Two Letters Show Cause and Consequence of Fatherlessness

Here are a couple of letters to the editor.  They’re about different topics, different articles and even different countries.  And yet, they’re directly connected.

The first is a letter to the Irish Independent (Irish Independent, 12/23/10).  I wrote two days ago about the recommendations by the Irish Law Reform Commission regarding family law.  Some of those would, if enacted by the parliament, improve fathers’ rights considerably while still falling well short of actual parental equality for dads.

The letter puts flesh on the bones of what Irish fathers, particularly single fathers, face in their battles for that most modest of wishes – time with their children.  The writer corrects certain misleading statements in a previous Independent article.  For example,

First of all, married parents are entitled to shared custody unless they separate, after which mothers will invariably retain custody and fathers will be obliged to financially maintain the family while being allowed limited access or contact.

The writer goes on to quote a family court judge in a recent opinion.

“The respondent (the father) should not have the option to look after the children when the applicant (the mother) is out of the jurisdiction for more than one day, or when she is away from the family home for more than one day, as this would give rise to undesirable and unpredictable negotiations leading to differences on an irregular but frequent basis.”

Moving on to the predicament of unmarried fathers, the writer says,

an unmarried mother is entitled to sole custody regardless of the father’s position as guardian. An unmarried father who is granted guardianship does not have any automatic right to custody.

That’s just what the Commission said, but the writer goes on to mention situations much like some I’ve discussed in which entities other than family courts thwart fathers’ access to children.

Apart from the above, it is important to note that a married father’s right to act as a guardian on behalf of his children jointly with the mother is widely ignored.

Schools, hospitals and doctors etc will accept the consent of one parent even though the consent of both parents is required, if the couple is married.

I don’t accept the writer’s conclusion that the Commission’s recommendations would not affect fathers’ rights in Ireland.  They clearly would be improved, but, the writer’s obvious frustration with anti-father sentiment is understandable.

The second letter is here (Cleveland Plain Dealer, 12/21/10).  On its face, it’s not about fathers’ rights at all.  It’s entitled “Another father figure abandons schoolkids.”  As such, it suggests the commonly accepted notion that father absence is due to fathers’ irresponsibility. 

Maybe President Obama got a second job writing headlines for the Cleveland Plain Dealer.  After all, the president’s website betrays exactly that opinion.  But speaking of absenteeism, nowhere does Obama mention family courts as one reason for the lack of fathers in the lives of children, or mothers’ power over fathers’ rights as another.

For decades now we’ve known in voluminous detail the many obstacles placed between fathers and their children and yet people who know better – people like the President of the United States – prefer the narrative of the uncaring father to the truth.  Not surprisingly, our laws and public policy reflect it.

But beyond its headline, the letter itself is truly heartrending.  It describes nothing more remarkable than the resignation as CEO of the Cleveland Ohio School District of Dr. Eugene Sanders.  What’s so bad about that?  The writer explains:

I admired the qualities Sanders instilled in the children. He offered integrity, maturity and commitment to many who were missing such examples in their homes. He stood as a father figure to so many who lack a strong, male role model within their lives. For those who know me, fatherhood is one of my main causes. Before being elected, I managed the Center for Families and Children’s Fathers and Families Together program and coordinated parenting classes and job-placement services for fathers in Cleveland.

Nearly three-fourths of the children in my ward live with only their mother. These children need strong male role models within their lives. Many of these students looked up to Dr. Sanders, and now he, too, is leaving them. My heart aches for them. My heart aches for our school district.

How very sad.  That so many children should be so bereft of fathers that they look to a bureaucrat to fill the role is little short of tragic.  Whatever fine qualities Dr. Sanders may possess, he is not those children’s father. 

Two letters, two countries, two very different situations.  And yet the two are as intimate as old friends.  The first shows some of the many ways in which Irish law separates fathers from children.  Why stand between fathers and children?  No justification is given, perhaps because there is none to offer.  We know the detriments of fatherlessness and choose to ignore them.

The second sketches the consequences of keeping fathers from their children.  It hints at the anguish of children without a father in their lives.   The writer well knows what the future holds for children without fathers and so he, like the children themselves, views the departure of Dr. Sanders as more than the loss of a capable administrator.  It’s the loss of another man who perhaps could show the way. 

Day after day, year after year, we continue the creation of our ever-more-fatherless society.  We know we shouldn’t; we know that fatherlessness is bad for children, bad for mothers, bad for fathers and bad for society generally.  And yet we continue.

I wonder what would happen if the Irish Parliament read the letter to the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Ohio Legislature read the one to the Irish Independent.  Would a light click on?

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