Monday, June 11, 2007

Redefining Fatherhood From An Policy Standpoint by Akindele Akinyemi

We are fast approaching Father's Day here in America and I have to ask this question.

Why is the governmental system against fatherhood?

During the past decade, family issues such as marriage and fatherhood have rocketed to the top of the domestic-policy agenda. The past two presidential administrations, along with numerous local governments, have responded to the continuing crisis of the family by devising measures to involve governmental machinery directly in the management of what had previously been considered private family life. The Bush administration has proposed $300 million annually to “promote responsible fatherhood” and for federal promotion of “healthy marriages.” President Bill Clinton created a “Presidential Fatherhood Initiative,” and Vice President Al Gore chaired a federal staff conference on “nurturing fatherhood.”

A generation of fatherhood advocates has emerged who insist that fatherlessness is the most critical social issue of our time. Virtually every major social pathology has been linked to fatherless children: violent crime, drug and alcohol abuse, truancy, unwed pregnancy, suicide, and psychological disorders—all correlating more strongly with fatherlessness than with any other single factor, surpassing even race and poverty. The majority of prisoners, juvenile detention inmates, high school dropouts, pregnant teenagers, adolescent murderers, and rapists come from fatherless homes.

Children from affluent but broken families are much more likely to get into trouble than children from poor but intact ones, and white children from separated families are at higher risk than black children in intact families.

Given these seemingly irrefutable findings, a case might be made that both liberals and conservatives should rethink their priorities. Rather than spending more on antipoverty programs, as the left advocates, or on ever harsher law enforcement, beloved of the right, both sides should get together and help restore fatherhood as a solution to social ills. On its surface, the government’s fatherhood campaign seems to make good sense.

Here is a policy that we can all engage and reform regardless of political affiliation.

For all the recent concern about both family breakdown and judicial power, it is surprising that so little attention is focused on family courts. They are certainly the arm of government that routinely reaches deepest into individuals and families’ private lives. We all know that the family court is the most powerful branch of the judiciary. The power of family court judges by their own assessment is almost unlimited.

A father brought before these courts is likely to have only a few hours’ notice of a hearing that may last thirty minutes or less, during which he will lose all decision making authority over his children, be told when and where he is authorized to see them, and ordered to begin paying child support. His name will be entered on a federal registry, his wages will immediately be garnished, and the government will have access to all his financial information.

No allegations of wrongdoing, either civil or criminal, are required. And no agreement to a divorce or separation is necessary. Yet from this point, if he tries to see his children outside the authorized times or fails to pay the child support (or court ordered attorneys’ fees), he will be subject to arrest.

The parent from whom custody is removed no longer has any say in where the children reside, attend school, or worship. He has no necessary access to their school or medical records or any control over medications or drugs. He can be enjoined from taking his children to the doctor or dentist. He can be told what religious services he may (or must) attend with his children and what subjects he may discuss with them in private.

Family law is now criminalizing constitutionally protected activities as basic as free speech, freedom of the press, and even private conversations. In some jurisdictions, it is a crime to criticize family-court judges or otherwise to discuss family-law cases publicly, and fathers have been arrested for doing so. Fathers who speak out against family courts report that their children are used as weapons to silence their dissent, and attorneys regularly advise their clients not to join fathers’ rights groups, speak to the press, or otherwise criticize judges.

Throughout Michigan and the United States, child-support machinery has been beset with allegations of mismanagement and corruption. Current enforcement practice overturns centuries of common law precedent that a father could not be forced to pay for the stealing of his own children. The duty of a father (now spouse) to support his children is based largely upon his right to their custody and control runs one court ruling typical of the age-old legal consensus. A father has the right at Common Law to maintain his children in his own home, and he cannot be compelled against his will to do so elsewhere.

Fathers who lose their jobs are seldom able to hire lawyers to have their child support payment lowered, and judges rarely lower it anyway. Yet government lawyers will prosecute a father free of charge, regardless of his or the mothers’ income. It is also now a federal crime for a father who is behind in child support, for whatever reason, to leave his state, even if doing so is his only way to find work. This law has even been used to prosecute a father whose former wife moved to another state with his children.

Here we have the ingredients of a government perpetual-growth machine, one that extends well beyond family policy. Identifying fathers rather than governments as the culprits behind family dissolution not only justifies harsh law enforcement measures, but also rationalizes policies that contribute further to the absence of fathers, which they ostensibly are meant to prevent. Further—given the undeniable correlation that the fatherhood advocates have established between fatherlessness and today’s larger social pathologies, such as poverty, crime, and substance abuse—it allows officials to ignore the simplest and safest solution to these ills, which is to stop eliminating fathers.

Instead, governments devise elaborate schemes, invariably extending their reach and power, to deal with the problems that their removal of the fathers has created: not only fatherhood promotion and marriage therapy, but larger antipoverty programs beloved of the left and law enforcement measures dear to the right. By concocting a fatherhood crisis where none previously existed, government across the spectrum has neutered the principal rival to its power and created an unlimited supply of problems for itself to solve.

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