‘Deadbeat dads’ is term unfair to caring fathers
The general perception of child support in non-intact families is that, after divorce or other family court actions, fathers usually are expected to maintain their own household and provide payments to custodial mothers in their homes. The problem with this typical court assignment is that it often restricts a woman’s ability to work full time and, just as often, it places a hard budget burden on men who don’t enjoy enough time with their children.
Several decades after the last feminist movement, the majority of mothers do work outside the home today, either part time or full time. Economic inflation, the cost of health care and the subsequent need for day care, however, have outpaced the benefits of two-parent incomes in most families, intact or otherwise.
Feminists often complain that gender bias and wage disparities in the workplace prevent women from becoming self-sufficient and realizing their full potential as contributing members of society. The larger truth is that, if mothers were ordered to equal child placement in most family courts, they would have much more time to achieve those economic goals.
Family breakups are generally just as financially difficult for fathers as for mothers. Women’s advocates often claim that divorced or separated mothers are quickly reduced to poverty, while newly single fathers enjoy large increases in their standards of living. Once again, this is outright nonsense. The average, wage-earning father can ill afford to maintain his separate household with wage deductions of 19 percent or more, as well as a share of medical and educational expenses for his children.
Media reports refer to many fathers as “deadbeat dads.” Most single fathers are either on schedule or at least making their best efforts to pay their court-ordered obligations. Up until the recent, nationwide economic collapse, the huge majority of these noncompliant men were low-income parents who are most likely to be unreliably or irregularly employed.
It’s doubly insulting to call a man a deadbeat dad in the public arena. Those who use such angry, insensitive language don’t know the complete history of his marriage, his divorce, his health status or his employment. Like the N-word for black people or the B-word for women, this term demeans his value as a father who loves and cares about his children. It also implies that he’s a stereotype, no better than all the other dads who won’t, or can’t, support their children, especially in the current recession amid an employment market that’s been steadily outsourcing jobs to places such as China, India and Mexico for several decades.
It’s time to stop scapegoating fathers who, all too often, have lost jobs with competitive wages and benefits to business forces beyond their control. Non-intact families in the future will be much healthier economically when both parents enjoy more equal time with their children and, as a result, both mothers and fathers will have the time to pursue worthwhile, self-supporting employment.
Joseph C. Vaughn of Milton is a former board member and peer counselor for Wisconsin Fathers for Children and Families, www.wisconsinfathers.org. He can be reached by phone at (608) 580-0780; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.