Divorced fathers revolt


WASHINGTON -- Dr. Ned Holstein, a physician and president of the Massachusetts-based Fathers and Families, is projecting numbers, graphs and percentages on the screen. He uses such words as strategy, constituency and, yes, even revolution.

No longer a glossary word in history books, the r-word is being revived by divorced fathers who, impatient with lawyers, legislators and judges, are ready to bloody their white flags.

One cannot exaggerate the extent of anger, pain and frustration among the hundreds of thousands -- maybe millions -- of men who now comprise what is loosely known as the fatherhood movement.

I've met many of them, talked to them, listened. Dr. Holstein's presentation was one of many at the recent Children's Rights Council's annual meeting in Alexandria, Va. The CRC is one of the oldest, better organized of the 500 or so "fathers" groups in the United States that deal with issues of divorce and family.

I qualify "fathers" because, though most groups focus on men's issues, many of their members are women who also believe that children need, want and deserve fathers.

I attended the CRC meeting as an unpaid speaker and listened to Dr. Holstein's presentation with a mixture of concern and sadness, but more importantly, of apprehension. I believe in the sincerity of these men, in their desire to be a part of their children's lives, in their sense that they've been mistreated by courts that award children like chattel to mothers and treat fathers as mere financial providers.

; We're all acting badly within a system that treats divorcing couples as enemies.

Concern and sadness are reasonable responses to that understanding and to the fact that 82 percent of children from divorced families have little more than a visitation relationship with their fathers. According to the 1989 Census, 37.9 percent of divorced fathers have no access to their children.

Granted, not all these disenfranchised dads are model citizens. Some really are bad guys who don't care about their kids, beat up their wives or shirk duty and responsibility.

But experience and the preponderance of research do not support the widespread belief that most men are deadbeat, abusive and neglectful.

"You can only torture people for so long," says Stuart Miller, senior legislative analyst for the American Fathers Coalition.

"You can't steal something as important as someone's children and money and property and think you can walk away without any repercussions."

Violence is inevitable, he says, as evidenced by the American courthouse decor these days. Call it police-baroque. Only the Berlin Wall had more barricades, metal detectors and armed guards.

We're all acting badly within a system that treats divorcing couples as enemies, courtrooms as war zones, judges as arbiters of issues more emotional and psychological than legal, and children as hostages to be traded for dollars.

The divorce system is morally bankrupt and needs reinventing before talk of revolution becomes action.

Kathleen Parker is an Orlando (Fla.) Sentinel columnist.

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