This Year Dads Began a Comeback

By Glenn Sacks

The rates of the four major youth pathologies–juvenile crime, teen pregnancy, teen drug abuse, and school dropouts–are tightly correlated with fatherlessness, often more so than with any other socioeconomic factor. After years of setbacks, the fatherhood movement made substantial progress from Father’s Day 2004 to Father’s Day 2005. The movement’s goal is to reform family law to allow divorced dads to play a meaningful role in the lives of the children who love them and need them.

The most spectacular progress has been made in England, where the group Fathers 4 Justice has launched daring, highly-publicized, nonviolent protests which have for the first time brought the issue of fathers’ rights into mainstream political discourse. Often dressed as their children’s favorite comic book superheroes, Fathers 4 Justice activists have scaled Buckingham Palace, protested atop prominent bridges and courthouses, handcuffed themselves to government ministers, and pelted Prime Minister Tony Blair with flour on the floor of the House of Commons. The group’s cause is so popular that juries often refuse to convict their activists, and Michael Howard, the leader of the English Conservative Party, has pledged his party’s support for a strong legal presumption of equal custody rights for fathers.

In the US, Massachusetts fathers recently triumphed over a demeaning 1998 law which prohibits non-custodial parents from having access to their children’s school records unless they first go to court and obtain certification that they are not batterers. Outraged by the law’s "fathers are guilty until proven innocent" presumption, a member of the group Fathers and Families filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education, claiming that the law is discriminatory. The Department agreed and recently warned Massachusetts that it could lose federal education funds if the law is not changed.

In California, the president of the Senate introduced legislation last summer which would have granted custodial parents a virtually unlimited right to move children wherever they wanted, including out of state or even to a foreign country. In response, fatherhood activists deluged Sacramento with calls and letters protesting the bill. To the surprise of Sacramento observers long accustomed to the fathers’ movement’s impotence, the bill was withdrawn.

In the November elections, Libertarian presidential candidate Michael Badnarik became the first presidential candidate ever to include a noncustodial parents’ rights provision in his campaign platform. In Massachusetts, where family law is decidedly not father-friendly, a Shared Parenting ballot question passed by a 6 to 1 margin.

Fatherhood activists were also successful in getting Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox to scrap an insulting, anti-father billboard campaign in October. The campaign urged custodial parents to encourage their children to create messages critical of noncustodial parents who are behind on child support. Since a Michigan Family Independence Agency study showed that the vast majority of Michigan child support arrearages are owed by men earning less than $10,000 a year, the campaign would have vilified many men who care about their children but are poor or have lost their jobs. In some cases, children would have been asked to denigrate their own fathers. Cox cancelled the campaign after its main corporate sponsor publicly denounced it and withdrew its support.

In a protest covered by several hundred newspapers and media outlets, over 2,000 people called or wrote Verizon Communications over its "Homework" ad last November. In the ad a bumbling father tries and fails to help his little daughter with her homework, and is treated with contempt both by the girl and his wife, who orders him to leave his daughter alone and go wash the dog. Verizon stopped running the ad a few weeks later, and several media analysts have suggested that the protests have helped start a trend away from the "dads as idiots" theme common in television and advertising.

In Canada, Fathers 4 Justice Canada recently launched a series of coordinated stunts and protests after Prime Minister Paul Martin’s government refused to discuss the group’s demand for Shared Parenting. Using actions similar to the English Fathers 4 Justice, the group has also gained widespread media attention.

Fathers matter, and fatherhood’s advances are children’s advances. The movement’s success over the past year is definitely something worth celebrating this Father’s Day.

  • Riverside Press-Enterprise