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Home > Child Custody & Divorce > Book Review

Fatherhood and its Discontents

by Stephen Baskerville

page two

The ugly truth is that this country is now engaged in an all-out witch hunt from which no father is safe. It is not just unwed fathers or divorced fathers: Any father can now find himself caught up in a nightmare of kidnapped children, plundered savings, public excoriation, and summary incarceration in what more and more are describing (with only slight exaggeration, given the incarceration and suicide rate among fathers) as a reign of terror.

Indeed, the parallels with the kind of ideological-bureaucratic dictatorship of which this century has already seen enough are disturbing indeed: a bureaucratic apparat that has systematized the invasion of private homes and the confiscation of children to a routine; political leaders using their public office as a platform to vilify an entire class of private citizens who have been convicted of nothing and who have no opportunity to defend themselves; a court system whose rulings have become so formulaic and predictable that they might be described as scripted; government officials marching into the homes of private citizens who have been accused of nothing and simply helping themselves to whatever they want, including their children, their life savings, and their private papers; the media and civil libertarians looking the other way in the face of mass incarcerations without charge, counsel, or trial; the use of children as informers against their parents; and a feminist ideology that has long since departed from its idealistic origins and entered its quasi-Stalinist phase. We even have a kind of Orwellian Newspeak, where government-sponsored kidnapping and extortion are justified with euphemisms such as "divorce" and "custody battle."

In these circumstances, to invoke what have become the cliches of some recent liberation movements is at the least misleading. Fathers are not being denied equal treatment; they are being denied their own children. Fathers do not face "bias" and "discrimination"; they face wholesale plunder and criminalization by a judiciary that is itself so patently crooked that it is hardly less than a system of organized crime.

Fathers are not "second-class citizens"; they are being publicly vilified by the highest officeholders in the land -- including the President, Vice-President, Attorney General and other major cabinet figures, along with presidential candidates and leading members of Congress from both parties -- with no right of reply. They do not face a "double standard" or a "glass ceiling"; they face pursuit by a vast army of plain-clothes federal agents, as well as mammoth state enforcement bureaucracies, for having done nothing wrong at all.

It is hardly surprising that fathers' groups are now speaking of federal class action suits and mass civil disobedience, however quixotic these acts may appear. Books that debunk myths are very important indeed. But as both children and politicians know, it is actions that speak louder than words.

At the end Parke and Brott offer a series of recommendations for practical measures that men, women, government, and private organizations can take to help men be better fathers. They are all sensible, but the one that is missing for fathers themselves might run something like this:

Become a public defender of fathers and children

A responsible father is also a responsible citizen and a leader in his community. Almost every major political theorist has seen the family as the building block of civil society and the role of father as a preparation for that of citizen. The best way of showing your children, and proclaiming to the world, that you are not a "deadbeat" or a "batterer" or a child molester and that you have nothing to be ashamed of, is to stand up and speak out for the rights of fathers and their children.

In fact one might say that the very qualities necessary for a good father are also those necessary for an effective political activist: discipline, sobriety, commitment, perseverance, fidelity, sacrifice. Freedom and self-government require what our somewhat puritanical founding fathers used to call "republican virtue." Or as Frederick Douglass once observed:

It is a doctrine held by many good men: that every oppressed people will gain their rights just as soon as they prove themselves worthy of them; and although we may justly object to the extent to which this doctrine is carried: it must still be evident to all that there is a great truth in it.

By the same token, any discussion of "responsible fatherhood" today that omits the role of political activist is vapid. We did not invent the feminist principle that "the personal is political," and in some ways it is a dangerous one. But it is the reality we now must confront.

A father is necessarily a protector of his family, and every family today needs protection from an intrusive state machinery that is now virtually out of control and often amounts to little less than a system of institutionalized child abuse. This does not mean that you buy an Uzi and lay in a supply of freeze-dried food. It means simply that you stand up and speak out at every opportunity.

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Throwaway Dads: The Myths and Barriers That Keep Men from Being the Fathers They Want to Be
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Copyright © 1999 Stephen Baskerville. All rights reserved.
Stephen Baskerville teaches political science at Howard University.

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