Fathers worldwide are speaking with one voice. And the message they’re delivering is a powerful one.
Children have always been the center of a man’s universe. Since the beginning of time, fathers have cast their own dreams aside and given our children – our bridge to the future – the freedom to dream dreams. Quietly and unceremoniously, fathers have gone about the business of creating and implementing plans that move their families forward as they struggled to positively shape the minds and souls of our children – our bridge to the future. They elected to remain silent about their unique parenting and health issues.
As the end of the Twentieth Century approached, something changed. Men began thinking aloud. They asked themselves:
“Am I being a good father? Am I spending enough time with my child? What can I do to make sure that my children have a better start in life than I had? Where are the resources and support services for fathers? If my wife and I separate or divorce, can I get sole custody of my children? Will my children inherit a safer and better world when they become adults?”
The end of theTwentieth Century saw men embarking upon a search for answers. It is a journey that has spawned a global dialogue on fatherhood. In the new millennium, fatherhood is not just about raising our children — our babies. Fatherhood has morphed into a movement – a global movement!
Fathers from all walks of life throughout our global village are speaking with one voice. And that one voice is delivering a powerful message to the world:
“I am a Man! I am a Father! I will walk through fire to protect my children. I am not an emotionless automaton. I love . . . I laugh . . . I cry . . . I am a nurturer. I am strong and powerful. Yet, I understand that true power and strength lies in restraint and not in the exercise of mindless brute force. What do I want? Respect! I deserve to be treated fairly by the courts in child custody and child support cases. I want to see positive images of myself portrayed in film and television dramas and situation comedies. What do I need? I need resources and support services that will help me move my family forward and empower and strengthen the community in which I live and work.”
Men are not just sitting around talking about what they need and want. Pity parties are not their style. They have staged hunger strikes and peaceful demonstrations in the streets in cities in Canada and Europe and created coalitions and strategic alliances which transcend geographic boundaries. These coalitions and strategic alliances provide resources and support services; perform research on men’s parenting and health issues; and design and push for the implementation of parenting and men’s health initiatives which are reshaping public policy and legislation.
International Men’s Day was inaugurated in Trinidad and Tobago on 19 November 1999 by Jerome Teelucksingh, Ph.D., a faculty member in the History Department at the University of West Indies, thought leader on gender issues, poet, author, and Chairman of the International Men’s Day Coordination Committee. A worldwide observance which celebrates and honors the sacrifices that men make to our families, communities, and society, International Men’s Day shares a 48-hour partnership with Universal Children’s Day, which is observed on 20 November of each year and is endorsed by the United Nations. On 19 November 2015, at least 80 nations will celebrate 2015 International Men’s Day under the theme, “Make A Difference For Men and Boys.”
Global and regional coordinators for International Men’s Day are moving individuals, institutions, and organizations to focus on effectively addressing and resolving a number of key challenges – violence, real-life options, fatherhood, education, physical and mental health, and positive male role models – which prevent boys and men from living purpose-driven, successful and productive lives in our global village.
Global and regional coordinators are also utilizing International Men’s Day as a platform to address and resolve poverty, homelessness, fatherlessness, mass incarceration, education, hunger, and recidivism. Under the banner of International Men’s Day, in 2012, the United States and the Republic of Botswana began collaborating on literacy and mentoring initiatives, which are designed to respectively increase the literacy rate for boys and young men in Botswana and help create a generation of new leaders and published authors in that African nation. During that same year, the USA International Men’s Day Ten-Year Plan was established with platforms for education; mass incarceration, reintegration; fatherhood; health (physical and mental); violence; and military in transition. A number of these platforms have quantifiable goals attached to them. The International Men’s Day Healing and Repatriation Initiative was launched in the United States in 2013, which fostered the observation of International Men’s Day in correctional facilities. Thus far, International Men’s Day has been observed in three American correctional facilities. In 2014, International Men’s Day spawned the First Annual International Day of Prayer for Men and Boys, which brought together religious leaders and congregations of all faiths.
