April 2, 2000
With spring upon us, families take many fun activities outside the home. It's time for baseball, mini-golf, go-carts, waterslides. Time to get a tan, play frisbee with Fido, obtain messy faces from very large ice cream cones. Spring brings families together. This year. Every year.
While many families can identify with the above paragraph's spring outlook, a good many cannot. A good many families are torn by divorce and endless arguments over visitation arrangements. More specifically, a good many divorced/unwed fathers are unable rather than unwilling to spend adequate time with their children.
You would have to have been living under a rock for the last eight years or so to not see that "fatherlessness" is not just a serious personal problem, but an equally serious social one. The catch phrase "deadbeat dad" is a permanent part of the nation's vernacular. Popular culture stresses to "men" to be more "responsible" dads and emphasises to "women" they have more "choices" as mothers. The president demands men step up to fatherhood. All this, despite the fact that with the Office for Child Support Enforcement indicating in the last eight years or so child support collections are up by at least 50 percent, few if any punishments are in store for custodial parents who interfere with visitation, (family time). Men pay millions of dollars every year for child support despite the plethora of myths and barriers that surround fatherhood, which in fact prevent men from being the fathers they are told they are. However, there are positive signs ahead.
Since 1990, over fifty books new books have been written about fatherhood. Some with familiar themes, others which stress the importance of fathers. One of the most prolific books available is Throwaway Dads, by Ross D. Parke and Armin A. Brott. The very title accurately depicts how divorced/unwed fathers feel when the courts turn them into "visitors" and their child's mother continually thwarts visitation ordered by the court. Fatherhood is thus tossed aside, men become throwaway dads.
Throwaway Dads is broken down into four parts and eleven chapters, the final part being the authors prospect for the future. Part one tells us what the stakes are, then parts two and three examine fatherhood's myths and barriers. Parke and Brott excel at documenting their facts, write with a polemic style that is readable.
We read about the myth of the biologically unfit father, we learn that "most of the evidence that males are biologically unequipped for parenting is based on studies with laboratory rats."
We read about the myth of the dangerous father, we come to realize that "whether a false allegation of abuse is made maliciously or out of genuine concern for the welare of a child, the result is the same for the accused. Unlike alleged perpetrators of other crimes, a father accused of child abuse is guilty until he proves himself innocent."
We read about barries to fatherhood in the workplace that show men want to take time off from work as new fathers, but "some companies don't even let their employees know they're eligible to take paternity leave. A 1996 report from a bi-partisan family-leave commision reported that only 58 percent of covered employees had heard of the Family and Medical Leave Act. It's pretty hard to exercise your options when you don't know what they are."
We read about barriers to fatherhood within the men's movement itself, somewhat odd until you consider "one of the reasons the men's and father's movements have been less than successful in changing attitudes and and perceptions about fathers is that they can't seem to agree on a single goal. Until that happens, the movements are doomed to the kind of fragmentation that has thus far kept them powerless."
Throwaway Dads offers much to both intact fathers and families and to the fathers and families mired in custody/visitation problems. Hope exists for the throwaway dad. Those who are not throwaway dads learn how tight a rope fatherhood can be. Fatherhood needs a strong masculine foundation, respect, freedom, and the law for it to flourish.
Fathers matter, as Parke and Brott keep telling us. This is something we used to know. This is something we need to continually reiterate. This something, that with hard work and equal love, will become self-evident to the populace and government.
Let's get busy.
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