A Winning Strategy For Fathers
By David R. Usher
For well over thirty years, we fathers have been battling - without much success - to save our roles as fathers and husbands. But despite our best efforts, our roles have been whittled away by an onslaught of family-destructive social agendas and government husbandry programs (AFDC, The Friend of the Court, Protective Services, Food Stamps, Rental Subsidies, etc.)
There is something, however, we can do.
The present issues of most importance to most voters appear to be taxes and violence. We can harness those energies to help us if we appeal to these voters in diplomatic and persuasive ways. I submit one of the major reasons we have been losing our battle (and the war) is because we have never formulated a good offensive strategy that appeals to the dissatisfactions of the average person, the average taxpayer, and the average politician. If we tell it like it is, most folks will join in with us, because they are also paying dearly for the same problems we are.
I have discovered that by avoiding highly emotional fathers' issues and, instead, focusing on how larger groups of people are negatively affected by the family breakdown crisis appeals to many more people, as well as the media. By creating belief structures that tend to encourage governmental actions in the directions we, as advocates for intact families, want them to go, I believe we can find much greater acceptance for our work by both the professions and the general public.
I am here referring to a new pro-family platform, one that deals directly with real-world analysis of family issues as they negatively impact the listener, as opposed to complaining about our myriad of dad problems. Let's face it -- no one cares what fathers want. But everyone cares about what they want.
This new, positive, focus on the family, far different from the windy "family values" debate of the 1992 Presidential election, provides "softer" but nonetheless more powerful factual arguments making widespread political and public appeals. Journal reports, census data, and task force reports serve as a solid foundation for this platform. All the arguments call for the pendulum to swing back in the father's rights direction, but do so without stridently focusing on "father's" issues. Here is a sampling of some of these arguments:
Taxes: The family breakdown crisis
Consider our priorities: over 26% of our federal budget is spent enabling the family breakdown crisis, through AFDC and privately-paid welfare (child support), a myriad of entitlement programs that empower women over men, and many programs that teach recruits how to "work the system". While social spending is so high, we are spending less than 1% on economic development (Missouri 1993 budget).
is arguably causing many of our tax problems
Our tax base of two-parent families has dwindled in comparison to the number of families on the dole. In 1950, we had a divorce rate around 1%. Back then, welfare needs were minuscule in comparison to the number of families who could pay taxes. But today, over 58% of marriages now end in divorce, 80% of fathers remarry, with a secondary divorce rate of 50% for stepfamilies. To no surprise, needs for spending on problems resulting from the family breakdown crisis have skyrocketed, such as spending on welfare, remedial school programs, school security, teen pregnancy supports, child abuse and neglect, the drug war, police protection, prisons, psychological treatment of adults and children, foster care, and job training programs for single mothers .....
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that we have shifted from the relatively stable 1950's environment of economic achievement and personal responsibility to a comparatively unsatisfactory society based in welfarism, a society characterized by high taxes and deficits, a shortfall of jobs, an increasingly authoritarian government, and an unmistakably torn social fabric.
Absent fathers commonly cannot support two households, causing a displacement of family responsibilities to the government. According to the 1990 census, it takes 1.5 median incomes to support a household of four above the poverty level. Today 20% of white married men and 33% of black men cannot support a family of four above the poverty level. But when that household turns into two, the increase in living costs make for many mothers in poverty, deadbeat dads, and an ongoing welfare load that multiplies with the divorce and illegitimacy rates.
Government has responded to the mother-poverty problem by shifting various welfare-tax burdens to remaining intact families. Special tax credits, and even negative taxes are extended to single mothers, who are entitled to a wide array of government programs. Intact families, frequently with two incomes, enter the higher tax brackets and are taxed more heavily.
More recently, the tax and welfare problem has driven government to pass costs and programs on to business. For example, national health care proposes to socialize health care in the workplace, as discussed later in this article. The call for day care in the workplace and extended school hours is driven primarily by father absence in the home. Mandatory child support wage withholdings will soon cause extra bookkeeping expense and cause headaches for many a comptroller whose company will be held liable for any error. The commonplace divorce-related bankruptcy, usually involving a father who does not recieve household items but is assigned legal responsibility for the bills, has the net effect of stealing billions of dollars worth of unsecured household goods from businesses who cannot collect from the mother.
Work motivation has decreased as taxes have increased while many good paying jobs have been converted to low-paying service-sector jobs. Manufacturing jobs that once supported a family have turned into restaurant, retail, sales, and other positions that do not generate real (exportable) GNP. Due to an poor image of urban males by employers and the entry of many women into service sector jobs, the average urban absent father who is held responsible for supporting an illegitimate child is likely to drop out of the work force and enter more lucrative informal economies of the "hustle", drug sales, and gang activity ,.