In October 2007, Denmark, a nation with a very high divorce rate, enacted and implemented equal parenting legislation. This legislation brought an end to bitter, lengthy, and costly child custody battles in Danish courts. Children of separated or divorced Danish parents now enjoy equal access to both mom and dad on a 50/50 basis. Danish fathers, by law, have joint physical custody and parenting time which amounts to 50%. This development buoyed the hopes of American proponents for a Federal Equal Custody Act, which would provide a legal mandate for courts in the United States to “act in the best interests of the child” and award joint legal and physical custody of children to America’s 25,000,000 noncustodial fathers.
In the absence of the enactment of a Federal Custody Act, American fathers have formed coalitions comprising fathers’ rights advocates, fatherhood practitioners, concerned citizens, and legislators that have produced equal parenting initiatives which have been placed on state ballots. In January 2011, shared parenting became the “law of the land” in Pennsylvania. Courts in Pennsylvania are now required by law to consider factors other than gender when deciding to grant custody of a child to a father or a mother. These factors include, among other things, the likelihood of maintaining frequent contact with the other parent; stability; continuity for the child’s schooling and community life; and access to other family members. For the first time, Pennsylvania judges are required by law to explain the decisions they render in child custody cases.
The angst expressed concerning child support payments by men who are non-custodial parents has very little to do with having to provide court-ordered financial support for their children. The fuss is really about how little time these men are allotted to spend with their children in the absence of a parenting agreement. In 2004, the State of Indiana instituted “Parent Credit Time,” which uniquely addressed the amount of time children spend with their non-custodial fathers. Child support payments for Indiana’s non-custodial fathers are reduced by the amount of time they spend with their children beyond the court-designated visitation schedule. For every day beyond the court-ordered period of time a non-custodial spends with his child, child support payments are reduced. The Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines can be viewed at www.in.gov/judiciary/rules/parenting/index.html.
British billionaire Richard Branson’s recent announcement that his organization, the Virgin Group, is offering paid paternity leave for up to one full year to new fathers has become the proverbial “shot heard ‘round the world.” It is a bold step in the right direction. Kudos to Mr. Branson! Many nations around the world provide paid paternity leave to men in response to their need to spend more time with our children – our bridge to the future. Paid paternity leave is commonplace and mandated by legislation in:
- Austria (between 1 – 3 years)
- Israel (up to 14 weeks)
- Belgium (10 days)
- Denmark (2 weeks)
- Estonia (14 days)
- Italy (13 weeks)
- Portugal (15 days)
- Russia (up to 18 months after the birth of a newborn)
- United Kingdom (2 weeks)
- Turkey (3 days)
- Argentina (2 days)
- Brazil (5 days)
- Algeria (3 days)
- Chad (10 days)
- Cote D’Ivoire (10 days)
- Kenya (2 weeks)
- South Africa (3 days)
- Uganda (4 days)
- and Australia (18 weeks)
Even the United Nations offers paid paternity leave – 100% paid leave for fathers for 4 weeks – or 8 weeks for male staff members serving at locations where they are not allowed to live with their family. The United States is one of the few nations in our global village that does not mandate paid paternity leave.
The Million Father March, created in 2003 by Mr. Philip Jackson, Founder and Executive Director of the Black Star Project, a Chicago, Illinois-based organization, is helping American fathers in over 800 cities redefine and reshape their parental roles and responsibilities. On the first day of each academic year, the Million Father March encourages men to “step up” and “step out” and play a proactive role in their child’s education by, among other things, escorting their child to school; meeting their child’s teachers and the principal of the school; and obtaining a copy of their child’s roster and a copy of the school’s calendar for the academic year.
When Warren Farrell, Ph.D., an internationally recognized thought leader on fatherhood and men’s issues and best-selling author speaks, everyone listens. These days he has a lot to say about the “Boy Crisis” and the need for the creation of a White House Council on Boys and Men (www.whitehouseboysmen.org). Dr. Farrell has created a Commission for the White House Council for Men and Boys to address fatherlessness and the “Boy Crisis.” The bi-partisan commission, which consists of 34 prominent educators, authors, researchers and practitioners, has been investigating the status of boys and their journey into manhood; identifying both surface and underlying problems confronting boys and men; and creating a blueprint toward resolving these problems. Five major components of the “Boy Crisis” have been identified by the Commission for the White House Council for Men and Boys:
- The Education of Our Sons
- The Emotional Health of Our Sons
- Children without Dads; Dads without Children
- The Crisis of Boys and Men’s Physical Health;
- The Future of Work, and Boys and Men at Work.
