FATHERS IN EXILE
SOCIAL AND CULTURAL ROOTS OF 23,000,000 FATHERLESS CHILDREN
The historical focus in this commentary is on how Fatherlessness got
to be such a vastly wide-spread and accepted norm and why the recommendations
of this report are so critical.
In 1996, 23,000,000 children (30% of 65,000,000 children) will live
without their fathers' parenting influence and guidance for significant
periods of time (Kids Count Data Book, 1995.) Nearly a third of these fatherless
children will not have ANY physical contact with their father for over
one year (Horn, 1995.)
Fatherlessness gained recognition as a national
crisis when social workers , working with teenage delinquents, noticed
the correlation between fathers' failure as economic providers and teenage
problems. Today, nearly 80% of teenage delinquent males are from father-absent
homes. Positive male parenting brings social values, acceptable community
standards and self restraint to children in the family home. We cannot
put a dollar value on positive father parenting.
In September, 1995, The
Economist featured the American Fatherlessness crisis , calling it the
worst in the world. Another recent publication, Fatherhood and Family Health
(Virginia Dept. of Health, 1995) provides a chilling index of child maladies
caused by or associated to the phenomena of Fatherlessness.
of Fatherlessness on the well-being of children and their subsequent adulthood
calls for a national social services legislative agenda to understand and
reverse this phenomena.
Fathers who are hands-on parents, being role models,
nurturers, mentors and protectors are not valued as they once were. The
contributions that fathers can give to their families in other ways than
financial resources receives little value in our divorce society and social
The more limited definition of work for fathers of the
last century -- one which does not include child rearing responsibilities
-- in combination with more recent welfare system and other government
policy, lies at the core of the increasing trend of Fatherlessness in America.
A FATHERLESS AND -LESS AND -LESS WORLD
The Fatherlessness that children
experience can be observed in three different family demographics: the
divorced, the un-wed, and married families. The third category should not
be much of a surprise: everyone knows there are married men who spend endless
hours at work, including overtime and weekends, and other fathers who spend
most of their leisure time "divorced" from family. Thus, the
emotionally absent father can and should be included in the description
and discussion of Fatherlessness, because the devastating effect on children
Children are born to unmarried parents nearly a third of the
time. Thus, this one third of children are the most likely to experience
Fatherlessness. Among unwed families often the father does not know he
is a father until he is contacted by the state to pay child support. At
that time, more fathers than not seek to have parental involvement with
his child. While the divorce rate has dropped from 60o/o to 50% for first-time
marriages, the increase in single-parent households has risen dramatically.
In both divorce and un-wed families, fathers who demonstrate significant
interest and involvement with their children usually begin to "disappear"
from their children's lives a year to two following the birth or divorce.
However, fathers are not to be automatically blamed for abandoning their
children -- in fact, the opposite may be true. Fathers are more typically
driven into exile by other factors ranging from social prejudice and pressure,
to direct court injunction.
BLAMING FATHERS FOR FATHERLESSNESS
The rush to blame is typical of our current political and social times.
The Father - - who has traditionally held the role of the party responsible
for the family -- has become the unjust and easy target for blame for the
decline of the status of the American family. Witness the sensationalist
media campaigns which unfairly rail against "Deadbeat Dads" as
in the Newsweek's article of May 4, 1992 and the USA Today article of August
1993, which only blamed fathers for their absence from family life -- without
any appreciation for other social causes that have contributed to their
Educator Barbara Johnson spoke directly to the "blame the
father" bias in her article Honoring Fathers in Exile:
among the most misunderstood people in our society. We send them messages
in so many ways that they are simply monetary providers and then wonder
why they don't get more involved in their children's lives. All too often
we send them the message that they are expendable and then turn around
and place the role of the single mother" on a pedestal.
the man who was once highly praised and valued as "the good family
man," becomes voided. Hours spent as coach, mentor, teacher, friend
and role model are no longer valued.