Many urban males do not even know they are fathers until a large AFDC arrearage exists. Many have already accumulated an arrearage even before graduating high school. These garnishments are collected at 60% of net pay ... a tax rate to make anyone cringe. Assuming a young urban male can find steady work at $5 per hour, he is left with take home pay of around $72 per week ... or a paltry $1.80 per hour ... not a survivable reward for cooperating with the system. So he takes his business elsewhere, and the government gets stuck with another welfare loss.
Government is now severely short of cash, and courts have come to order us to keep government going: witness the huge federal tax increases, the Neanderthal treatment of millions of "deadbeat dads", court-ordered tax increases in the state of Missouri, and a recent New York Supreme Court ruling permitting the City of New York to collect earnings taxes on spouses who neither live nor work in New York City.
Inappropriate Governmental Responses: A contributing factor
Government has played a significant role in the family breakdown crisis. As we see above, we are now in a situation where social spending is very high but not nearly keeping pace with social problems. We keep taking from our productive resources (families and business) in increasing amounts hoping to douse the growing needs. Somehow we keep ending up with more needs and fewer resources.
If anyone bothered to ask Art Laffer twenty years ago, he would have suggested that by doing these things we would stimulate family breakdown and welfare, de-stimulate families and business, and then depicted it on a Laffer curve predicting our own situation today. After all, how many of us took advantage of the energy tax credits? How many of us refinanced homes recently?
Students from various areas of academics bring home powerful facts which seem to overlap into a living post-mortem for present public policy.
We already know that families have been falling apart in stunning numbers, at a rate 50 times higher than happened in 1950. Here are some other things we know, listed in order to tell you the story:
- The father-absent family is the greatest predictor of poverty for mothers and children.
- 80 to 90% of divorces are sought by women.
- 96% of domestic violence resulting injury to a spouse occurs after fathers have been separated from their families.
- Family structure predicts the vast majority of social problems for children.
- Divorce increases the likelihood that boys of high economic origins will end up in low-paying occupations.
- Neither men or women, regardless of race, are interested in marriage unless the man is capable of supporting a family.
- A missing base of good-paying manufacturing jobs is a prerequisite to family formation and stability in the lower and middle classes.
- Federal government has done little to stimulate manufacturing while spending about 26% of the federal budget on social spending.
So we see a cycle at work - We have a lot of father absent families, the majority existing because families do not form without jobs to feed them. A shortage of good jobs occurs when economic development is shortchanged. Economic development is difficult when we are laden with cries from our own third world. Men in the outer class either cannot or will not have anything to do with society, for they have no safe social position in it. Government expects them to act as if they did - demanding their money even if they can't earn it - driving them even farther out of society and family. We then end up with a welfare problem, a shortage of taxes sources, and a deficit to prove it. This puts us right back at square one ... but not quite.
Children raised in our unstable social and economic environment frequently cannot get the social and economic benefits necessary for maturing into secure, motivated, productive adults. Many children today have never known a healthy family relationship, nor have their single parent, and are carrying this loss of gender social skills into the next generation.
The intergenerational aspects of the family breakdown crisis are indeed frightening. It may have been a difficult task for Joy Adamson to resituate her lions in their natural wild environment. But restoring the civil family social roles for millions of children and adults who have known nothing but wildness will be far more difficult.
Nonetheless, the time for reforms of public policy is upon us now. In order to be effective, it will require great coordination at the federal level, nearly a cabinet level effort in social policy, economics, education, and law.
I argue that we should redirect a significant sum of social spending to stimulate private-sector manufacturing, long the backbone for working-class America, even if short-term deficits are necessary. This time-tested arrangement is what forms two-parent families, feeds them, and raises children to productive adulthood. It is also what will end our addiction to deficits.
This, I believe, is what Justice Clarence Thomas referred to as a "bootstraps" opportunity for urban rebirth. There is much more I could discuss here -- but that is a an article in the future.
National Health Care:A child-advocacy welfare "Trojan horse"
Approximately 70% of the 38.5-million citizens who would receive free benefits under the proposed Clinton national health care plan need it only because of family structure. Under the Clinton plan, free benefits will be provided for any family that earns less than 150% of the poverty level. Of course, more often than not, this is usually the father-absent family.
National health care is the child advocacy issue promised by Hillary Clinton during her campaign appearance on "Dateline N.B.C." last year. Health care could never have received a wide audience if she approached it as either a child-advocacy issue or a new welfare program, so Bill Clinton brilliantly portrayed health care as a national crisis involving everyone. The resulting public confusion has worked, because no one has yet figured out that it is family structure, not health care delivery, that is causing the health care problem.