Incarcerated fathers have added their voice to the global dialogue on fatherhood and men’s issues. Over the years, a number of incarcerated fathers have described carrying out their roles and responsibilities as fathers while incarcerated as “raising children with one hand tied behind your back.” Yet, many incarcerated fathers find a way to maintain a constant presence in the lives of their children – our babies – through telephone calls, letters, and visitations. Deeply disturbed by the impact of fatherlessness on children and the communities in which they live and the connection between fatherlessness and the burgeoning “school-to-prison” pipeline and intergenerational incarceration, members of United Community Action Network at SCI Graterford in Pennsylvania have created and are implementing with support from an external team, a dynamic two-tiered initiative – Fathers And Children Together.
Incarcerated fathers at Graterford are vetted and enrolled in a seven-week program that provides them with parenting tools that help them positively shape the minds and souls of their children when the children visit them. The fathers are able to spend quality time with their children as they bond with one another. At the same time, and at a different venue, the mothers of these children are enrolled in a seven-week program which provides them with similar skills and tools. F.A.C.T. is returning men to families and communities who are strongly committed to raising our children – our babies.
The questioning of male circumcision continues to be moved to the center of the global dialogue on fatherhood and men’s issues by internationally acclaimed thought leader on fatherhood and men’s issues, J. Steven Svoboda, M.S., J.D. Svoboda is the Founder and Executive Director of Attorneys for the Rights of the Child (“ARC”), a federally and state-certified nonprofit corporation which was established in 1997. Mr. Svoboda transformed male circumcision into an international human rights issue when he traveled to Geneva in July 2001 and August 2001 on behalf of ARC, where he consulted with the United Nations’ Sub-Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and made oral and written submissions on male circumcision. His written submissions became part of the official United Nations record and the first document ever accepted by the United Nations on male circumcision.
A prolific writer, Svoboda’s publications, which extensively explore circumcision. include “Tortured Bodies, Tortured Minds, Informed Consent as a Legal Fiction Inapplicable to Male Circumcision,” in The Rights of the Child: Ensuring Every Child’s Fundamental Right to Body Ownership and Protection from Medical, Cultural, and Religious Infringements (G.C. Denniston et al., eds., Springer, 2012); “Promoting Genital Autonomy by Exploring Commonalities Between Male, Female, Intersex, and Cosmetic Genital Cutting,” Global Discourse, Summer 2012; “A Rose By Any Other Name: Rethinking the Similarities and Differences between Male and Female Genital Cutting,” in Fearful Symmetries: Essays and Testimonies Around Excision and Circumcision, edited by Chantal Zabus (Rodopi, 2009); Van Howe R, Svoboda, JS, “Neonatal Pain Relief and the Helsinki Declaration,” Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics 2008: 36: 803-823; http://www.cirp.org/library/ethics/hodges3/; “Gender Equity and Genital Integrity,” in Bodily Integrity and the Politics of Circumcision: Culture, Controversy, and Change (G.C. Denniston et al., eds., Plenum/Kluwer, 2006); “Educating the United Nations about Male Circumcision” in Flesh and Blood: Perspectives on the Problem of Circumcision in Contemporary Society (G.C. Denniston, et al., eds., Plenum/Kluwer, 2003); “The Limits of the Law: Comparative Analysis of Legal and Extralegal Methods to Control Child Body Mutilation Practices,” in Understanding Circumcision: A Multidisciplinary Approach to a Multidimensional Problem (G.C. Denniston et al., eds., Plenum/Kluwer, 2001); and “Prophylactic Interventions on Children: Balancing Human Rights with Public Health,” with Frederick M. Hodges and Robert S. Van Howe, in the Journal of Medical Ethics, October 2001. “HIV and Circumcision: Cutting through the Hyperbole” penned by Mr. Svoboda was published in the November 2005 issue of the Journal for the Royal Society for the Promotion of Health.