Even the word "father" or
"dad" -- once spoken with respect, honor and dignity -- suddenly
becomes "your father" or "your dad." It is as if overnight,
with that one additional word, the same man becomes someone who is no longer
to be treated with admiration, honor and respect.
There is no other instance
in our society when a person is robbed of so much of his identity and basic
role than in a divorce, when the man is no longer encouraged to be anything
other than a means of support. How can a society tell men that their role
as fathers is needed so desperately and then toss them aside when there
is a divorce? We need to send a message to women who discourage their former
husbands from continuing involvement in their children's lives that this
will no longer be tolerated.
We need to STOP BLAMING MEN, who are in many
cases guilty of nothing more than divorcing their children's mothers. Like
racial slurs, we must no longer tolerate blatant anger, hostility and prejudice
toward fathers. I'm not referring to the abusive father or husband or situations
in which the father needs counseling.
Many men have always been there for
their children, encouraging and guiding them. Many still believe the responsibility
of fatherhood is more rewarding than their next promotion. These are the
men who are never late with their monetary obligations and yet are stripped
of the basic role we once praised them for -- being good fathers.
we send these men the message that because of divorce, they have relinquished
their role as "the good family man," and must give up their role
as "the good fathers." Time after time we have seen these men,
once cherished by the neighborhood, exiled from participating in their
children's lives. Tell us, how is it that a man once highly respected as
a father is suddenly no longer in possession of his fathering skills, simply
because of a divorce?
We then thrust labels on many of them such as "deadbeat
dads " 'absentee fathers," etc., without waiting to sort through
the facts. Well there is another label, one these good men much deserve:
"fathers in exile." This most accurately describes the place
society has designated for these men, who suffer in silence, not wanting
to cause more turmoil in their children's lives.
If you know a father going
through a divorce and is involved with his children -- you must encourage
the relationship. We as a society can no longer toss wonderful, valuable
men aside in the name of divorce. (emphasis added)
(San Francisco Chronicle,Op-ed page, June 16, 1995)
HAS HISTORY CONSPIRED TO ALIENATE AND EXILE
Blankenhorn (Fatherless America, 1995): has identified three confluent
trends as the root cause of the Fatherlessness phenomena a.) the cultural
breakdown of extended families and the decline of the institution of marriage;
b.) poorly thought out government policy on families such as AFDC; and
c.) excess economic pressure on fathers to be breadwinners without direct
In the 175 years since the beginning of the Industrial
Revolution, America's economic, social, spiritual, institutional and cultural
forces inadvertently worked to fuel the phenomena of Fatherlessness. The
cause for extreme Fatherlessness and the breakdown of traditional family
life can first be traced to the changes in social and economic realities
which, by virtue of the changing work-world, began to separate and alienate
the father from family life.
Griswold's Fatherhood in America explains
these historical developments. Previously, fathers were at the center of
family life (with mothers). Mothers and fathers both worked in the broadest
sense, on the homestead and in the villages and towns. Older children,
along with mothers, worked side by side with fathers either in the fields
or artisan shops to produce the family support. Fathers and children worked
beside mothers in the home -- bringing in water, food, wood, and other
staples. Children learned about the world from their fathers; developed
the work ethic under tutelage of their fathers and cultivated survival
The children knew how hard their fathers worked, and sacrificed,
and what activity they engaged in to support the family. This observation
of father activity included the means for solving problems facing the family.
The children also learned from their fathers at night. Fathers read the
bible and taught its lessons of honesty, virtue and trust. Fathers also
discussed the outside world its interactions and values. Fathers' work
included both the physical and spiritual needs of family members as they
were fully intertwined under the nobility and umbrella of work. Fatherhood
meant a man for all seasons, a man for all family responsibilities. In
every sense of the word, work meant family. There was no separation between
breadwinning and family responsibility.