No one has yet seen that the Clinton plan is driven by the troublesome post-feminist agenda of NOW, the American Association of University Women, and Marian Wright Edelman. If anyone knew who was behind it, no one would buy into it. This is the reason why the health care meetings are conducted secretly.
National health care is anti-family policy because it is nothing more than a new mega "great society" welfare program, a marriage vow between NOW and your taxes, all created in the name of "ending welfare as we know it"!
The Trade Deficit:
We can competitively manufacture simple consumable goods by reducing personal and corporate contributions of federal taxes (to zero if necessary) on low-skill manufacturing job salaries in areas of high unemployment and welfare. This will set into motion an investment craze by the corporate community, just as energy-tax credits fueled certain home remodeling efforts in the 1980's. This budgetary shift would not necessarily lower deficits in itself, but would be recaptured through decreased fiscal burdens associated with crime, drugs, health care, prisons, and through increases in local property tax collections. The target salary that would stimulate participation in the workplace is a mere $8 per hour.
We must increase manufacturing
of simple consumables to decrease imports
During the past 30 years most of us have personally witnessed a shift from a manufacturing economy by which we made almost everything we consumed (or otherwise maintained a balance of imports and exports), to a service economy which requires us to import many basic, simple-to- manufacture consumable goods, with the result that many jobs have shifted overseas.
From a labor policy standpoint, this was a mistake. Instead of making a sincere effort to be competitive in low-skill labor, we have instead operated under an elitist concept that low-skilled workers can widely be trained for sophisticated service-sector jobs. This idea has not worked. We need working-class jobs for working-class people who, for better or worse, only want to work with their hands and need to make a survivable living.
From an economic policy standpoint, the service economy (which does not produce real asset value and is largely not exportable) has been costly. We do not make enough exportable items to keep up with our demand for consumables, yielding a long-term trade deficit that has led to selling off our corporate assets. Witness all the Japanese banks on Sunset Boulevard, Sony's takeover of the record industry, prime Illinois croplands owned by a world of foreign farmers, and the selling of most of New York city's prime real estate to foreign real estate investors.
Without the creation of competitive low-skill manufacturing jobs, targeted to reduce imports of items simple to manufacture, we have little chance of reducing the trade deficit. If we cannot get the deficit under control, we will see more Americans working as sharecroppers - their fate being guaranteed by redirection of profits to foreign countries.
Our Children: Re-defining the "best interests" doctrine
For better or for worse, the greatest predictor of positive outcomes for children is the existence of the two-parent family. Many professionals have written about children caught up in the family breakdown crisis, but nothing will change until the Rights of Children doctine is rewritten to presume that it is generally in the best interests of children to be raised in an intact two-parent family.
One-third of child poverty in 1988 was directly attributed to changes in family structure since 1960, when the well-being of a child depended on primarily what daddy did for a living. But today, a child's overall well-being depends primarily on whether the child has a daddy at all. Without a daddy, a child is not likely to get what is needed to mature into adulthood, and will not fare as well as a child raised in a two-parent family.
We are beginning to understand that there are no substitutes for fathers. Our problems today exist despite the existence of massive government intervention programs, such as AFDC, WIC, Head Start, foster care, remedial education, drug education, sex education, the parents as teachers program, support enforcement, subsidized housing, child abuse prevention, prisons, and police.
Women: Wavering between Reality and N.O.W.
The greatest predictor of economic and social satisfaction for the majority of women is the existence of the two-parent family. Fathers Organizations must make a concerted effort to appeal to women and single mothers, since they can be our allies if we show them they can live a better life by following our agenda for social change.
The National Organization of Women is presently trying to harness the dissatisfactions of mothers in father-absent families through social agenda so radical it is almost incomprehensible.
Resolutions regarding "Mothers Liberation" and "Economic Justice" were adopted at the N.O.W. convention last year. These resolutions suggest that women have the exclusive right to bear (and keep) children under any desired social circumstances without any responsibility or attachments to fathers or society, while demanding more than the economic and social benefits of marriage. N.O.W. is demanding federal child-support assurance, free health-care benefits, and various other gender-separatist entitlements in their aggressive program designed to attract more single mothers into the association.
The 1990 census shows us that women's increased earnings have not kept pace with income lost because of husband-absence. Thus, the situation of many women now living in poverty (as for their children), is far worse today than it was twenty years ago despite their income from significant gains women have made in the work force and massive government assistance programs.
