Monday, May 15, 2006

NOW vs. Fatherhood Movement. I've been a father for 14 years and I've been writing about the dad experience for the past year. When I started writing about fatherhood, I thought the topic was pretty much like (pardon the pun) motherhood and apple pie. Everyone would be for it. As it turn out that fatherhood, like so many public policy initiatives in the U.S., has become politicized. I'm still learning the ins and outs of the debate, but apparently the NOW (National Organization for Women) has made some statements against the National Fatherhood Initiative. An article in the curent issue of The Gotham Gazette reports on NYC's fatherhood initiative and notes the NOW criticism.

While there is growing support for the idea of government programs encouraging fathers to be financially and emotionally invested in their children’s lives, there are also skeptics.

The National Organization for Women has raised concerns that fatherhood initiatives may divert money and efforts away from helping single mothers, who most often bear the responsibility for raising and supporting their children. And the organization is particularly suspicious of the federal policy that aims to promote the institution of marriage as part of its fatherhood efforts, arguing that it discriminates against nontraditional families.

“We should care about supporting the well-being of all families, regardless of how they are constituted,” Jacqueline Payne, policy attorney for the NOW Legal Defense Fund testified before Congress.

While some organizations like the non-profit group National Fatherhood Initiative have been instrumental in promoting men’s programs, other fathers’ rights advocates say the money and effort would be better spent reforming custody and child support laws, which they argue are rooted in a 1950s idea of family.

“We send these guys to all of these classes so they can learn to be involved with their children,” said Jim Hayes, president of the Fathers and Families in New York. “And many find that there is a whole system that prevents them from doing that.”

Even some advocates for the poor argue that the focus on fathers may be too narrow and question the notion that, if fathers just pay their child support or visit more often with their children, the problems of poverty will be addressed.

I'm for fatherhood, but I do agree we have to get away from the "1950s idea" (e.g. Ozzie and Harriet) of family. This is the era of the working mother, the dual-income couple and, increasingly, the fatherless child. We've got to find some new ways to get men, particularly men of color, back into the picture with their kids. P Diddy did such a great job with Rock the Vote, maybe we could get him to join in. We could call it Rock the Cradle (just kidding).


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