November 14, 2013 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
If words like the following can appear in The Guardian, can utopia be far behind? The quotation is from an article by sometime feminist Ally Fogg about single parenthood and absent fathers (The Guardian, 11/13/13). He was spurred to write by a rant by Conservative MP David Davies. Here’s how Fogg wrapped up his piece:
What I found most striking about the MP’s outburst was that there was no suggestion that these hypothetical young fathers should be actively involved in the raising and caring for their children, physically, emotionally or psychologically. No suggestion they should be anything other than a cash cow.
In an ideal world, there would rarely be need for child support, because fathers and mothers would, where possible, be equally involved in every aspect of the caring and upbringing of their children, whether or not they live under the same roof. That would be a solution worthy of the 21st century, rather than one for the 16th.
For a newspaper that routinely trashes men and fathers, that seldom deigns to look at the facts about single parenthood and that wouldn’t dream of viewing fathers as human beings with legitimate needs and desires, Fogg’s article counts as a great leap forward.
It seems that MP Davies took to the floor of Parliament not long ago to deliver one of the most absurd, know-nothing rants anyone’s heard in quite some time. I use the word ‘rant’ advisedly. People on the scene reported that he was screaming.
"I think it’s absolutely outrageous that so many young men in our society feel they can go out, get women pregnant, allow them to have children, make them bring them up by themselves often on benefits and then just disappear," he spluttered. "It is utterly shocking and I hope that the ministers will take note of this and get hold of some of these feckless fathers, drag them off, make them work, put them in chains if necessary, make them work and make them pay back to society for the cost of bringing up the children they chose to bring into this world."
Really, he actually said that. Maybe there was a Stupidity Prize he was competing for, but truth to tell, it’s hard to be so misguided. For example, I wonder how he believes men “allow [women] to have children.” Surely he knows that whether a woman elects to give birth to a baby is 100% up to her. Mr. Davies, that’s what abortion laws are about. They give the woman, not the man, the power to decide whether a fetus develops and sees the light of day. Nowhere in British law is the father given the slightest say in the matter. Fathers can neither prevent women from – nor “allow” them to – have a child. They decide that for themselves. That’s a situation a lot of us agree on, but it’s not one in which men “allow” women to give birth.
In a way, Davies’ speech is a worthwhile read. If one is doing anthropology into the beliefs and attitudes of the virulently anti-father crowd, one could learn a lot from his words alone. He’s one weird but classic example of the way in which conservative anti-dadism turns around and meets its comrade in arms – feminist anti-dadism. Most notably, both assume that fathers (at least single fathers) are invariably corrupt, dangerous and feckless, while mothers are innocent victims of their dastardly ways. Both regard men as active and women as passive, men as having agency while women do not.
So Fogg is right to point out that Davies is really living in the 16th century.
I suspect David Davies, Conservative MP for Monmouth, would have felt quite at home in the 16th century. The poor law of 1576 empowered magistrates to make maintenance orders for support of children, and to have mothers and "reputed" fathers punished, usually with a flogging.
One is reluctant to interfere with the honourable member’s vivid fantasy about dragging fertile young men off to the workhouse in chains, as he is clearly enjoying himself. Nonetheless it might help to send up a memo from planet Earth. For at least 450 years, policymakers have sought solutions to the supposed problems caused by the fecund, feckless poor, especially those bearing children outside marriage. Elizabethan solutions didn’t even work in Elizabethan times. It was much the same thinking that drove the last Tories in government to set up the Child Support Agency, and the current bunch to abolish it and replace it with the Child Maintenance Service, which is taking over the role right now.
Fogg doesn’t quite get to the point, but it’s true that the original laws in England establishing work houses and punishing men who dared to produce offspring outside of marriage were all about money. The simple fact was that, if an unmarried woman had a child without a husband, she and the child predictably became financial burdens on the parish in which they lived. So the Poor Laws sought to take the onus off the community and put it on the father. Morality was the cover for parsimony.
England does the same today, as does the United States. Single mothers who receive public benefits have no financial obligation to the state; only the fathers of their children do. The concept of the man as a ravening wolf preying on the helpless female lamb is as alive today as it ever was. Ditto the concept of father as wallet.
Fogg is happy to point out that Davies’ ideas about fathers are rooted five-hundred years ago, but he’s notably tight-lipped about the fact that feminists are right there beside him.
