The Washington Post, Sunday, 4 February 2001, p. B07.


The Real Crisis of Fatherhood

http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A20660-2001Feb2?language=printer

By Stephen Baskerville


Marjorie Williams is right to set the news about Jesse Jackson's
extramarital offspring in the larger context of fatherless children and the
serious personal and social pathologies that ensue from raising children
without fathers [op-ed, Jan. 24].

At the same time, we should be wary of generalizing about "paternal
abandonment" from the escapades of a few powerful men. Most of the absent
fathers our leaders excoriate so mercilessly are kept away not by
high-powered, globetrotting careers but by court orders. Contrary to public
perceptions (and government public relations), very few fathers voluntarily
abandon their children, and no scientific evidence has ever been adduced to
show that they do. Hard scientific data indicate that most missing fathers
are forcibly driven away.

This has been documented for divorced fathers by scholars such as Sanford
Braver, who has showed conclusively that, particularly when children are
involved, most divorces are filed by mothers, not fathers. Legal researchers
Margaret Brinig and Douglass Allen further discovered that the single most
important factor in determining who files for divorce is expectation of
getting custody of the children, making divorce a tool for eliminating an
unwanted spouse, usually (though not always) the father.

This is more difficult to document for unmarried, usually poorer and more
often minority fathers. Yet while these fathers may have less opportunity to
bond with their children, there is no reason to assume they love them any
less. A study of low-income fathers in the north of England found that "the
most common reason given by the fathers for not having more contact with
their children was the mothers' reluctance to let them." In American cities,
a demonstration project by Public/Private Ventures with young, low-income
fathers found that most had only one child or children by only one mother
with whom there had been a serious relationship at the time of pregnancy.
Overwhelmingly these fathers visited their children in the hospital and saw
them at least once a week; many took them to the doctor. Large percentages
reported bathing, feeding, dressing and playing with their children and
providing informal child support in the form of cash or purchased goods such
as diapers.

The hard fact is that the gatekeepers between fathers and their children are
usually mothers. But more serious for public policy is a massive
governmental machine that can politicize and criminalize ordinary family
differences and that has its own bureaucratic reasons for keeping fathers
away. This machine -- consisting of judges, lawyers, psychotherapists, child
support enforcement agents, child protective services and more --
effectively turns children into wards of the state, a condition in which
they can be seized not only from fathers but from mothers as well.

The epidemic of child abuse and the horrifying stories we have heard lately
of government agencies failing to protect children are also involved here.
We know that child abuse takes place overwhelmingly in the homes of single
parents. A British study found children in single-parent homes up to 33
times more likely to be abused when a live-in boyfriend or stepfather is
present.

Protecting children is more than a matter of second-guessing the judge or
striking a balance between the safety of children and the rights of parents.
The same courts and ancillary agencies that can evict the father can then
effectively seize control of the children and cast themselves in the roles
of protectors against the dangerous single mother and her boyfriend.

Tackling the fatherhood crisis and connected problems such as child abuse
and child poverty will involve much more than vague, feel-good programs to
"promote fatherhood," which is all George W. Bush has so far offered as
governor and president. It will also involve coming to grips with serious
violations of civil rights: the rights of children not to be separated from
their fathers or mothers without just cause.

Oddly, this glaring civil rights abuse -- which disproportionately afflicts
African Americans and other minorities -- has been ignored by the civil
rights leadership. As Sylvia Ann Hewlett and Cornel West argue in their
book, "The War Against Parents," the fatherhood crisis is the result of
bipartisan neglect.

As the Bush administration begins its term searching for ways to connect
with black America, fatherhood could be precisely the issue on which we
might admit that we all have failed and on which we knuckle down to some
serious bipartisan cooperation.

The writer teaches political science at Howard University.


© 2001 The Washington Post




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Monday, February 26, 2001; Page A18

Responding to a Feb. 4 op-ed column by Stephen Baskerville asserting that
divorced and never-married fathers are "forcibly driven away," David
Blankenhorn said that men avoid responsibility by blaming other people,
especially women, for their problems [letters, Feb. 14].

Not so. The U.S. court system, which also makes 2 1/2 million mothers
"visitors" in their own children's lives following divorce, is a travesty.
We need to reform the court system, substitute shared parenting for
sole-custody battles, encourage mediation and parent education and -- most
important -- not take away a parent's right to be a parent without a
compelling state interest.

If we want to encourage responsibility by parents, we must not treat them as
Disneyland Dads or Disneyland Moms who are allowed by court order to see
their children only once every couple of weeks.

DAVID L. LEVY
President
Children's Rights Council
Washington


© 2001 The Washington Post Company

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Politically Correct Victimhood

Wednesday, February 21, 2001; Page A22

David Blankenhorn takes fathers' rights advocate Stephen Bakerville to task
for the "victim psychology" by which men "blame others for their problems"
[letters, Feb. 15].  What a hoot!  When nearly 80 percent of divorces are
filed by women, often under the pretext of false charges of abuse that can
nonetheless have a man ejected from his home, who's blaming whom?  Women
have huge incentives to be the complainant -- the victim -- in a divorce: a
virtual lock on custody and inflated support figures that in more than 30
states are based on economically flawed guidelines.  Mr. Blankenhorn
misperceives the problem.  It's not that we have so many noncustodial
fathers in the first place, it's that they are a manufacturable class of
citizens in a society where one gender's victim status is more politically
correct than the other's.  Good noncustodial fathers are being destroyed by
this imbalance.

MARK LINDAMOOD
Annandale

© 2001 The Washington Post Company

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Crisis of Fatherhood

Thursday, February 15, 2001; Page A22


Stephen Baskerville [op-ed, Feb. 4] trivializes the work of thousands of
individuals nationwide who are committed to ending father absence when he
describes fatherhood programs as "vague" and "feel-good."

Federal, state and local governments and community-based organizations are
increasingly focusing on the fact that 25 million children live absent their
fathers. These fatherhood programs are operating in prisons and churches, in
welfare offices and schools, in family-planning clinics and maternity wards.
They range from small, local efforts to aggressive statewide efforts.

One of the most impressive is in Texas, where, contrary to Mr. Baskerville's
assertion, then-Gov. George W. Bush created the Texas Fatherhood Initiative
(TFI). The TFI is mobilizing communities to combat the problem of
fatherlessness; running a successful public education campaign highlighting
the importance of fathers to the well-being of children; and providing
training and technical assistance to community-based organizations
interested in implementing a fatherhood outreach, support or skills-building
program.

WADE F. HORN
President
National Fatherhood Initiative
Gaithersburg

.

Stephen Baskerville argues that divorced and never-married fathers are
"forcibly driven away" from their children by mothers and the courts. This
stance reflects a victim psychology in which men avoid personal
responsibility by blaming other people, especially women, for their
problems. Mr. Baskerville's assertion that "very few fathers voluntarily
abandon their children" reflects a fantasy world in which all but a "very
few" noncustodial fathers are good, and all but a "very few" single mothers
are bad.

I agree that some fathers get a raw deal, and current custody laws, which
favor mothers, may contribute to more women filing for divorce. But the
underlying societal crisis is not, as Mr. Baskerville implies, that we
mistreat noncustodial fathers but that we have so many of them in the first
place.

As long as the United States has a 33 percent rate of unwed childbearing and
the highest divorce rate in the world, we will have a profound crisis of
fatherhood, no matter what ex-wives, ex-girlfriends and the courts do and or
do not do.

DAVID BLANKENHORN
President
Institute for American Values
New York


© 2001 The Washington Post Company