June 25, 1999 /12 Tamuz, 5759
Dissin' dadsCathy Young
Jewish World Review
FATHERS’ RIGHTS ADVOCATES often complain that Father’s Day has become, more often than not, an occasion for father-bashing. One might think they’re being paranoid. But this past Sunday, the New York Times Week in Review chose to run a cartoon by Ted Rall titled “Dadbert” (a spoof of “Dilbert”) in which a young man asks his father if he loves him. “No,” Dad replies. “Son, like most fathers over the past 30 years, I dumped you and your mom, ran off with my administrative assistant and saw you only because I was under court order. I was rich, but I paid child support late or not at all. ... Can’t you take a hint?”
I’m all for having a sense of humor. We don’t need more hypersensitivity. But there’s humor and there’s bigotry. No respectable paper would ever run a cartoon depicting Jews as greedy on Passover — or any other day. “Dadbert” comes pretty close.
It bears repeating that most fathers do not abandon their children. Two-thirds of all children under 18 still live with both biological parents, and 15 percent of parents raising children alone are fathers. The typical divorced noncustodial father did not run off with anyone but was sent packing by his wife usually not because he was unfaithful or abusive but because she felt that they had grown emotionally distant. This is what divorcing women themselves say in surveys.
It’s also worth noting that according to virtually every study, fathers who are steadily employed and are allowed access to their children rarely default on child support. According to the Institute for Research on Poverty at the University of Wisconsin, more than half of nonpaying fathers make less than $6,155 a year.
Of course, no father is forced to see his children under court order. Many fathers, however, are kept from seeing their children often despite a court order.
Women’s advocates like child support enforcement activist Geraldine Jensen dismiss claims of visitation denial as a ploy by fathers to cover up their neglect of children. Ironically, in 1981, an Ohio court found that Jensen herself “severely limited [her ex-husband’s] opportunities to maintain a relationship with his children.”
Detail from cartoon under discussion
Some people seem to think that anyone who speaks up in defense of fathers has to be anti-woman. After my last column on the subject, I received a lengthy e-mail accusing me of “Fathers’ Rights propaganda” from a nameless woman who said she worked with “mothers’ groups.” It was full of male-bashing rhetoric about “teaching irresponsible, immature, misogynistic curmudgeons that children need money, food, shelter, attention and not to be abused or watch daddy beat mommy” and mind-boggling claims about how soft the system supposedly is on abusive fathers.
According to the writer, when fathers who molest their children file for custody, “they win 84 percent of the time.” I have no idea where this preposterous figure comes from and whether it’s supposed to refer to actual abuse or charges made as a custody tactic. The fact is that even when accused fathers have been vindicated, the system often does little to help them.
One father with whom I have corresponded, former Wayne County resident Jim Rourke, has not seen his three children in more than two years. In 1997, his former wife filed abuse charges against him which were quickly rejected as unsubstantiated. Yet the authorities decided that the custody evaluation process had to start all over again, with the costs to be split between Rourke and his ex-wife costs he says he cannot afford to pay. For two years, Rourke’s complaints have been bounced back and forth between different courts while he continues to be denied visitation.
I’m not suggesting that all divorced dads are blameless martyrs. Yes, there are selfish men who desert their children just as there are spiteful women who keep fathers away from children. But no newspaper would ever celebrate Mother’s Day with a cartoon about malicious and vindictive mothers. As long the stereotypes about fathers persist, we can use some “fathers’ rights
JWR contributor Cathy Young is co-founder and vice-president of the Women’s Freedom Network and author of Ceasefire! Why Women and Men Must Join Forces to Achieve True Equality. Send your comments to her by clicking here.
©1999, Cathy Young