Once regularly working under
the throes of the Industrial Revolution in factories or businesses away
from the children, fathers were unable to pass on traditions and craft
skills to their children, especially their sons. Both the number of skilled
trades and the number of craftsmen declined markedly (Barron, 1984).
fathers really stopped supporting families in the old sense? Fathers are
collective inheritors of social and economic changes that had substantially
redefined fatherhood. Fathers were increasingly compelled to identify themselves
and their parental role as "father" solely with the capacity
to earn an income to support his family.
THE AMERICAN FAMILY MAN TODAY
In this century, a father's identity has
became primarily focused on the ri ors of locating and maintaining employment
and providing financially. The definition of father's work has shifted
from meeting the needs of a father-inclusive family - to meeting the needs
of family that have become less and less inclusive of direct paternal parenting.
Ironically, the more that fathers worked for their children's financial
needs the less that fathers had direct parent/child contact. In earlier
years, children stayed home into their 20's and even 30's waiting for marriage
and a new home. In today's new world fathers are faced with increasing
numbers of children first leaving home and then returning, and needing
continued financial support. The renested family is now recognized family
form (Bigner 1994). Children's growing dependence upon fathers' financial
support for college trade schools or buying a home, meant successful fathers
had to work harder with the result that they became even less of a "dad".
Today, fathers and families are expected to consume at greater rates. Families
are expected to have multiple vehicles; cars, boats and trailers, and one
or two vacations per year. Children ask for $5O to $100 for tennis shoes.
Children pressure parents for dozens of trendy goods. Parents find it difficult
to meet these expectations and maintain viable parent/child relationships
because increased economic pressure separates them from their children
more and more. Subsequently, with a lack of guidance children get in trouble,
and the effect of the absent-parent lifestyle is painfully obvious. Society
now is holding parents totally accountable for the misdeeds of their children.
Sadly and inevitably, many fathers find that satisfying their families'
needs is beyond them. In the industrial world, being the economic provider
for the family presents its own prejudices, problems, and pressures. Plagued
by layoffs caused by mechanization, seasonal downturns advancing age, business
vicissitudes, or personal sickness or injury, many unemployed men become
depressed, anxious, and embittered their sense of manhood destroyed by
their inability to support their wives and children (Griswold, pg. 46).
Their emotional and psychological pain goes unnoticed. Financial failure
for men is seen as unsuccessful fatherhood, no matter how hard fathers
explain their economic situations and the predicaments the face. Increased
financial pressure pushes fathers to the breaking point, which contributes
to the increasing numbers of fathers with emotional and psychological problems
as demonstrated by frustrated action against his family.
For the separated
fathers in default on child support payments (Newsweek & USA Weekend),
we see the inability to survive as well. Many of these men gain employment
in two or three jobs but cannot seem to get ahead and support a new famil
as well as the old family. For many of these men. a sense of family connection
with work has been totally broken. They have work and plenty of it, as
they understand their parental responsibility, but they have minimum time
and little involvement with either family, especially with the children.
Government officials have no policy on father involvement as the only pursuit
of fathers is on strict enforcement of financial support . This narrow
policy fails to improve child outcomes.
A new study published in the Journal
of Marriage and the Family 2/96, on the effects of child support enforcement
offer insightful comments on full effect of punitive enforcement. One of
the myths of current child support enforcement is that non-paying fathers
are high income dads hiding their loot:
"on the other hand, the generally
low to modest income evidenced here do not lend support to the stereotypical
portrayal of non-payers as wealthy men who simply refuse to support their
Modern culture has redefined or shifted the role of the father, while
it has broadened or expanded the role of the mother. Mother's work, which,
in the 20th century has included the children's education, discipline and
social guidance, has expanded to nearly all the decision making for the
family while the father is away with his employment. The work of mothers
today, especially with the current degree of father-absence, is to care
for the family and children as well to generate financial support. Mother
has been empowered to take the traditional " provider" role of
father, and still to keep the identity of "mother". She "mommy-tracks."