Nor does Fogg get around to mentioning the mountain of social science that shows not only fathers’ attitudes about their children and fatherhood, but about the processes by which children come to lose their dads. He prefers liberal vagaries about poverty.
Poverty is both a cause and a consequence of single parenthood. It prevents nuclear family units from forming in the first place, it rends apart those trying to cleave together and, above all, it strikes cruelly at men, women and children in the aftermath of a separation or divorce.
Although asked to do so by a number of commenters to his article, Fogg never explained just how poverty “prevents nuclear family units from forming.” In this country, it’s true that, for example, some poor African-American mothers say they can’t find a worthwhile man to partner with, and that undeniably stems from traditions of poverty and lack of education. But as an explanation for single parenthood, it’s just the tiniest tip of a huge iceberg.
For one thing, two incomes, even two lousy incomes, are better than one, and they’re far better than welfare that by itself is an open door to poverty. So unless the father’s just a complete loss, mothers would do better to marry the father of their child, or at least form a lasting relationship with him outside of marriage.
For another, study after study, most notably those by Prof. Kathryn Edin at Harvard, find that even the poorest, least educated and youngest of fathers passionately desire a meaningful relationship with their children. That’s true in the U.S. and I don’t see why it should be different in the U.K. But, as the years pass and their children grow, those fathers have less and less contact with them. That turns out not to be their doing, but the mothers’.
In a process Edin and others call “parenting as a package deal,” when a single father’s child first arrives, he may be close to it and involved in its care. But as time passes, Mom moves on to other men, and, each time she does, the child’s father becomes more marginalized in its life. The child remains with her as part of the mother-child “package” that seems to be a given among the poor and elsewhere. Now, what the anti-dad crowd wants us to believe is that he’s worthless and she’s justified in cutting him out of his child’s upbringing. But again, social science doesn’t bear that out. In fact, children are usually better off with two biological parents to raise them and they’re far better off if they’re not raised with a mother and a series of her boyfriends.
As I’ve said many times before, mothers acting alone commit about 40% of all child abuse and neglect. Add a boyfriend to the mix and the percentage rises to 60.
Fogg confuses cause with correlation. It’s true that women with a college degree (and therefore likely to be more affluent than those without) are far less likely to have a child outside of marriage. In the United States, where out-of-wedlock children account for 42% of all children born in a given year, only 8% of the children of women who’ve graduated from college are born to single mothers.
But that’s a far cry from Fogg’s claim that, in some unexplained way, poverty prevents the poor from marrying. The phenomenon is far more complex than that, but among other things it involves bad choices by individuals whose behavior looks guaranteed to perpetuate the very poverty Fogg rightly decries.
There’s another thing about poverty that Fogg overlooks. In the U.S. at least, single mothers with custody are far poorer than are single fathers with custody. According to the Census Bureau, those mothers earn on average $23,000 a year while single fathers do over 50% better at $36,000 a year. Of course one reason those men managed that rarest of feats – getting custody of their kids – is that they were in some way markedly better parents than were the mothers and one of the ways they were better may have been in how much they earned.
But the fact remains that it’s not single-parenting per se that nudges parents towards poverty, but the choices those parents make. After all, if the average single father can earn $36k, so can the average single mother. But they don’t.
If the U.K. or any other country wants to strike a blow for children, it’ll do the one thing that government can do that would benefit them the most – make sure they don’t lose their fathers in the divorce process. The kids would be better brought up, healthier, happier and safer if laws were changed and judges educated to keep both parents actively involved in their children’s lives. Into the bargain, mothers would be freed of the 100% childcare so many of them now perform, which would allow them to earn more, save more and have more comfortable retirement years. Fathers would benefit in a thousand ways, most notably in their own emotional/psychological well-being that would be enhanced by (a) not feeling that family courts believed them to be pariahs, (b) not feeling that their only value to their children rides in their back pockets and most importantly (c) being actively involved in raising their children and watching them grow to adulthood.
Fogg rightly points out that, “As with settlements of family courts and residency or access orders, the system is a relic of a patriarchal model of the family with a male breadwinner and female nurturer.”
I wouldn’t put it just like that, but the point is valid. Women can now support themselves and should be encouraged to do so. Men make perfectly good parents and we should get out of their way and stop erecting barriers to their being the fathers they can be.
The Guardian has long been decades behind the rest of us and the social science on parenting. If even that bastion of anti-father liberalism is calling for equal parenting, can change be far away?
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