You can tell this is an election year because politicians, bureaucrats, and TV "talking heads" are bashing fathers. In the mid 1970s Congress decided to get the federal government involved in domestic relations law. Ever since, the war against dads has driven gender politics, expansion of the welfare system, and increased spending. By the early 1990s it seemed commonly accepted that battering women and abandoning wives and children to welfare was a character flaw genetically fixed by every Y-chromosome.
Enter Stephen Baskerville -- a knight defending fatherhood. Baskerville might not be what many people imagine as "one of those fathers' rights guys." A political scientist at Howard University, Dr. Baskerville's files are filled with scholarly articles with lots of citations to other scholarly articles, a growing number of which he has written. In his appearances on television and radio however, as well as in the articles he has written for the general public, one might occasionally sense a certain irritation with mis-educated public remarks about fathers.
In an article in this month's Liberty Magazine entitled "The Myth of Deadbeat Dads," Baskerville offers to educate the rich and famous. He reports that TV host Bill O'Reilly recently declared that "There is an epidemic of child abandonment in America, mainly by fathers." "Sen. Evan Bayh has attacked 'irresponsible' fathers in several speeches. Campaigning for president, Al Gore promised harsher measures against 'deadbeat dads,' including sending more to jail. The Clinton administration implemented numerous child-support 'crackdowns,' including the ominously named Deadbeat Parents Punishment Act." In response, Republicans "want to send the strongest possible message that parents cannot walk away from their children."
"Special interest groups demonized fathers," says Baskerville. "They called them 'deadbeat dads' and criminalized them. The result is a system that traces newly hired employees, shifts the burden of proof to the accused, and throws fathers in jail for losing their jobs." He is not alone in that opinion. His article sports 46 citations from a mixture of sources, including books and academic journals, the popular press, and even relevant Web sites.
"The system of collecting child support is no longer one of requiring men to take responsibility for their offspring, as most people believe. The combination of 'no fault' divorce and the new enforcement law has created a system that pays mothers to divorce their husbands and remove children from fathers."
Baskerville presents a convincing argument, well supported by research and other commentary. Quoting an article entitled "The Strange Politics of Child Support"; "By allowing a faithless wife to keep her children and a sizable portion of her former spouse's income, current child-support laws have combined with no fault jurisprudence to convert wedlock into a snare for many guiltless men." (Bryce Christensen, Society, Vol. 39, No. 1 (Nov.-Dec. 2001, p. 65)).
Baskerville adds, "This 'snare' can easily amount to a prison sentence without trial."
His work and commentary have captured the attention of the fathers rights movement. Dave Usher has been a leading activist since 1987 and served for nine years on the exectutive boards of the two largest fathers rights groups in America. He knows that political opinion has been influenced by false information and how difficult it has been to report serious problems with policies that effect fathers. Too few "researchers" who have witten about fathers and fatherhood actually did any research. "We need a few dozen more Baskervilles," he says. "He is a solid researcher."
Although there are many wrongs yet to be righted, the fathers rights movement does not face the extreme prejudice that it once did. Hundreds of organizations and conferences, loads of scholarship, and countless Web sites have sprung up over the past few years focused on issues of concern to fathers. Dr. Baskerville organized one of the first fatherhood conferences three years ago at Howard University. Conferences on fathers issues and fatherhood have been organized and supported by the Ford Foundation, the U.S. Department of Labor, the state of California, and other well established institutions.
Ironically, the Democratic Party -- the party that started the war against fathers in the mid 1970s is out to capture the male vote. Before they finalize their strategy someone should conduct a poll to see how many males age 25-50 want to be their own worst political enemies. With fatherhood knights like Stephen Baskerville around, father-bashing will not be as easy to get away with as it used to be.
Roger F. Gay is the leader and lead researcher of Project for the Improvement of Child Support Litigation Technology, an R&D project focusing on the science, engineering, and application of child support guidelines.