The Dignity of Fatherhood and a Call for Reform

By Leon R. Koziol, J.D.

This article was originally submitted and featured as a special to the Utica Observer-Dispatch on Father’s Day, June 21, 2009.

As families across America celebrate Father’s Day, this year, they will be honoring a right that our Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized as the “oldest of fundamental liberty interests.” More than a freedom protected under the American Constitution, it is an inalienable right that derives from a time immemorial, a unique human relationship that has produced the very civilization we take for granted today.

Unfortunately, the proud heritage of fatherhood has undergone severe and undeserved disparagement  in modern times. As our world morphs itself into an institutionalized mindset that supports a growing variety of parental substitutes, fathers are increasingly viewed as superfluous, dispensable and even antiquated.

The consequence of this is already being felt in our communities. A “Fatherless America” has been directly linked to increases in teen pregnancies, pathological behavior and a variety of social ills that have combined to reduce the productivity of this nation on a grand scale.   Parents today are spending more time in domestic relations courts than they are in schools, churches and workplaces.

This can be traced to a multi-billion dollar industry that feeds upon the demise of parent-child relations.  Statistically, fathers and children have been most victimized as the Census Bureau continues to report that between 80 and 90 percent of all parents paying “child support” are fathers.

In any other civil rights context, such reports would produce extreme outrage.  However, in a leadership environment where one political party is able to demean the other as a group of “angry white men”, needful reform becomes remote.   Fatherhood has become a suspect class of gender discrimination and the last vestige of institutionalized prejudice remaining unchecked in America today.

True reform begins not with a politically correct speech that one year ago laid the blame predominantly upon absentee fathers.  Policymakers at all levels and branches of government must unravel the draconian measures undertaken to locate, stigmatize and criminalize countless mainstream fathers that have been arbitrarily removed from meaningful relationships with their children.

This silent practice comes from domestic relations policy that continues to embrace long discredited socialist philosophy.  A state created “custodial parent” is “awarded” with formula driven welfare payments that have no child-based accountability.  The payor, typically a male parent,  is marginalized to “visitor” status and suppressed as a “non-custodial” creature of “law” in order to maintain a regular flow of money payments.

Such payments are necessary to support a growing bureaucracy of lawyers, forensic specialists and service providers.  Title IV-D of the Social Security Act provides tremendous incentive payments for the states to increase the number and magnitude of “child support” orders mass produced in our state courts.  A full range of protections under our Bill of Rights is trampled in the process.  Meanwhile, the principal protectors of our Constitution in federal court remain dormant under a host of abstension, deference and state immunity doctrines.

Collectively, this has resulted in a barbaric process unknown to common law.   A long term monetary “award” is offered and potential “custody war” thrust upon all parenting cases regardless of any joint capacity to rear children in a separated environment.  A custodial parent is given no incentive under this oppositional framework to involve the other parent meaningfully in his children’s lives out of fear of losing the same children to a “custody transfer.”

Above quoted phrases denote the propaganda employed to sustain this multi-billion dollar child industry.  The “best interests” of our children are actually being promoted under a language scheme historically committed to prisons, funerals and lawsuits.  Indeed, it influences otherwise model parents to conform to this institutional framework in a manner wholly foreign to a natural order of childrearing.

While it may take a village to strengthen our resolve as a nation, it takes a committed family unit of diverse types to properly raise our children. This requires our leadership to restore the dignity of fatherhood so that men are not fleeing those same villages.  In the words of one progressive Family Court Judge, this custodial framework has “outlived its usefulness.” Debtor prisons and parent locator services will not justify the resulting oppression any more than slavery and an underground railroad did in a not-so-distant past.