Everyone likes Mothers’ Day. It is a reminder that spring is here, and there are flowers, candy and dinners out. Moms are lauded in churches and media. Ads are directed at moms and people that should recognize moms. In a way, Mothers’ Day is a sectarian high holy day, and devil take the apostates.
Fathers’ Day, not so much.
It is a rare family that has not experienced, internally or externally, a Fathers’ Day where court orders are not enforced, leaving dinners gone cold and children not around. Divorce, they say, is a power play, but the power goes to the moms. It’s the law. It’s called the Tender Years Doctrine, and it means that using children as weapons is legal for all that choose to do so, and it’s a lot.
A friend of mine, many years back, was going through an acrimonious divorce and became so despondent over his kids that he attempted suicide. This is clearly a wrong choice, but it is not rare. One day this fellow rang our bell at dinner time and literally fell into my arms crying. His brother, also enmeshed in a vicious divorce, had elected the same option and had succeeded. They had just found him hanging in his garage.
I know dozens of these stories. More than dozens. In fact, I was so concerned in grad school that I took a rumour I had heard and turned it into a survey at a university sorority house in the States. It was the Tri-Delts. I asked the girls living there to respond to several questions about the rumour, which was that girls were being promoted to “find a guy with good genetics, marry, have two kids, divorce him and collect a monthly stipend for the next 18 years.”
Disconcertingly, all had heard of the idea. Some even thought it was a good idea, but not for them. Still others thought it was a good idea, period.
It is my opinion that there are two main reasons for divorce, those being hot pants and finances. Granted, I have heard the stories about beastly, “abusive” husbands. I also know about other things we should not mention, like alcoholic or gambling-addicted wives. There is always plenty of blame to go around. I have no use for men that turn their backs on their kids or hit women. This column is not for them.
Between university and grad school I did a stint working for the welfare system, part of which brought me into contact with the local battered women’s shelter. Naturally, I can’t speak of any cases or places, but I can say that one of the heartbreaks of seeing true battered women is the consistency with which they go right back into the situation that caused their residence in the shelter in the first place. It’s almost as if “real” battered women, if I can use the term, are less likely to divorce than the general population.
The Tender Years Doctrine is a legal precept that says women are preferred over men in custody situations. It also says women have a presumptive right to relocate after a divorce. As a welfare worker, I regularly sat across my desk from women making an initial application for assistance in their now-new area of residence. When I asked them why they had moved 1,000 km just to apply for assistance, they always said the same thing. It was because their kids’ father(s) was/were trying to enforce visitation orders.
Another way visitation orders are circumvented is based on failure to pay child support. This one, too, always catches my attention. There is a saying that when poverty comes in the door, love goes out the window. I guess this is a subset of the maxim above about hot pants and finances. Anyway, the math on this is interesting and vital. If a family splits up because of finances, the court determines that the father has to now support two residences, two sets of appliances, two sets of utility bills, two sets of vehicles and two mortgages or leases. In an environment where it is already established that the father cannot even support one such set, the order is specious and destructive, and the father is immediately in violation and subject to penalties, including denial of visitation. Therefore, even if paying support is not a requisite to visitation, it effectively becomes one. Everybody misses that visitation belongs to the kids.
This bias against the fathers affects employment and the ability to advance. I have been doing business profiles for over 30 years, and I have known all along to be careful taking photos inside businesses. I have been warned there are fathers there that are behind on child support payments and can’t afford a garnishment on a brand-new job. This is not “right,” but an “is.”
I am not a fan of this system. For one thing, I believe that young men growing up in a fatherless home tend to be influenced by multiple negative factors. I have stories about that, too.
On the other hand, I don’t have a solution. Divorce is not a team sport. It does not take two to tango. All it takes is one desperate mother in a snit with a mediocre lawyer and it’s off to the races. They don’t take a vote. For the fathers, there is no help. For the kids, there is no help.
So I want to salute all the young fathers out there, today, looking at a bleak and barren landscape, and to tell you, you are not alone. You feel alone, because there is no “program,” no “rights” and no support for you. Nonetheless, you are not alone. And yes, there are thousands of suicides, and there are others that commit crimes out of desperation and despair, yet there are tens of thousands that make it, and make it against all odds.
For those, the kids grow up and learn, and they make their own choices. They come back into the part of the family that was banished and bring along their own new lives, spouses and kids. Life smooths out and bitter memories fade.
For men, your history – your role – has been to shoulder burdens too big to bear, yet make it. You need to make it, because the kids are too important to let flighty emotions and buggered laws prevail. You need to play the long game so the kids and grandkids and great grandkids have a chance.
I wish I could say happy Fathers’ Day, but I can’t. Rather, keep a stiff upper lip, stay away from false comforts, get up, clean up, suit up and show up. Eighty percent of life is just “being there.” You are the future for all of us, and we are counting on you.