This blog posting at the New York Times Motherlode site should be required reading for anyone who wants to say he/she has an informed opinion on parenting matters (New York Times, 6/17/10).
I’ve written a lot about the countless ways fathers are marginalized and excluded from their children’s lives by mothers, by family law, by state and federal agencies, by popular culture, by tradition. But few things tell it like what Douglas L. wrote in the linked-to piece.
The day Douglas L. learned he was going to be a father, he wrote a letter to his barely-conceived child telling her he would be the best father he could be, the father he’d always dreamed of being. That was on March 11, 2009. By December of the same year, he had moved out of the house his child and her mother lived in and filed an action in court to salvage what rights he could. The case is pending. It took six months to get a hearing. During that time Douglas L.’s “partner” allowed him to see his child a total of 16 times for about four hours each visit. That’s about twice every three weeks.
Douglas L.’s story is one of maternal gatekeeping abetted by every single person he came into contact with at the hospital and afterwards. He writes,
As I approach my first Father’s Day, I am still trying to define my role as a father. As with parenting, there are no laws, rules or guidelines to help me, as a father, define and act upon my role. As I have come to learn, the reason for this ambivalence is because my role is defined by an entity that I can neither control nor influence. So what is this controlling entity? Society? No. Religion? Nope. Biology? Please. The answer . . . the mother of my child.
Link to the article and read it. This is a man who dreamed of fatherhood. He’s bright, committed, loving, nurturing. Would you like to know what that gets him? Zilch. It gets him what it gets every other father, pretty much irrespective of their level of competency and responsibility – every other weekend and maybe an overnight. (But of course, even that is subject to Mom’s decision. If she “allows” his visitation, fine. If she doesn’t, the chances of a court making her pay any price whatsoever are slim.) The tectonic plates of maternal gatekeeping, law and informal policies have moved inexorably to take his child from him.
Douglas L. describes how, from the first instant of his daughter’s life, everything told him he was an interloper, a trespasser on ground that belonged to someone else. Like the steady drip, drip, drip of water torture, bits of that message began to arrive; at the hospital, his daughter’s crib didn’t have his name on it, just the mother’s; he was allowed to feed her but once;
Next was the paperwork. The nurse handed me two forms for my signature, and she handed the mother eight. Mine were the acknowledgment of paternity form and a document asking about my background – age, educational level, profession, my cultural status (I don’t like the term “race”). That was it.
The mother’s paperwork included health care information, legal notice of her rights and responsibilities, assistance to secure child support, the birth-certificate form that did not need my signature. Including my name on the birth certificate is optional; it’s contingent on my signing the acknowledgment of paternity form and waiting 60 days before it would take effect.
At home, the maternal gatekeeping continued.
The beginning of the end was on a nice fall day and I wanted to take the baby for a walk. She had recently been nursed so that was not an issue; however, the mother felt that she needed to be there with us. As if I were going to do something inappropriate or could not handle a situation. So she came along, and eventually elbowed me to take control of the stroller. What then could I do? If I responded physically, off to jail I would go. If I let her have the stroller without incident, I would cede my rights to make decisions for my daughter. I reluctantly chose option No. 2.
Douglas L.’s piece is the answer to Tasha Kheiriddin who thinks that all mothers are like her – willing, even happy for her child’s father to share in it’s rearing. His answer shouts the truth – that many, many mothers aren’t so accomodating and in any case, it shouldn’t be up to them. Fathers need parental rights that are legally enforceable by them and them alone. Only then will children again have fathers in their lives.
And Douglas L.’s article is the answer to “Dad Camp” and all those in the “responsible dads” group who claim that the only things standing between fathers and children are the dad’s bad habits. So what are Douglas L.’s bad habits? Show us his irresponsibility. He’s a strongly motivated, thoroughly qualified guy. He’s exactly the type of man we want in children’s lives. And he’s barely hanging on. If sociology is any guide, he’ll be a Disneyland Dad inside of a year or so, a virtual nonentity in his own child’s life. Then President Obama and ignorant pundits everywhere can tsk-tsk about the tragedy of another child without a father.
Link to the article; print it out; stick it on your wall. Read it to the next person you hear who pontificates about deadbeat dads. And the next person and the next person.
Douglas L.’s “partner” hasn’t hired someone to kill him; she hasn’t moved to another country; she hasn’t accused him of some form of abuse. Those cases are lurid enough to make the news. Douglas L.’s case never would. It’s just the everyday story of a decent man losing his daughter because her mother decided it should be that way and everybody else went along for the ride.
Why are there so many children without fathers? Douglas L. has the answer.