Is the language of fatherlessness so accusatory that it is preventing the engagement of men who need help?
Fatherlessness is an epidemic in the United States and Australia. Not because wars have taken the fathers to far-away lands or killed them on their homeland. Not because a physical disease takes the dad’s life too soon. Rather, fatherlessness is a cultural dis-ease that our society seems to want to ignore except to lay blame on a “deadbeat” father or a “sperm donor.” Harsh language, I know.
I’ve heard many women bad-mouthing men—the fathers of their children or nieces and nephews—who were not active participants in their child’s lives. Friends and in-laws who may know only part of one side of the story are sometimes too quick to judge.
My perspective on the blame game and name calling has been one of curios onlooker—although I admit to having called my father a “sperm donor” for a period of time before I gave consideration to his perspective. From my young teen years of living near my father without ever visiting with him, I wanted to know why. Why would he stay away from my sister and me by what seemed to be his choice, his preference? My mother indicated many times that she did not tell him he could not see us—back in the day when visitation was not strictly court-ordered, as is generally the case these days.
My mother did a good job of not bad-mouthing our father in front of us but others around me were not as careful as she was. Maybe we were better off without him around us on any regular basis. Maybe special occasion events like his parents’ 50th wedding anniversary party were the only appropriate visitation scenarios.
I recently lost the friendship of an old schoolmate who read one of my fatherless articles and inferred from it that I am in favor of a father’s participation in his child’s life without exception. That is not how I feel–not even close. In my recent piece on the epidemic of fatherlessness, I specify that physical and mental safety of the child is the priority. That said, when the child’s safety is at risk, I would suggest seeking licensed professional help and engaging law enforcement, where appropriate. My writings—this article included—are exclusively with regard to fathers who do not pose a physical or emotional risk to the child.
I’ve shared with you the mistakes I made post-divorce, thoughtlessness—not intentional vindictiveness—that made it difficult for my son’s father to visit our son. I wonder how often that happens in our culture and why. Still, more often what I have seen is the mothers pulling their children away from the father more intentionally, it seems, and the father in turn not having the time, energy, or financial resources to assert his paternal rights.
Legal rights and related issues aside—because I am not an attorney or legal aide—let’s return our focus back toward the language of the fatherless conversation in general.
As a contributor to and editor of The Good Men Project and an active member of the GMP Premium community, I have engaged in conversations about how good parents can encourage absent fathers to participate in their children’s lives. After all, preaching to the choir is only worthwhile if the choir then goes on to preach to non-choir members, right?
So, to you good men, women, and gender-fluid parents, extended family members and community at large I ask you these questions:
- What are the special challenges fathers face that lead them to choose not to be an active parent?
- How can we good people assist decent men to become good, active fathers?
- How can we inform absent fathers of the consequences of their actions and inaction without repelling them with accusatory language?
- How can we assist decent women who are unknowingly alienating their child from the father?
- Are you involved with an organization that helps single or divorced men be better fathers?
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Photo credit: Flickr/Ran Allen