Father lost his role in the family starting with the industrial revolution,
and his fatherhood was largely defined by his ability to provide financially
for his family. Now that role is diminished because of the changing economy,
the change in consumer values, and the new role women play in providing
for the family. Men are seeking a return to the hearth of the home, but
after centuries of exile, they are now institutionally and culturally bound
to the outside of family life.
In millions of families, the state steps
in to assist the mothers' "generating financial support" and
as such, the state acts as the father. Entitlement policy indirectly dictates
that fathers cannot have the same definition as mothers in regard to the
direct care of children. Government social welfare policy first enacted
in 1935 and then expanded in the 1960's has all but declared fathers to
be non-involved parents. Mothers applying for aid must state that there
is no male breadwinner sleeping at the family home. There is an insidious
financial incentive for father absence. The government has stepped into
the role of breadwinner and family supporter. The 1988 Family Support Act
put into policy the definition of family as only mother and child. Out of these policies rises the circular assumption that fathers do not care because they are absent physically, and so all that can be expected from them is financial support (and thus
there is no emphasis on keeping the father in the home/family).
We finally may be seeing the end of unbridled
freedom of the Industrial Revolution, a development that took total economic
control of families for 175 years. While the work ethic and increased personal
responsibility are necessary virtues for survival, the concept of family
and family togetherness with a greater emphasis on the connection between
employment and importance of father parenting in on the rise. Two major
social movements are trying to redefine fatherhood for the post-industrial
Football stadiums are being filled with groups of Christian fathers
known as Promise Keepers. These Christian husbands and fathers pledge to
actively maintain and promote family values and respect for mothers of
their children. Fathers are challenged to place a greater investment in
family life and personal relationships. The point is made that employment
alone is not fulfilling the full sense of manhood. Many of these Christian
fathers are married, however, they are not spending enough time with their
wives and children. They pledge to change their ways and resist anti-family,
pro-work pressures. The unstated challenge to these fathers is to redefine
fatherhood for themselves and see that family time and involvement is in
their self interest and children's best interest. This means enabling themselves
to avoid the excess pressures from Wall Street to purchase the newest of
The Million Man March in October of 1995 in Washington DC brought
black fathers together to "atone" for their sins of male violence
and father absence. They reflected the same concerns as the Promise Keepers
regarding the dignity and importance of fatherhood, expanded male responsibility,
and increased commitment to the mothers of their children. These black
fathers have many of the mothers of their children on welfare. Strikingly,
these men of the Million Man March did not call for any government aid
or programs. Rather, March leaders called for social recognition of their
importance as men and fathers, and that most black men want to be seen
as socially responsible men with family values. These black men are 15
years below white women on the life expectancy scale. They die from loneliness
and no vision for a future having lost their families to un- and under-employment.
For many, fathering a child may be the only sense of real achievement they
will ever experience in adolescence. These fathers are clinging to what
may be their only chance for respectability, some kind of life with a woman
and child, for however long it may last. Most of these fathers see fatherlessness
as an expected outcome - sooner or later.
Bill Harrington, Commissioner:
American fathers are in a quandary. Many biological and cultural forces
are at work on the fatherhood role in our society today. As men continue
to be driven to father these powerful biological and cultural forces work
even harder to undermine the long term commitments to the family unit.
Fathers and mothers each have a harder time to be effective parents than
did parents just two generations ago. Instead of continuing the criticism
heaped on today's parents, I feel we need to better understand their predicament's
and work with them in more positive ways.
The President of the United States
and all members of Congress need to take a fresh look at existing policies
and practices through the eyes and experiences of non- custodial parents.
We must recognize that maybe, we have reach d the maximum effectiveness
of financial child support collections through punitive enforcement measures.
The only conclusion available today, to increased child support collections,
is to start anew with positive appeals to parenting. The Census Bureau
statistics on child support collections show that when fathers have shared
custody and participate in parenting their children, support payments are
in the 90% range. This is the key factor. These numbers compare to less
than 40% payments when fathers have no written legal rights to their children
and do not have established parenting schedules. We have positive choices
to effect voluntary increased financial child support collections. What
we are lacking is the political will to shift from punitive measures to
positive father parenting options.