The N.O.W. resolution on lesbian and gay "rights" is alarmingly deceptive, the unsupportable motive being the creation of the legal right for women to marry. If women could marry, it would end NOW's struggle with the thirty year old mother-poverty problem by creating "Superfamilies", featuring six income sources which come from the two mothers, two sets of government entitlements, and two banished fathers. The superfamily structure would be economically far superior than anything in civilized history, and I predict that it would be the killing blow to the traditional two-parent family within thirty years. Every law needed to make this happen is in place except the missing link, the right of women to marry each other.
We must fight lesbian rights as if our freedom depended on it, because it does. We must inform the public, becuase their stake in civilization rests on it. We should also let gay men know that N.O.W. will turn on them, just as it did to fathers, the moment N.O.W. gets what it wants.
Above all, we can win the minds of most "normal" women by reminding them that having a husband with an unfettered income is still the best path towards having a decent life with a house- helper, a mechanic, and a capable co-parent, not to mention a safe sexual relationship, all easily possible without dealing with government agencies that take six months to return a simple form letter.
I conclude that the two-parent family is not an optional arrangement of convenience, rather it is a time-tested survival mechanism that is necessary for both women and men to meet their goals in living and childbearing within a stable social structure.
The issue of violence can no longer be avoided by our organization. There are many powerful points to be made that are favorable to our interests. We can harness public opinion in our favor only if we speak confidently, eloquently, and firmly about the facts of violence. I believe that the only way to bring about a reduction in violence - as well as drugs and crime - is to deal effectively with the family breakdown crisis.
The false fears driving the destruction of fatherhood,
and the men's issue of primary strategic importance.
Social violence and crime appear to have become the primary national concern of the voters. Yet few politicianhs have presented solutions that make any sense. This is because the number one predictor of these problems is not gangs, guns, drugs, race, males, poverty, prisons, television, or taxes: it is the absence of two-parent families. Period.
The family socializes both men and women to be responsible for each other and for their children. The family is where values are taught, children learn healthy social roles, and discipline can be enforced. When this structure is destroyed in large numbers, the fallout is tragic for everyone.
Many of us know that the father-absent family structure is the greatest predictor of many social problems. To this list, we can now add domestic violence. 96% of family violence resulting in injury to a spouse occurs after the date of separation. Thus, the greatest predictor of spousal violence is not fathers in the family: it is fathers outside the family.
Furthermore, domestic violence is not a gender issue. 58% of physical altercations resulting in injury to a spouse are initiated by the woman. An overwhelming array of other large-group studiess basically tell us that women and men equally cause and suffer the wounds of domestic violence.
Generally, spouses are not violent in marriage as is evidenced in the statistics. Why then, would the majority of family violence break out after the father is out of the home?
Laws theoretically intended to protect wives from violent husbands have had the effect of creating too many unsocialized ex-partners, the majority of whom were not violent until after their anticipated life-roles as wives and husbands were replaced by the unnatural legal fiction called "divorce". It is not suprising that violence explodes in the family destroyed. In many cases divorce is only a guarantee of planned poverty, years of ongoing litigation, and family structures poorly equipped to positively harness men and women to build a better future for our children.
Ingo Swann suggests that violence is a wake-up call to an ominous portent of things to come -- a last resort "reaction" to inertia -- a conflict about change. In this context, domestic violence is conflict over the ensuing changes in family and property rights that both partners fear. It is also an indirect reaction to governmental inertia to enact the economic and social reforms necessary to effectively end the problems of family breakdown and domestic violence.
Murray Straus, one of the first feminist researchers who called for women's protective laws realizes that a new direction must be followed in dealing with family violence. He realizes that little domestic violence is clinical "Bobbitry", recently arguing:
"It is important not to use findings based on cases known to the police or shelters for battered women as the basis for deciding how to deal with the relatively minor and infrequent violence found in the population in general. That type of unwarranted generalization is often made; it is known as the clinical fallacy".
James Q. Wilson, the noted criminologist at U.C.L.A., describes our dilemma best: "human progress depends decisively on socialization of the male". Husbandry is socialization of the male. Gross conversion of fatherhood to a crass demand for money is an act of social violence, only aggravated by sending males into an outer class subject to a constant invasion of rights. This is the desocialization of fathers into the unnecessary and troublesome male.
Today's crime statistics also show that women are the fastest-growing population in the penal system. This leads me to suspect that women also need the socialization that can only come within the intact two-parent family.
