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Advocate for fathers urges support for shared-parenting legislation

Mike Franco, Sentinel & Enterprise, Dec. 14, 2003

Also published:
  Natick-Bulletin Dec. , 2003
  The Reminder Publications Dec., 2003
  The Lincoln Journal Dec., 2003
  The Holyoke Sun Dec., 2003


(Editorís note: Mike Franco is state chairman of The Fatherhood Coalition.)


To the editor:


Another year is nearing a close for the men and women of the Fatherhood Coalition, a statewide all volunteer organization founded in 1994.


The Coalition is among many good and principled nonprofit groups that have formed in Massachusetts to address societal problems created by the systemic failure of government. Many of these problems continue to be brought to the attention of the public by the media and through the efforts of groups like ours.


The coalition offers a powerful network of shared legal and life experiences through its diverse membership and active chapters throughout the state. We are a leading authority on matters of gender and parenting that affect divorced or unwed fathers. We pride ourselves on front-line advocacy, helping people to cope with an insensitive judiciary, and oftentimes, hostile family courts.


Although our primary advocacy is for fathers, we help others as well who have been touched by these issues that transcend gender and generations deep into families.


Single dads join our coalition because they have common concerns and interests, which are generally to seek more access and rights to their children. They come to us with low self-esteem and morale as a result of being treated poorly by courts that march to the same beat of bigotry and bias against men.


In a forum where perjury is rewarded based on gender, the family court will invariably violate a man's right to equal protection and due process under the law. As well, fathers are routinely blamed for abandonment and irresponsibility, when in many instances this is an adverse condition directly caused by courts and judges. There are also times when a man may be falsely accused of some type of abuse, especially when the woman feels compelled to play a trump card from the "victim feminist" deck offered by her allies.


Much of the bias can be attributed to gender politics and lack of understanding. For instance, many female judges are divorced or single parents who have custody of their own children, and there are others -- male and female alike -- who do not have children. These judges are not likely to empathize with the plight and perspective of biological fathers and children who are unnaturally and forcibly separated.


Additionally, judges with the traditional philosophy that women should "stay at home" may further harm the father-child relationship with a tendency to separate them, creating just another "uncle dad" with a checkbook.


Family judges typically use the "best interest" standard to make decisions from the bench. Yet, this standard is conveniently vague, affording judges the incorrigible "discretion," which ultimately serves to protect them from being held accountable for incompetence and possible malfeasance.


There are other more experienced and ardent activists who say the "best interest" standard is a "sham" used to deny rights to fathers, and that in practice it translates to whatever is best for the state; revenues, and the careers and pensions of state actors like judges and lawyers.


In summary, much of our system of family law is archaic and parochial, and would become moot with enactment of the presumption of joint physical custody to fit and willing parents. This is why we urge the public to support legislative initiates for shared and equal parenting such as S1075 and H3191. Legislation like this should be passed without delay since we know that many states have enacted shared parenting with great success.


If we are to significantly improve conditions for families today and into the future, we must send a clear and unequivocal message to all parents that mothers and fathers -- men and women -- will be equally responsible for their children physically, emotional and financially.


It is time to stop living in the past and to start being honest about what is best for our children.


Mike Franco