Fathers’ Day

Sunday was Fathers’ Day.  It’s the day we celebrate fathers and their many contributions to kids, mothers, families and society generally.  But, like our fervent opposition to gun violence, we don’t really mean it.  Oh, for one day out of the year, we manage to pay tribute to dads, but only one.  The rest of the time we’re hell-bent on denigrating fathers as stupid, buffoonish and violent, incompetent at childcare and, in any case, uninterested in their children. 

Our cultural narrative on fathers is, of course, contradicted by the real thing.  Actual fathers care passionately about their children, often find their highest sense of self-worth in their care, protection and support of them.  And children need both parents actively involved in their lives in order to realize their best selves.

On the flip side, fatherless children, particularly fatherless boys are society’s bane.  In a hundred different ways, they damage themselves, those around them and the institutions with which they come into contact.  Gun violence?  Look no further than fatherless children to find its root cause.  A sane, competent society would bend Heavan and earth to ensure that children grow up with two parents caring for them.  In the case of divorce, it would mandate equal parenting absent parental unfitness.

But, in another hundred ways, we do the opposite.  We invent ways in which to ensure that kids grow up without fathers and fathers miss out on the very thing that makes them the healthy, productive adult males we so need and desire.  Virtually every public policy regarding fathers and children is aimed directly at that result.

Family courts?  When parents divorce, Mom gets the kids and Dad’s kicked to the curb.  Sure, the court order says he has the right to see his kids, but if Mom doesn’t allow it, what can he do?  He has to hire a lawyer and go to court, usually many times to even hope to right that wrong.  Who’s got the money for that?  Into the bargain, every effort to educate judges and lawyers about the science on the value of fathers to children is stiff-armed by state bar associations.  Judges rule in child custody cases often not knowing basic facts about fathers and their impact on child well-being.

Child support?  Court orders are routinely set too high for Dad to pay and, when he gets behind can’t risk going to court to enforce his rights of access to his kids and has no money to do so anyway.  One of fathers’ main complaints about child support is that Mom isn’t required to spend it on the child.  Many dads report sending the check every two weeks only to find little Andy or Jenny dirty, dressed in rags and unfed.  Where’d the money go?  Into Mom’s arm?  We could easily issue Mom a debit card that can be used to purchase only certain child-related items, much as we do with food stamps.  Those purchases would produce a record accessible by Dad at any time.  But we don’t even consider that simple, sensible step.  Unsurprisingly, many Dads conclude that “child support” is actually “Mom support.”

Child protective services?  If Mom abuses or neglects the kids, CPS is well-known for refusing to even try to locate Dad as a possible placement.  Finding him would mean the state receives no money from the federal government for children removed from the home, so, better to place the kids in foster care and keep that federal largess flowing.  The Urban Institute studied the matter and found that, in over half the cases, CPS made no effort to contact Dad.

Adoption?  Some 32 states require unmarried fathers to, in some unknown way, intuit when they’ve fathered a child.  Then they have to file a form with the state claiming the child as their own.  Plus, most of those states make their “Putative Father Registry” a closely guarded secret, expending next to no money to publicize them.  If Dad doesn’t know about his child or the registry, and Mom places the child for adoption, he has no right to assert his paternity or gain custody.  The adoption process bypasses him entirely, to the financial benefit of adoption agencies and their lawyers.  True, there are far more kids who need adoption than there are qualified adoptive parents, so adding a child to the mix who doesn’t need adopting in effect deprives another child who does of adoptive parents, but never mind.  The point is to facilitate the adoption process and if that cuts Dad out, so be it.

Ditto paternity fraud.  Despite its many harms to the child, no law anywhere imposes any form of legal consequence on any mother for lying about paternity.  Again, we impose on Dad the onus of, in some way, figuring out that he’s the father of a child.  It’d be simple enough to require mothers to identify the correct father, but we don’t.  Failing that, we could simply perform paternity testing on children at birth.  But we don’t do that either.  Does Mom pick the wrong father?  Too bad for both men (the actual dad and the one she chose) and the child.  But hey, at least it’s not France.  There, fathers are forbidden by law from conducting DNA testing on their children.  If Mom points the finger at a man, he’s the father.  Period. 

I could go on and on, but the message is clear: Against all the evidence on child well-being, we don’t give a tinker’s “damn!” about fathers.  So, by all means, celebrate Fathers’ Day, but don’t let it fool you into believing that our society values dads or that we have any intention of addressing the many social ills brought on by fatherlessness.  We don’t.

 

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