Society needs to have a conversation, actually several conversations, about the role of the father in our courts and our culture. In too many divorce courts the father is barely considered until he misses a child support payment and then we wonder why his son grows up and doesn't take being a father seriously. We howl in anger, deservedly so, when a father abandons his family but barely react when a father is kicked out of his family for all but four days a month. We treat fathers as an afterthought then shake our heads in disgust when boys become men that treat fathering as an afterthought.
Sometimes I'm a little too idealistic for my own good. I thought these discussions might already be taking place online. I intended for this post to be a well researched discussion that linked to other blogs and their thoughtful discussions of these serious matters. That isn't going to happen, though. The vast majority of men discussing this online prattle on about militant feminists and a conspiracy to marginalize masculinity. I understand being angry when faced with the chance of your children being taken away from you but anger has never really changed anyone's mind. Women online that are talking about these matters react predictably to the anger and start acting like the militant feminists they're accused of being. There is very little calm, thoughtful discussion and very little useful, relevant statistics or studies about father's rights online.
I don't like that I'm going to criticize feminists in this post because I consider myself mostly a feminist myself. Anyone that knows my family knows that I was raised to value strong, independent women mostly because I would feel the wrath of some strong, independent women myself if I didn't. I think it's shameful in this society that women get paid less than men to do the same jobs and that's one of the many reasons I'm proud to be a union member. That shit doesn't happen in a union. I have never voted for a politician just because she's a woman but if I favored both candidates equally being a woman would be a tiebreaker. We need more women in power in this country.
I have to criticize feminists on this issue of father's rights, though. In the few enlightened states that have changed their divorce laws, or attempted to change them, to give father's more rights in court feminist groups have fought against it firmly. This happens with big lobbyist groups, they fight anything that might be perceived as against their interests without stopping to think about it. The NRA fought to limit lawsuits against gun manufacturers for malfunctioning products even though all that did was limit the rights of their own membership. Similarly, granting father's more rights in court would actually benefit women across the country which is who the feminist groups are supposed to be representing.
There are constant complaints that men don't do their fair share of the child rearing. Share custody of the kids with them for half the time and they'll have to. Collecting child support is always an issue. If fathers have their children half the time they have to pay for half their needs so child support no longer is an issue. It amuses me to see feminist groups argue that women should have higher standing in court because they are more nurturing and caring parents. Don't these groups realize that, besides from being untrue, that argument plays right into the Susie Homemaker stereotype that they have been trying fight all these years? The children should be with their mother attitude is just as much a product of a bygone era as the a woman's place is at home argument.
The one legitimate argument I've heard against increasing father's rights is that in the situation of domestic abuse a woman would be even more scared and hesitant to leave than they already are. I have sympathy for this argument but I fail to see why the huge majority of men that don't beat women should have to suffer because of the tiny minority that does. I fail to see why the children of the vast majority should suffer by seeing their fathers less because of that tiny minority. Isn't that, in a way, letting those assholes hurt society more than they already do? Besides, if a man is an abuser there will often be a paper trail, hospital visits and police reports, that would make it very easy to prove him an unfit father in court. Increasing father's rights wouldn't take away anyone's right to their day in court. So increase funding for shelters and help for abused women, make harsher penalties for beating women, do whatever needs to be done. Just don't let one more father or one more child or one more family suffer for what some other man has done.
The other argument against increasing father's rights that seems to make sense on the surface is a financial one. If a divorce proceeds as it should in a just world and both parents have custody of the children for an equal time and no one has to pay support because of it then many women wouldn't be able to afford to live on their own after a divorce. Since between sixty and eighty percent of divorces, depending on which sources you look at, are filed by the wife in most situations the response to that problem is that they should have thought about that before they ended their marriage. I don't think any woman should be trapped in an unhappy marriage just because of money but that's part of the reason food stamp and medical card programs are in place. There's help for a reason. Besides, the flipside of this argument is that the way things are now most fathers have to establish a new household that's good enough for their children to stay in a couple weekends a month, maintain that household while dealing with the other financial fallout of a divorce, and paying anywhere between twenty and thirty-five percent of his salary in child support. Why doesn't anyone worry if the father will suffer financially after a divorce? I'd be in favor of some sort of support for a woman in cases of infidelity or when it was the husband that filed for divorce and the wife was a stay at home mom but it would have to be in specific situations and for a limited time period.
Another argument that is used against fathers getting equal time with their children is stability and kids do need stability in the aftermath of a divorce. The thing is having two houses doesn't equal instability. Sure, there's an adjustment period but there's an adjustment period after a divorce anyway. It is less stable for a child to have their father disappear from their lives except for four days a month than it is for them to split time at two different houses. The benefit of a child still having both their parents in their life equally after a divorce far outweighs the negatives that come with such an arrangement. If you don't believe me ask the thousands of divorced couples that live with this arrangement everyday or the children lucky enough to grow up this way after being unlucky enough to suffer through a divorce.
Bluntly put, having a vagina doesn't automatically make you a better parent and give you more rights to be with your child than having a penis does. When a divorce goes to court the starting point should be split custody with no one paying any support because they are each responsible for the child's or children's support when they have them half the time. I'm not saying it has to end this way for every divorce just that that's where the starting point of the courts consideration should be. There are, of course, many situations that would make this an unworkable solution but that's what lawyers and court proceedings are for and even in situations where split custody is unworkable the mother shouldn't automatically get custody simply because of her gender. Anyone that cares about equality, the welfare of children after a divorce, or the future of fatherhood in this country should agree.
I have been lucky personally that my ex-wife and I came to an agreement outside of court. I am a father with rights but I didn't win them in court or have them by law like I should. Like I said, I've been lucky. There are too many good fathers out there, though, that could only say "I am a father in search of rights." In closing, I can only say that I am the father that I am because of the father that I have and I think it's that way for most men. So when we as a society force men to be fathers four days a month we are creating boys that will grow up to be fathers four days a month whether they are forced to or not. If we want men to take fatherhood seriously then we have to act like it is as serious as motherhood. I have no idea how persuasive this has been because it's been a long time since I've tried to write anything like this but I thank you for reading and I'm certainly open to any counter arguments. I'll get off my soapbox now for a little while.