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Plundering fatherhood

Stephen Baskerville

WorldNetDaily Exclusive Commentary

Plundering fatherhood
By Stephen Baskerville
2001 Stephen Baskerville

Fatherhood is all the rage. President Bush unveils a $315 million plan "to
promote responsible fatherhood." Sen. Evan Bayh, head of the Democratic
Leadership Council, hosts a televised conference on "Connecting Fathers and
Families" and promises to make fatherhood a top issue. Both houses of
Congress, plus the governors and mayors, create bipartisan taskforces on
"fatherhood promotion" and issue resolutions affirming the importance of
fathers. The National Fatherhood Initiative holds a Fatherhood Summit in
Washington on June 7-8.

How, precisely, the state can promote something as personal and private as a
parent's relationship with his own children (let alone whether it should) is
seldom explained. But if government fatherhood programs sound somewhat
nebulous, there is a more concrete side to our leaders' discovery of
fatherhood. In 1998, President Clinton signed the ominously-named "Deadbeat
Parents Punishment Act" and announced a "new child support crackdown ... to
identify, analyze, and investigate [parents] for criminal prosecution." On
the campaign trail Al Gore called for jailing more fathers.

In Virginia, a commission dominated by lawyers, judges and feminists moves
to increase child-support obligations. In Alabama the government calls
fathers "dogs" and announces increased measures to hunt them down.

That a crisis of fatherhood exists can hardly be denied. Forty percent of
American children and 60 percent of African-American children now live
without their fathers. Moreover, the social and personal pathologies
directly attributable to father absence - crime, unwed motherhood, truancy,
drugs and alcohol - are now too well known to belabor.

But what may be at work here is government, once again, creating a problem
for itself to solve. Certainly policymakers are so intent on registering
their concern that they never stop to tell us where the problem comes from
in the first place. The often unspoken assumption is that these fathers
have, in Clinton's words, "chosen to abandon their children." Yet there is
no evidence this is true.

No academic or government study has ever demonstrated that large numbers of
fathers are voluntarily abandoning their children. On the other hand, no
knowledgeable policymaker or scholar denies that millions of fathers are
involuntarily separated from their children by government officials.

Of the almost 1 million divorces each year involving children, at least
two-thirds to three-fourths are initiated by mothers, according to Sanford
Braver of Arizona State University and other scholars. In the largest
federally-funded study ever undertaken on the subject, Braver confirmed
previous studies showing that overwhelmingly it is mothers, not fathers, who
are walking away from marriages without legal grounds. These divorcing
mothers have virtual certainty of getting the children and a large portion
of the father's income, regardless of any fault on their part.

What is happening in divorce courts is much more serious than gender bias
against fathers. A massive divorce industry is finding it increasingly
easy - and lucrative - to simply eliminate fathers from their families with
no show of wrongdoing and seize control of their children. The industry
consists of judges, lawyers, psychotherapists, social workers, bureaucratic
police and women's groups - all of whom have one interest in common:
separating as many children from their fathers as possible. A father can
then be plundered for almost any amount in coerced attorneys' fees,
involuntary psychotherapy, and "child support" which his children may never
see. Failure to pay frequently results in incarceration without trial.

"The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals,"
wrote Ayn Rand. "When there aren't enough criminals, one makes them. One
declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to
live without breaking laws."

What we are seeing today is nothing less than the criminalization of
fatherhood itself: criminal penalties imposed on parents who have committed
no act but are made outlaws through the actions of others in ways they are
powerless to avoid. Once the father is stripped of custody, his contact with
his own children outside government-approved times and locations becomes a
criminal act. His criminalization is further consolidated through forced
legal fees and impossible child-support burdens.

Child support obligations are determined by the same enforcement personnel
who collect them. Such legislating by courts and enforcement agencies raises
serious questions about the separation of powers and the constitutionality
of the process. Where government officials develop an interest in hunting
"delinquents," it is predictable that they will create delinquents to hunt.
The more onerous the child-support levels, and the more defaults and
arrearages, the more demand for coercive enforcement and for the personnel
and powers required.

Private collection firms, such as Policy Studies, Inc., of Denver, are also
involved in setting the levels of what they collect. Not only does an
obvious conflict-of-interest arise in terms of the amount to be collected,
but the firms can create precisely the "delinquents" and "deadbeats" they
are hired to pursue and on which their business depends.

A presumption of guilt pervades the courts themselves, where "the burden of
proof may be shifted to the defendant" according to a legal analysis by the
National Council of State Legislatures. In clear violation of the
Constitution, courts have held that "not all child support contempt
proceedings classified as criminal are entitled to a jury trial," and "even
indigent obligors are not necessarily entitled to a lawyer." Thus
impoverished parents who lose their children through literally "no fault" of
their own are the only citizens who - when they are fortunate enough to be
formally charged and tried at all, before being incarcerated - must prove
their innocence without counsel and without a jury of their peers.

Rather than confronting this appalling violation of both family integrity
and constitutional rights, our elected leaders are cooking up fatherhood
programs that may do more harm than good. In Massachusetts, state officials
have used federal money to draw up a list of "Five Principles of
Fatherhood," including: "give affection to my children" and "demonstrate
respect at all times to the mother of my children." One cannot help but
wonder what penalties the state will bring to bear on fathers who fail to
show sufficient "affection" and "respect."

In an attempt to soften its image, the National Child Support Enforcement
Association declares, "Child support is more than money. Child support also
is love, emotional support and responsibility." Yet there is something
troubling about bureaucratic police taking it upon themselves to define and
enforce a parent's love and emotional support of his own children. Is the
state, with its armed agents and penal apparatus, mandated to punish fathers
deemed to be delinquent on this as well?

There is nothing mutually exclusive about protecting the rights of parents
and their children not to be separated without cause and enforcing child
support collection on those men who truly abandon the offspring they have
sired. Requiring men to accept financial responsibility for their progeny
has been a matter of public policy for centuries. Forcing fathers to
"finance the filching of their own children," as attorney and author Jed
Abraham puts it, is a prescription for social and political destruction. Yet
this is the experiment on which we are now embarked.

It might not be necessary for government to promote fatherhood if only
government would stop destroying it.

Stephen Baskerville teaches political science at Howard University in
Washington, D.C.

WorldNetDaily Home:
Stephen Baskerville, PhD
Department of Political Science
Howard University
Washington, DC  20059


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