Fathers once more the whipping boys of unfair system
Recent finger-pointing at absent fathers ignores a society that deprives men of their rights as parents, writes John Waters
THIS CHRISTMAS, we were again treated to a front-page attack on fathers, this time from a senior member of the St Vincent de Paul Society (SVP). "State must make absent fathers pay" roared the lead headline in a national newspaper over a report of remarks by the SVP's southern regional president, Brendan Dempsey.
Mothers are being left on their own to bring up children, while fathers shirk their responsibilities, said Dempsey. The SVP observes the consequences of this in the financial and emotional difficulties of single mothers left to fend on their own.
"There is a great need for children to have both parents, but it is not happening. There is a great want in these children."
It is true that many children are being damaged by virtue of being raised without fathers. Although many dubious agents try to put it about that such children do just as well as others, anyone with any sense or life experience knows that what Dempsey says in this context is correct.
But then he moved to his solution: "The father needs to at least make a financial contribution. If you look at the US, a payment is automatically deducted from a father's pay packet for maintenance from the day the child is born until they are 18."
This is true, too. In one quite recent case in California, a 16-year-old boy was ordered to pay maintenance to the 30-year-old woman who had become pregnant as a result of raping him.
There is, of course, a deeper truth here, and the interesting thing is that Dempsey is perfectly aware of it. "Cohabiting couples lose out on benefits so this can have the effect of discouraging the father," he observed. "There is no incentive for him to stay." This is one way of putting it. Another would be to say that there is no incentive for a mother not to banish a father from the presence of his child.
For a generation, the Irish State has been usurping the position of fathers by offering inducements to mothers to rear children alone. By asserting that she is rearing a child without the assistance of the other parent, a mother qualifies for an array of benefits and allowances.
A single father has no automatic rights to his child. To obtain the minimum legal status, he needs the permission of the mother, a court or both. Fathers who seek a formal involvement in the lives of their children are brutalised and terrorised by a barbaric family law system. Many who hope to muddle along on an informal basis are reduced to the emotional condition of yo-yos by mothers confident the system will back their every whim and caprice.
To compete with the State and remain formally part of his own family, a single father needs to be earning at least twice the average industrial wage.
In perhaps a majority of cases, fathers either illegally cohabit with the mother or make under-the-table payments to the mother as, in effect, ransom payments to ensure they can continue having covert relationships with their own children.
Implicitly acknowledging these truths, the late Séamus Brennan, when minister for family affairs some years ago, spoke about the possibility of replacing the present one-parent family payment with a parental allowance for low-income families with young children. This, he said, would remove the incentive for single parents to live separately. Nothing has come of this proposal.
I shall not patronise Brendan Dempsey by saying that he means well. But what he proposes would not lead to the creation of the more just and caring nation to which the SVP aspires. In fact, if he were to succeed in this present initiative, Dempsey would do harm that would outweigh everything achieved by the SVP in the 175 years of its existence.
And it would take very little to persuade the present desperate and incompetent Government to turn the brutish and moronic instruments of State against a generation of young men guilty only of having been born into a time of unparalleled hostility towards adult males.
There can be no moral obligation on single fathers until they are extended rights that honour and underpin their relationships with their children.
Dempsey has proposed, in effect, a tax on fertilisation. This is how many of the more "progressive" voices and agencies have come to see fatherhood, but it is a little surprising to hear it from a representative of a Christian organisation. Is it really part of the Christian proposal that adult males be reduced to the existential status of ATMs?
I do not suggest that Irish men never walk away from their children. But even those who do so cannot be said to have made free choices: to some extent, they follow a pattern dictated less by individual conscience than cultural conditioning. A society that honoured fatherhood would not have this problem.
A society that makes it almost impossible for men to stay in the lives of their children has no right to judge those who choose footlooseness and alienation rather than insanity and despair.