The Fatherhood Movement

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Throughout the United States, more than one-third of children don't live with their biological fathers, and about 17 million of those children don't live with any father at all. Of those, roughly 40 percent haven't seen their fathers in the last year. The over 500 Father's Rights organizations are trying in a variety of ways to change these statistics because they believe that fathers are necessary to the intellectual, psychological and emotional well- being of all children. "Family values" groups encourage long lasting stable, marriages and tough divorce laws to increase the number of two- parent households. Some organizations focus on reasonable child support and visitation, as well as creative joint custody arrangements to combat fatherless ness after divorce. Still other sects within the movement encourage responsible fatherhood through counseling for "Deadbeat" or "Dead-broke" Dads, job training and placement to increase the likelihood of child support payments and educational seminars to teach men how to be emotionally supportive fathers. The unique coalition of conservative pro-marriage groups, white middle-class divorcées and low- income fathers is an unusual alliance. But regardless of philosophical and tactical differences, the essential mission is the same- to improve the relationship between our nation's fathers and their children. A Brief History

Throughout the 18th and 19th Centuries, wives and children were considered property of the husband. Divorce was very rare, but when it did occur, children would automatically become custody of the father. Even if a father died, his wife was not assured custody of the children unless his will explicitly stated so. In the Early 1900's, courts and state legislatures began to support maternal rights, viewing the mother as the more nurturing parent. The "tender years" doctrine, implemented in many states, encouraged courts to place young children with mothers because mothers were seen as essential to emotional development. The maternal preference continued to increase throughout the 1950's and 60's. With the spread of no-fault divorce laws throughout the late 1970's, and the increase of women's participation in the work force, women were more able to obtain divorces from unhappy marriages. Maternal preference in custody battles gave women a huge advantage, and a vast majority of women obtained sole custody of children in the increasingly more prevalent divorce proceedings.

The 1980's saw the emergence of a new and powerful father hood movement, focused on discrimination in divorce laws and unfair child support orders. 1986, The National Convention for Men, an umbrella group for 36 organizations representing roughly 6,000 men, centered their attention of the issues of child support and custody rights. The men were outraged by the gender bias men suffer in courts, with 87 to 90 percent of divorce cases giving sole custody to the mother with our without visitation for the father . They emphasized that the feminist movement had changed parenting roles and equalized parental involvement, and demanded that custody laws be changed to reflect this. The president of the NCM, Peter Cyr, urged the men to fight against isolation and alienation from their children. In 51 percent of sole- custody arrangements, the children saw their father less than once a year, according to the Commission on Child and Family Welfare. The NCM supported joint custody, which was a key issue of fledgling Father's Rights movement and is still central plank of the father's rights platform today. In the late 1980's and early 1990's, criticism of single mothers began to mount. The number of two parent families dropped over 11 percent from 1970 to 1980 and continued to drop into the 90's. Between 1969 and 1992, the percent of AFDC cases involving children born to unwed mothers grew by over 20 percentage points, with over 77% of "illegitimate" children becoming enmeshed in the welfare system before...
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