect guy, it's no wonder so many aren't home.
I wrote a tongue-in-cheek column not long ago about spousal abuse. The serious joke is that advocates actually believe it's abusive if a man yells, or is emotionally abusive if he withholds affection, and that these things are grounds for battering charges.
These same advocates mislead the public into thinking domestic violence is a male trait, never mentioning studies like that by the Journal of Marriage and Family which found 1.8 million women annually, but 2 million men annually are subject to one or more assaults from their spouse or live in.
Or the Children's Rights Coalition survey of state child-protective service agencies which found that mothers abuse children at a rate almost double men.
Or a widely-quoted study by UNH researcher Murray Straus that concludes women are more likely to be initiators of violence. Yet, it is women who can almost get a restraining order over the phone, then fathers who are sentenced without a trial to the gutter.
In Claremont, if a woman gets a restraining order, and according to one local lawyer, "they give them out like candy," the man is simply presumed guilty, given about 15 minutes to get his personal belongings and left out on the street. And, if he violates that restraining order, say, by going to see his children, he could be thrown in jail.
New Hampshire's most famous "batterer," Stephen Sarno, who hit his wife when he caught her in bed with another man, got 90 days in jail six months later for writing her three letters--three letters she said he could write, then turned him in for violating the restraining order. In the letters, by the way, Steve is merely asking his wife to bury the hatchet enough to work out what is best for the children. of course, Stephen is up against the same unit millions of other fathers are up against, and what father's rights advocates call "malcontent moms." These are mothers who routinely interfere with whatever meager visitation the father gets. Mothers who routinely falsely accuse fathers of stalking, sexual assault, abuse, non-payment of support.
Between 1989 and 1991 false accusations of child molestations against fathers rose almost 500%. A previous study found that up to 90% of all child molestation accusations against fathers were unfounded. There is almost never a penalty for false accusations.
Is it any wonder many dads simply drop out?
And, if the father does get the children, he'll probably get no support. According to the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, of 2,000,000 custodial fathers in the country caring for 3,000,000 children, and 488,000 rearing children born out of wedlock, only 80,000 receive any child support at all. That's about three percent.
So, when you read that Gordon and Marcia Clark are having custody problems, remember, it's not Gordon the deadbeat dad who didn't want the children, but Marcia the malcontent mom who didn't want him to have them. Though he had time and desire, she wanted him to pay a babysitter.
Next time you hear about deadbeat dads, come down to Monadnock Park and meet some dads who live the fact that they can't work on their kid's skills at home because they don't live in that home with their kids.
Somehow, the state and media got together and decided the only thing dads were good or was support money, and they buried the real story--fathers systematically denied access to their own flesh and blood.
Published on Father's Day, 1995 in the News Leader, Claremont, NH