Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Democratic Party on Fatherhood

Did you know that the Democratic Party platform, for the first time ever, has a plank that addresses fatherhood? Here it is, in its entirety:

Too many fathers are missing–missing from too many lives and too many homes. Children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and are more likely to commit crime, drop out of school, abuse drugs and end up in prison. We need more fathers to realize that responsibility does not end at conception. We need them to understand that what makes a man is not the ability to have a child–it's the courage to raise one. We will support fathers by providing transitional training to get jobs, removing tax penalties on married families, and expanding maternity and paternity leave. We will reward those who are responsibly supporting their children by giving them a tax credit, crack down on men who avoid child support payments, and we will ensure that payments go directly to families instead of bureaucracies.


On a policy level, I have no problem with any of this--quite a few of these items are critical, especially for poor families. There are some items missing, such as legal protections for caregiving parents of both genders, but I don't hear the "pro-family" Republican Party pushing expanded paternity leave. (For exegesis on the policy details, see The American Prospect and Ta-Nehisi Coates at his Atlantic Monthly blog.)

But note where the plank begins, with deadbeat dads. Thus fatherhood is framed, first and foremost, as a problem to be solved. Note as well that throughout the paragraph, fatherhood is primarily defined as breadwinning; nearly all these policies are focused on funneling money from the father to the mother and children.

I would argue that, with fatherhood, an once of prevention is worth a pound of cure: If we want fathers to stay involved, emotionally and financially, we must make sure that they are involved from the beginning, by providing, for example, paternity leave and eliminating the factors, such as informal on-the-job penalties for prioritizing caregiving, that drive wedges between fathers from families. If we do that, I think we'll ultimately need to spend slightly less time collecting child support.

What if the plank had instead read this way, with a hopeful, inspiring vision of fatherhood, explicitly connected to a public policy that could support that vision:

Fathers play essential roles in their families as both breadwinners and caregivers. But too often, government has failed to support fathers in fulfilling those twin roles. We will support fathers by expanding maternity and paternity leave, requiring that employers pro-rate benefits for part-time employees, removing tax penalties on both married and non-married families, and providing anti-discrimination protection for parents who are primarily responsible for child or elder care. As we enact these public policy reforms, however, we need more fathers to realize that responsibility does not end at conception. Too many fathers are missing–missing from too many lives and too many homes. Children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and are more likely to commit crime, drop out of school, abuse drugs and end up in prison. We need them to understand that what makes a man is not the ability to have a child–it's the courage to raise one. We will reward those who are responsibly supporting their children by giving them a tax credit, crack down on men who avoid child support payments, and we will ensure that payments go directly to families instead of bureaucracies. Above all, however, we recognize that fathers must be more than just cash machines; they must also be involved in their families. We call upon fathers to fulfill that roll, and we call upon employers to support them.


What do you think?

[Originally posted to my Mothering magazine blog.]

2 comments:

Solo Dad said...

We had already broken up when she found out she was pregnant. It hasn't been easy, but I've been a 50/50 dad since birth. Let me tell you that there are TONS of things that keep dads from getting involved; and tons of things that work against single parents. Here are some things I'd like to see:

1) Tax reform. Currently even in a 50/50 custody situation only one parent can claim the child, and only that parent can deduct child care expenses or participate in a dependent care spending account, and then only the expenses that the one parent actually pays! So if you split it 50/50, then you can claim your 50%, 1/2 of the time. When money as a single parent is tight, this sure as heck doesn't help!

Solution: Allow parents with at least 40% custody to claim their child and participate in the tax benefits for child care expenses.

2) Make it a Dad's right to be present for the birth of their child. Even if it means just standing there silently. Nobody (not even the almighty Mom) should be allowed to deny that right.

3) Eliminate maternal bias in the courts.

4) Give soon-to-be Dads better resources. Mentorship, books, websites, WHATEVER! How many books are there dedicated to single pregnant dads on Amazon.com? ZERO. How many websites are oriented towards single pregnant dads that stress the positive things about being a Dad (rather than custody, child support, threats, etc)?

I think that was the hardest part of all -- feeling totally alone.

Marvin said...

I am an outsider looking in. I am a Filipino living in the Philippines. This can be cultural perhaps, but I am shocked to see that 90% of the discussion is oriented towards monetary matters. Can't blame you completely though. It is important.

But it is not the most important. Raising kids as a father is most important. That means not just providing money, but also time and affection. But then how can the government enact father-child affection?

The closest I can see towards this direction is the paternity leave you are advocating. But then is that it? I have many relatives in the US and in a way our clan cannot help but be concerned.