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The hidden half of domestic violence

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Where Are The Dads?
Where have all the dads gone? Ask America's judicial system!
June 15, 2001 1:40 am [Reuters Newswire]
LAKE FOREST, Calif.--Father's Day, our national celebration of fatherhood,
traditionally evokes warm memories of the times we spent with our fathers;
taking that first bike ride, catching our first fish, or the look on Dad's
face when he solemnly handed over the car keys for
the first time.
These recollections last a lifetime; indeed, they are integral threads in
the fabric of our lives. Unfortunately, too many American children will
never experience these fond memories.
In 1966, President Johnson declared the third Sunday of June Father's Day.
But now, startling research shows that 35 years later, half of America's
children are living apart from their fathers. According to the U.S. Census
Bureau, in 1960 20 percent of all marriages ended in divorce; in 1990, that
number was up to nearly half of all marriages.
And 1999 marked the first time that a full one-third of all U.S. births were
to unwed mothers, according to the National Center for Health and
Moreover, it isn't always a happy Father's Day for the 14 million
noncustodial parents in this country. Many fathers won't even get to see
their children Sunday unless the day falls on their every-other-weekend
visitation schedule.
These days, traditional parental roles become somewhat blurred. Fathers
nurture and make dinner, mothers work and pay the bills. Unfortunately, many
of society's institutions haven't caught up in this evolving social
The courts must recognize that we are no longer living in the 1950s. With
more women than ever in the work force, fathers are actively involved in the
day-in, day-out caring for their children. Yet in custody battles, women
receive custody 84.1 percent of the time, according to the Census Bureau.
Nothing stuns a divorcing father as deeply as hearing a judge relegate him
from caring role model to mere "visitor" in his children's lives. More
important, no child should ever lose a parent as a result of a divorce in
which he or she had no choice.
Furthermore, noncustodial fathers routinely have to contend with access
denial and visitation interference. This has reached epidemic proportions,
yet the courts do little to stop it. According to Joan Berlin Kelley and
Judith Wallerstein in their book "Surviving the Breakup," more than half of
mothers report they see no reason for their children continuing to have
contact with their father following a divorce. In the book "Fathers'
Rights," one of us, Jeffery Leving, notes, "Only one in six divorced fathers
sees his children once a week or more. Almost 40 percent of children who
live with their mothers haven't seen their father in at least a year."
The effects of fatherlessness are alarming. Statistically, fatherless
children are twice as likely to drop out of school; three of four teen
suicides occur in single-parent families; 70 percent of children in juvenile
detention grew up in fatherless homes; girls are 164 percent more likely to
become pregnant before marriage and 900 percent more likely to suffer
rape/sexual abuse. The list goes on.
Father absence affects everyone in society, a fact increasingly recognized
by the public. According to a 1996 Gallup Poll, 79.1 percent of Americans
feel "the most significant family or social problem facing America is the
physical absence of the father from the home."
Grandmothers, sisters, friends, and second wives are also affected. Many
custodial mothers live with noncustodial fathers, and some women are
noncustodial parents. Thus, women have become vocal supporters of fatherhood
issues. In fact, women make up half of the membership of the largest
national organization representing noncustodial parents and promoting shared
parenting--the American Coalition for Fathers and Children.
Another court-made debacle involves the increasing number of men now being
made to financially support children that DNA testing has proven aren't
theirs. Why? Because state agencies need to comply with federal welfare laws
directing them to identify 90 percent of the fathers of children born out of
wedlock or lose federal funding.
Governmental institutions have a long way to go toward offering parity
between the genders. Last year, a U.S. Senate resolution was passed
unanimously to designate Father's Day as "Responsible Father's Day." The
measure, as reported in the Washington Times, "lists the consequences
of fatherlessness and calls for fathers to 'use the day to reconnect and
rededicate themselves
to their children's lives.'"
Unfortunately, the resolution didn't offer any suggestions to fathers who
have limited visitation schedules, compounded
by access and visitation interference, on just how they can "reconnect and
rededicate themselves."
Where have all the fathers gone? Are they becoming an endangered species?
No. Fathers are right where the courts put them--locked out of their
children's lives.
Rather than demoting fathers to mere visitor status, we need to let
policy-makers know that we as a society value fathers, and that Father's Day
is really every day for millions of children who need their dad.
DIANNA THOMPSON is executive director of the American Coalition for Fathers
and Children. JEFFERY LEVING, an attorney, is the author of "Fathers
FL-S Home:
Copyright 2001 The Free Lance-Star Publishing Company.



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