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June 23, 2001
Column #1034

MALEVOLENT MOMS VS. DEADBEAT DADS

     Millions of dads did not experience a good Father's Day last Sunday. They are divorced and deeply miss day-to-day contact with their kids. Contrary to conventional wisdom, they did not initiate divorce proceedings - but were pushed out of the marriage by their wives. 

     Did you know that 70% of divorces are initiated by women? That is the estimate by Dr. Sanford Braver, who studied 1,000 families getting divorced in Phoenix in the largest study of divorced dads ever conducted. The fathers were unwilling partners of the divorce.

     Another myth is that women who initiate a divorce do so because their husband has been unfaithful or physically abusive. Not so, according to Braver. ''Adultery is not a very important factor, ranking only 6th in the reasons wives seek a divorce and violence ranks 16th,'' he said.

     The most important reason for the divorce, according to 57 percent of the mothers who shoved the fathers out, was ''a gradual growing apart'' which for centuries was not even a legally justifiable grounds for divorce. Passage of no-fault divorce allowed divorce for trivial reasons.

     What about all those stories about deadbeat dads?

     Of course, there are many of them, but most never married the mother of their children.  Data compiled by Child Abuse Enforcement authorities lump together divorced dads and those who sired children out-of-wedlock to make the picture as bleak as possible. 

     Consequently, divorced dads have been given a largely undeserved black eye. 

     Braver's pioneering book on this subject, ''Divorced Dads: Shattering the Myth,'' was praised by The Washington Post as ''an important work which...adds a crucial element to the debate on fatherhood and on how we regard - and treat - divorced fathers in our society.''

     Braver asserts, ''Fathers who are unhappy in their marriage back down from divorce. They foresee the loss of their entire family, with the children going with their mom, along with the house. So fathers step back from the brink. However, mothers don't fear losing their kids.'' 

     While some Father's Day stories noted that there has been a 50% increase in the number of dads bringing up their kids, only 4 million are doing so compared to 14 million mothers.

     In today's mail, I received a letter from James asking me if I could put him in touch with a church that would ''stand with me in prayer for my lovely (but prodigal) wife Sharon's restoration as well as our marriage...God knows the longing in my heart to be reunited/reconciled with Sharon regardless of what took place in her life to change the way she sees me.''

     Several years ago, Floyd wrote to say, ''I am one of those grieving fathers who was divorced from his children. Their mother remarried and took them to another state without notifying me, and the courts looked the other way when I contested the legality of this action. I did not see my children for a decade. These were their formative years.'' His daughter was molested by her stepfather. 

     Seven months later, he wrote again. He resented the phrase ''deadbeat dads'' which was hung around his neck, while no one talked about the ''malevolent moms'' who forced an unwanted divorce and then prevented visitation by moving far away.

     A child needs both a mother and a father. 

     As President Bush said at the National Summit on Fatherhood, ''We know that children who grow up with absent fathers can suffer lasting damage. They are more likely to end up in poverty or drop out of schools, become addicted to drugs, have a child out of wedlock or end up in prison.''

     The President added, ''If we are serious about renewing fatherhood, we must be serious about renewing marriage.''

     It is time to consider reforms of the law which would honor such a perspective. 

     Ideally, if children are involved in a marriage, neither the mother nor the father should be allowed to force divorce on an unwilling partner and on the children, except for such serious reasons as adultery or physical abuse. 

     At the minimum, there should be a two year cooling off period, during which joint custody is required and the taking of classes by the parents to improve their communication and conflict resolution skills, with the hope of saving the marriage. 

     Bush said, ''We all live, it is said, in the shelter of one another. And our urgent hope is that one of the oldest hopes of humanity... to turn the hearts of children toward their parents, and the hearts of the parents toward their young.''

Copyright 2001 Michael J. McManus.

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