Orlando Sentinel

What if Father's Day were eliminated for a few years?

By Kathleen Parker
Published in The Orlando Sentinel on June 18, 2000

Not to be a party pooper, but Father's Day just isn't fun anymore.

At least it's not for millions of divorced fathers who don't see enough of their children. Nor for as many children who barely know who Dad is. And certainly not for columnists, who are supposed to say something pleasant when there's very little pleasant to say.

In fact, our culturally designated days of celebration have evolved instead into days of protest. At this moment, assuming you're reading this on Father's Day, hundreds of divorced fathers are protesting in Washington.

Or maybe it's thousands or even millions, depending on which press release you read. More likely, you read little more than a small blurb in your local paper. Johnnie Cochran's Rule of Headline Writing is this: "If you can't alliterate, don't pontificate."

Which is why you know everything about "Deadbeat Dads," a favorite alliterative standard among headline writers, but less about millions of fathers who have been sidelined by a cruel and greedy divorce industry.

A Million Moms is another story. Put a million moms on the front lines and you've got a front page. Recall that Mother's Day 2000 was also a protest moment with "millions" of moms picketing pistols and other gun fare.

The fact that there weren't actually millions of mothers marching in Washington was an annoying detail much more easily ignored than writing a dud like "Hundreds of Mothers Want Gun Controls."

The tired truth is, fathers have legitimate reasons to protest. Divorced fathers -- 80 percent of whom lose primary custody to their ex-wives -- know too well that being a weekend/holiday visitor to a child's life is not parenting. It's sad and alienating and counterproductive both to children and society. Don't we all know the stats by now?

In a bombshell, father absence is the most important predictor for drug abuse, truancy, sexual experimentation and criminal behavior. More than 70 percent of all juveniles in long-term correctional facilities are young men who grew up without fathers in their homes.

Good fathers know this and so gather each year near Washington's monuments and in other city centers, hoping someone will notice the empty space in America's family portrait.

Though surely scoundrel-dads are plentiful -- and I've heard from most of their ex-wives in 12 years of column-writing -- surely, too, a larger percentage of the millions of divorced fathers are decent guys. They are fellows good enough to have attracted and held the love of their children's mother for at least a few years.

As for those deadbeats, 80 percent of fathers who have regular visitation with their children also pay child support in full and on time, government figures show. Yet you would think from the relentless reportage on deadbeat dads, especially emanating from the Al Gore campaign these days, that most divorced fathers are nursing Dark 'n Stormies on a pink Bermuda beach.

Given that Father's Day is a painful mockery for many of today's dads, perhaps we should eliminate the day for a while. A national resolution might go something like this: "Whereas society no longer values fathers or recognizes the importance of fathers in children's lives, encouraging through commission or omission the expansion of new father-absent `families';

"Therefore be it resolved that Father's Day be eliminated until further notice, instead designating the third Sunday of June as a national day of post-divorce cease-fire during which children are free to spend a guilt-free day with the parent of their choosing."

I realize such a resolution falls short of a Hallmark moment, but it might produce the relatively pleasant possibility that a few more fathers might see their children on the date formerly known as Father's Day.

Kathleen Parker's column also appears Wednesday in the Sentinel's Living section. Also check out her Web site: www.kparker.com. Her e-mail address is kparker@orlandosentinel.com

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