Sunday is Father’s Day. A time devoted to ugly ties, badly burned breakfasts and some new tool for dad to do work around the house, or if he’s lucky, a new fishing rod to get him out of the home.
I’m not a father but I work with many of them. Men who have been shut out of their children’s lives, or relegated to a status of being nothing more than an ATM. As a society we are not supportive of fathers to the same extent that we are of mothers. It’s a sad state of affairs that fathers are so often thought of as “nice but not necessary”.
The role of the father has been diminished in recent years due to a number of factors. The precipitous drop in marriages, the rise of “no fault” divorces that allow people to dump a relationship for no substantial reason, and the prevalence in the courts of the view that so long as man is paying his child support he’s doing all that is important and the children don’t really need more from him, are all reasons why I see the role of the father as being diminished, dismissed and disregarded.
It saddens me when I hear people that say men don’t want to be in their children’s lives. It’s not my experience. Granted I’m dealing with a population of men who are working hard to get more time with their children than the every other weekend and a Wednesday Night Pizza Dinner. I’ve also worked with groups of fathers who cannot afford me but want to know how to have more time with their children.
When I do Facebook lives for the Father’s Rights Movement the responses I receive are that they are frustrated and hurt they don’t have a fair shot at equal time. The argument against giving dad more time usually goes like this, “He only wants more time to lower his child support and he won’t use it.” Which is frequently a red herring, because the opposite is also true, she only wants more time to get more money. Which is why in my opinion the law should be that each parent HAS to take the child 50% of the time, and support the child while in their care.
That’s not a popular suggestion because so many men are living in poverty and don’t have appropriate housing or their work won’t allow them to have a child friendly schedule. This brings us back to the fact that society is not as supportive of fathers as it could be.
Of course many mothers live in poverty as well, and actually it is exacerbated by having to bear the full brunt of child rearing which negatively impacts their career options and choices. So by mandating a shared parenting responsibility we would be freeing women from the emotional and physical labor of child rearing, thus working to lower the poverty rate, which would be in the children’s best interest in the long run.
The argument that fathers don’t have appropriate living conditions or wages to support their children, does raise the tricky question of why did they choose to have children in the first place, and why did mom choose this man to father her child, but that’s a much more complex issue than I can cover here.
When we look at the actual effect of an active and engaged father, versus an absent father the results are dramatic and telling. Every major data point that would indicate societal problems is reduced when dads are involved; early language development is increased, teen pregnancy is reduced, drug and alcohol problems are reduced, behavioral problems for both boys and girls are dramatically reduced and the likelihood of long term stable relationships in the future are increased.
I’ve worked with Project Fatherhood out of the Children’s Institute for years. This program is for men who are there just out of prison, court ordered or self-referred to better their relationships with their children and the mother. The classes I’ve led have been on domestic violence, child support and child custody. Across the board the men are hurting, frustrated and ignored by a system that is more concerned with cash than caring.
Fathers matter. A lot. Ask anyone who has had a good relationship with their father, and they’ll tell you how much it impacted their life. We can and should do more to support fathers. Paternity leave should be as normal as maternity leave. Government programs should be just as focused on fathers as mothers and we’d see the rewards in reduced prison populations, reduced prostitution, and reduced substance abuse in our cities.
If you know a father who is fighting to see his kids – be nice to him. The forces against him are tremendous and he needs all the support we can give him.