I have great admiration for Stephen Baskerville. For almost two decades he has contributed a disciplined academic voice to the defence of fathers and families. His articles have appeared in prestigious publication such as Political Science and Politics and Society, and he has been tireless in seeking the publicity we need.
In January, 2004, Baskerville became president of the American Coalition for Fathers and Children (ACFC), and has inspired a vigour and direction to this previously marginal group that has seen its membership and activities mushroom.
But what is that direction? One would think that a fathers advocacy group would be asserting the equal importance of fathers in their childrens lives. Instead, their recent add in the Washington Times (www.acfc.org/advertisingcampaign.htm ) and Baskervilles articles as president of ACFC all focus on no-fault divorce and marriage. ACFC seems to see easy divorce and government bureaucracy as more the enemy of fathers than the perceptions behind their implementation. ACFC may be headed in a similar direction to the Nation Fatherhood Initiative (NFI): not so much a father advocacy group as an anti-divorce group.
I believe marriage is very important. In this superficial, materialistic world, anything that promotes fundamental human attachments is badly needed. Further, no-fault divorce begs many issues not convenient to many to acknowledge, and Baskerville eloquently addresses them. But marriage is its own, separate set of issues from fatherhood and family. They are not one and the same, and if taken so, one undermines the other. Let me explain.
Family is defined by blood. We are biological beings and need to know our biological roots. Marriage, while an important social institution, is exactly that: a social institution. It is bred of adult choices, not blood.
Using marriage to define family, instead of blood, strikes me as the root of the problem we all face: A man is only a father within a marriage; Dad as subordinate parent. He is subordinate to marriage and/or the mother. This is not Dad as equally primary in his own right, with his own unique, independent contribution to the childs welfare, growth, and life. This latter statement (equality of parenthood) would be my choice for a father advocacy group.
The very reason the courts are such a problem is that society says, when a marriage ends, so does the family. There is no longer an integral social entity so its up to us (society) to do what we please with the resulting parts, thus destroying that natural, real integral social entity for the child. We have made divorce into the end of the childs family, when it is the very time its family should be most actively defended.
The 2001 census found that one-third of all children born in America that year were born out of wedlock. I saw an NFI paper that declared that one-third of all children were born fatherless.
Im no biologist, but I dont think one can be born fatherless any more than born motherless.
You see the problem with using marriage to define family, and the difference between defending marriage and defending fatherhood and family? It hardly matters if we reduce the divorce rate if whatever number of divorced or never-married fathers are not considered, and hence not treated, as the fathers they naturally and eternally are. And why are non-wedlock children not equally entitled to both parents? The Childrens Rights Council is the only family advocacy group I know of that I can legitimately call itself that, because they explicitly include never-married families among their constituents. Suddenly, ACFCs focus is not fathers and fatherhood nor even families, but marriage and divorce. However much both may be valid issues, I believe its important to treat them as distinct.
Besides, if the objective is to reduce the divorce rate, a 1997 study by Guidubaldi and Kuhn showed that practical application of equality (a presumption of equal parenting) does exactly that. The higher the level of joint custody, the greater the fall in the divorce rate. There may be some confusion between the dog and its tail.
Another reason to keep issues of marriage and fatherhood distinct is to avoid the trap of political polarization: left versus right. I believe it would hurt the cause of equal parenthood (and play into the reactionary Feminists hands) if we allowed ourselves to be characterized as right-wing reactionaries seeking to use marriage to control women and children. (I know its not true and is nothing compared to what women use for control. Thats not the point. The point is avoiding political polarization over fatherhood and the family.) On the other hand, few things hold more appeal to mainstream society than equality.
No-fault divorce and evil government, however valid or not, are riht wing issues. Fatherhood is universal. It can and should be treated as its own issue. It is the difference between advocating for families and for marriage.
Men go to the doctor one-forth as often as women. While we men continue to fall all over ourselves to give women all manner of protection, suchg as the Violence Against Women Act and Title IX, we forget to protect ourselves. Fathers do not have equal protection in divorce. We are not regarded as having equal value, particularly by most men. Equal regard for fathers would seem a more reasonable objective for an organization calling itself a coalition for fathers and a family advocacy group.
I would assert a childs right to both parents, equally, irrespective of marriage. Not any rights of parents, and nothing to do with social relationships such as marriage, but that regarding both parents as equally valuable and needed by children is the reason both should be treated with the apparently un-American notion of legal and practical equality. Advance this revolutionary social concept and the laws and practices will follow.
©2009, KC Wilson
To nourish children and raise them against odds is in any time, any place, more valuable than to fix bolts in cars or design nuclear weapons. - Marilyn French