Penn & Teller shot a full-length feature on male circumcision, which was broadcast in 2005, that prominently explored Mr. Svoboda’s and ARC’s work. Svoboda is the Circumcision Correspondent for radio station WKZZ in Ventura, California, and has made numerous appearances on the radio station. Over the course of the past several years and with the assistance of volunteer lawyers, ARC has assembled a compilation of worldwide statutes regarding female genital cutting. Under Svoboda’s leadership, ARC leverages its work to protect both male and female genital integrity through cooperation with other organizations. The International Symposium on Human Rights and Modern Society bestowed the Human Rights Award upon Mr. Svoboda in 2002. He has utilized his legal expertise in the representation of plaintiffs in several state and federal lawsuits to protect genital integrity.
Fathers are moving the world to rethink the manner in which it is responding to men’s unique health issues. Globally, life expectancy for men is much lower than that of their female counterparts. And while we are on the subject, a huge gap exists in life expectancy between rich and poor countries. Men in Mozambique reach an average age of 38, while men in Iceland, Israel, and Switzerland live twice as long – to about age 80.
The rising incidence of homicide, suicide, prostate cancer, colon cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease among men throughout our global village is devastating. Organizations throughout our global village, which include, but are not limited to, Men’s Health Forum in Ireland (Belfast, Northern Ireland); European Men’s Health Forum (Brussels, Belgium); and Men’s Health Network (United States – Washington, D.C.), are pushing nations to increase medical research and funding for men’s health issues and create health policy initiatives for men. Created in 2002 when representatives from six men’s health organizations throughout our global village met at the Second World Congress on Men’s Health in Vienna, Austria, International Men’s Health Week is observed during the week immediately preceding Father’s Day.
Physicians and men’s health advocates stage men’s health conferences and awareness campaigns for heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, Alzheimer’s Disease, prostate cancer, osteoporosis, workplace accidents, and suicide during International Men’s Health Week, which is observed in a number of nations that include Australia, Ireland, the United Kingdom and the United States. In addition to the observation of an International Men’s Health Week in June, the entire month of June is designated as Men’s Health Month.
In the United States, women outlive men by between five (5) to six (6) years. Approximately 10.9 million men – or 10.5% of American men over the age of 20 – are estimated to have diabetes. Approximately 22.1% of men in the United States have coronary heart disease, while prostate cancer accounts for at least 9% of all cancer-related deaths. It is estimated that 1 out of 6 American men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer. Fathers’ rights advocates, fatherhood practitioners, health care professionals and providers, social services professionals and providers, concerned citizens, educators, and legislators have mounted a push for the establishment of an Office of Men’s Health in the United States Department of Health and Human Services, which would do for men’s health what the Office of Women’s Health, established in 1991, has done and continues to do for women’s health.
The Office of Men’s Health would (a) facilitate increased research and research funding for prostate cancer, colon cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s disease; (b) develop, expand, and sustain a wide range of local, regional, and national health awareness and education programs for men; and (c) provide men with equal and greater access to health resources and support services. Since 2001, legislation has been introduced into the United States Congress which would, if passed and enacted into law, establish an Office of Men’s Health in the United States Department of Health and Human Services.
The most recent legislative effort occurred on 27 April 2009, when United States Congressman Baron P. Hill (D-Indiana) and Timothy “Tim” Murphy (R-Pennsylvania) introduced H.R. 2115: Men and Families Health Care Act (“H.R. 2115”) into the United States Congress. H.R. 2115 was also co-sponsored at that time by United States Congressman Frank LoBiondo (R-New Jersey). As of this writing, action on the part of the United States Congress to place this legislative initiative on the “fast track” for passage and enactment still has not occurred.
Some look at the world in which we live and come to the conclusion that our world is “upside down.” If, in fact, we are living in an “upside down” world, then perhaps giving fathers the necessary tools they need and want to positively shape the minds and souls of our children – our bridge to the future; move their families forward; and empower the communities in which they live and work – is a key “piece of the puzzle” to turning an “upside down” world “right side up.”
Fatherhood has become more than about raising our children – our babies. It has become a vehicle for resolving myriad issues that make it difficult for men to be effective parents and maintain a dominant presence in the life of their child – regardless of the circumstance.