Certainly, we can do some wise things to protect ourselves from violence. But gun control is no more likely to reduce violence than the drug war was at stopping drug trafficking and use. Guns are not the problem, people are. Drugs are not the problem, people are. If guns and drugs were the problem, the 1950's would not have been the fruitful period it was.
When we finally decide to reform law and public policy to generally support the creation and maintenance of the intact two-parent families, we will finally be on the road to a resolution all these problems without hurting anyone in the process. We have lived life in this problem for thirty years, now we must begin to live it in the answer.
Family Law: Structural reforms are long overdue
We must reorient our legal and social programs to generally be supportive of the creation and maintenance of two-parent families. Treatable dysfunctions such as alcoholism, co-dependency, emotional abuse, and sex disorders must be preferentially treated within marriage, possibly under court auspices if petitioned for by a troubled spouse, rather than becoming frantic causes for divorce.
Contested divorce petitions must be subject to the Matthews v. Eldridge balancing test. This ruling created the balancing processes under which all courts operate in determining satisfaction of due process requirements in any case where a governmental action would deprive an individual of a constitutionally protected liberty or property interest. This case requires the court to balance the interests of the individual, which are: (a) the importance of the individual liberty or property interest at stake, and (b) the extent to which the requested procedure may reduce the possibility of erroneous decision-making; against the government's interest -- including the matter involved -- in avoiding the increased administrative and fiscal burdens which result from increased procedural requirements.
Marriage is a fundamental right, subject to "strict scrutiny" under the Constitution. Courts have long held that this right cannot be abridged by government. But divorce is another matter: Matthews v. Eldridge permits the state to assert it's interest in any matter before the court, which over the past thirty years of family law has been generally meant "protecting the government from a welfare problem". This thinking has been shortsighted, and has greatly propelled the conversion of fatherhood to a wage withholding order, motherhood to a struggle for survival, and childhood to children raising children.
But Matthews v. Eldridge is also the legal key to breaking the cycle of the family breakdown crisis. As we have seen, the state has a far greater interest in supporting two-parent families than in dissolving them.
For example, "state's interests" would be overridden by filing of an uncontested divorce. In contested cases, state's interest would be overridden upon a showing that a spouse (either petitioner or respondent) is either unwilling or unable to fulfill marital responsibilities to the other spouse, but at the cost of becoming the less-preferable parent for custody of children or distribution of assets. This would bring out the issues propelling the divorce, empower the courts to encourage each spouse to take personal responsibility for curative action, and hold the wayward spouse responsible for failure to follow through with marital responsibilities regardless of filing status as petitioner or respondent. This would effectively end the chronic abuses of the court system we see today.
We must now educate our embattled state-level administrative branch policy makers and state's attorneys to assert this interest in divorce matters at the state level, thus moving us towards badly needed family law reform from the inside out. Federal courts will uphold this, as they will uphold nearly anything to keep divorces from being heard at the federal level.
At the federal level, we should encourage federal judges take cases expressing state's interest in maintaining two-parent families. We must pressure political candidates to be unafraid to address these matters which most any taxpayer can understand through his or her pocketbook.
Conclusion: Our agenda for social change.
Issues of interest to the general public and a positive approach are mandatory when we talk about the issues here discussed in public. We must identify problems, and we should always follow through with positive solutions. We must not be afraid to discuss any issue, because nothing can change unless it is talked about.
Times of great public fear and confusion are when shortsighted legislative solutions are put into law. It is our responsibility as advocates for the two-parent family to make our answers widely available if we want a better future for ourselves and our children.
Before anything will improve, we must honestly acknowledge that we have only completed half of the formula for equality of the sexes. We have done the right thing giving women their esteem and position in the workplace, yet we have done nothing to guarantee the man's esteem and standing in his family. In fact, accumulated social data today tells us that fatherhood has been widely obliterated. Thus, the most important thing we can do to put an end to the family breakdown crisis is to address the fundamental cause of father absence.
We must now grant to fathers the same right to be in their families as we have granted to women in the workplace. No father should be banished from his family against his will without significant proven cause. No reasonable person can deny that this is the basic iniquity that has lead us to our present dilemma.
Government must also make great efforts to create private-sector working-class manufacturing jobs for working-class people, particularly in areas where welfare demands are high. Welfare reforms must go hand in hand.
Change will come slowly as we begin to educate the political and media worlds in a positive way. We must continue to push our specific legislative concerns behind the scenes, and be unafraid to apply political pressure by taking to the peaceful picket line when met with obstinate bureaucracy.
These ideas represent the highest forms of advocacy for children, families and national success in the world order. We should confidently stake a peremptory claim to our natural equal rights in the family, calling for the social and legal changes that clearly promise a beneficial healing for our nation.