Monday, September 08, 2008
Stereotypes Deny Father Power
I was reading Newsweek last month and came across an article that jived with what I have been discovering in the research for my new book about single dads. The writer, Dahlia Lithwick, starts her article, “Every few years, some father who believes he has been wronged by the family court system grabs headlines and draws attention to the flawed ways in which we split up families.” (for full article click here)
What she says is so true. The family court system is undeniably broken. Once in a while a high profile father will do something outrageous or illegal to get custody of his children. This overshadows the vast majority of divorced dads who just want to stay responsibly involved with their children’s lives.
As I have read and interviewed dads, I have been surprised at the built-in bias that the court system has against fathers. Most of the men I have interviewed, though admitting that they played a part in the divorce through neglecting their marriages, tell stories of their wives’ choices to leave them. The story is the same. They are asked to leave the home. The wife, even if it is her choice through infidelity or just plain old nonfulfillment, keep the home, the kids and gain their former husband’s financial support and the sympathy of the society at large.
I have heard about “mad dads” for years and I sadly need to admit that I believed the stereotype myself. “These men must have done something wrong. They must have been abusive to be kicked out as they are.” In some cases this could be true but in many cases, and might I dare say, in MOST cases they are not. The “dirty little secret” today is that the injustices that have been experienced by women for generations are now being experienced by men. Many women are taking advantage of the current family court bias against fathers to their own and their children’s detriment. Statistics show that from 2 out of 3 to 3 out of 4 marriages are being terminated by the wife. The stereotype of the man trading in his 50-year-old wife for two 25 year-old models is just that – a stereotype, about 30 years out of date. The reality I see many men are facing today is a no fault divorce system that makes it no cost or very little cost for their wives to walk away from the marriage.
So, in agreement with Lithwick, I believe that we need to stop exalting the stereotype and let the stories of real dads be told. This way, the “pendulum” that has swung back too far to overly favor irresponsible wives can come back to a place that values the importance of BOTH mothers and fathers.