The President, working with the White
House Domestic Policy Council should activate the proposed White Hose Council
on Father Involvement, and offer Congress new legislation which assures
more effective parental cooperation, through father- friendly welfare and
family policy options.
Congress needs to hold hearings to make itself aware
of the volumes of new research on non-custodial parents, and specifically
fathers. In the U.S. Senate, the Senate Finance Committee, the Senate Judiciary
Committee and the Senate Labor Subcommittee on Children and Families can
take a fresh look at custody and child access issues submitted in the Final
Report of the U.S. Commission on Child and Family Welfare.
In the House
of Representatives, the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Resources
along with the House Judiciary Committee can take a fresh look at our legal/social
services system. We can attempt to separate the myths of "Absent Fathers"
from the reality of public policies that more often than not work to create
Before any new legislation is enacted, Congress
must define for itself the value to be placed upon emotional and psychological
child support offered and available from each parent. Previously, the only
federal recognition was of financial child support and the federal budget
support is around $5 BILLION per year. The social cost to fatherless children
of unmarried teen moms is estimated at $29 BILLION. If Congress wants BOTH
PARENTS involved, we need new policies and new budget priorities.
effective in any way, new family policy MUST challenge the high rates of
divorce and children born to unmarried parents, MUST be Father-inclusive
MUST be sensitive and realistic about the economic "survivability"
of both parents following separation, and finally, new family policy MUST
be more positive to the large majority of fathers and mothers struggling
against enormous odds to be positive and responsible parents.
I am optimistic
that America can and will successfully reverse our social decline but only
with a legitimate emphasis on positive father parenting and support for
the Recommendations I have offered. This is our first policy step into
the 2lst Century. Let us work together to make them steps of lasting consequence.
WELFARE 1996: HR 3734 - THE MISSING ELEMENT
"Man Out Of The Home" rule which I have made
reference to in this minority report. Additionally, this legislation contains
father friendly provisions in paternity establishment, expansion of the
parent locator service, and start-up funding for the first ever Access
Enforcement Programs to benefit non-custodial parents.
The Access Enforcement
Provision is itself historic in that the Federal Government will, for the
irst time, fund enforcement of parent-child relationships. Previous Federal
Funding has been exclusively available only for enforcement of court ordered
financial responsibilities. One sided national public policy has not worked
to the benefit of the majority of the affected children. This long overdue
yet timely legislation is but the first step on the long road to balancing
national public policy.
Fathers, however, continue to be the major missing
element of welfare legislation, at both the national and state levels.
Congress and the President are correct in saying that the best way to help
children is for children to be with a working parent. In the past, fathers
as working parents have been ignored. Two-thirds of all fathers of children
on welfare are employed full time with annual incomes over $15,000.00.
This is the missing welfare statistic. Discrimination against these working
fathers has resulted in their children being restricted to dependency lifestyles.
Time limits imposed in this new legislation offer fathers and paternal
family members new opportunities to directly support their children in
their homes when mothers can not or will not do so. In these cases, fathers
offer the best solution to reduce welfare caseloads and prevent the starvation
of some 2 million children living on our streets.
I congratulate our Congress
and President Clinton for enacting this essential legislation that will
lead our nation down the path to reclamation of 50 percent of the missing
parents to our less fortunate children. Future welfare legislation must
continue this trend and address the father friendly provisions I have recommended
above. To do so will promote the general success and happiness of our children,
which in turn, will build stronger families and guarantee our nation's
If CULTURE CAN CHANGE, THEN SO TOO CAN OUR INSTITUTIONS AND OUR LAWS
ALONG WITH PUBLIC POLICIES.
"Dad is Destiny. More than virtually any other factor, a biological
father's presence in the family will determine a child's success and happiness."
(U.S. News & World Report
February 27, 1995 pg. 39)
ORIGINAL SIGNED July 1996
Commission on Child and Family Welfare
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