The Detroit News
Wed. Oct. 21, 1998,
Book rebuts divorced dad myths
By Cathy Young / The Detroit News
In a society sensitive to stereotypes, few groups have as bad an image as
the divorced father. Despite a few positive portrayals in movies like
Mrs. Doubtfire, he is generally seen as a cad who walks out on his wife
and kids to vacation in Hawaii with a blonde half his age.
Divorced Dads: Shattering the Myths (Penguin Putnam), written by Arizona
State University psychologist Sanford Braver with Diane O'Connell, is a
powerful and well-documented brief in defense of this despised creature.
Braver, who has conducted an eight-year study of parents after divorce,
knocks down the stereotypes one by one.
To begin with, most divorced fathers don't "walk out." At least
two-thirds of the time, the mother is not only the one who files for
divorce but the one who wants out of the marriage. And it's usually not,
as many assume, because the father beats her, drinks or cheats; most
commonly, mothers cite such reasons as "growing apart" or "not feeling
loved or appreciated."
Nor is it true that, once divorced, fathers are likely to desert their
children emotionally and financially. Most fathers who are steadily
employed consistently pay child support (their record is especially
impressive if one looks not only at mothers' reports, on which most
statistics are based, but at fathers' own reports) and work to stay in
their children's lives. So-called "runaway dads" are often "driven-away
dads": they vanish because their ex-wives keep them away.
Finally, there's the mother of all divorce myths: that men benefit
economically from divorce, while women and children are impoverished. The
famous factoid from Lenore Weitzman's 1985 book The Divorce Revolution -
women's standard of living drops 73 percent in the year after divorce,
that of men goes up 42 percent - was exposed as erroneous two years ago.
But her critics' alternative calculations still showed a drop for women
and a rise for men.
All those researchers, Braver shows, made one big mistake: they didn't
factor in the tax code, which favors the single custodial parent. They
also omitted such things as the father's spending on children during
visitation. After these adjustments, the economic effects of divorce are
similar for both sexes; mothers may even have a slight advantage.
Weitzman and other feminist scholars have claimed that divorce
settlements are tilted in favor of fathers because men are favored by a
male-dominated system and are more aggressive negotiators. Yet on
average, mothers are more satisfied with divorce settlements than
fathers. Ten percent of mothers in Braver's sample thought the system was
slanted in favor of fathers, while 75 percent of fathers thought it was
slanted in favor of mothers - and more than a quarter of mothers agreed!
Braver doesn't paint all divorced fathers as martyrs; he certainly
doesn't paint all divorced moms as vindictive shrews. He admits that
irresponsible or abusive 'bad dads' exist, and that sometimes the mother
tries in vain to keep the father involved. But Divorced Dads argues that
these are the exceptions.
Our public policy has focused on hunting "deadbeat dads" while
disregarding the bigger problem of disenfranchised dads. What are the
solutions? Encouraging mediation instead of litigation. Programs to help
divorced fathers remain active parents. A presumption of joint legal
custody and substantial contact with both parents, rebuttable by evidence
that this is not in the child's best interest. (It's worth noting that a
shared parental responsibility bill has been stuck in the House Judiciary
Committee of the Michigan state legislature for a year and a half.)
Braver's work is unlikely to receive the same acclaim as Weitzman's
now-discredited research, because it challenges our cultural prejudices
rather than reinforce them. Both liberals and conservatives have promoted
the image of men as the bad guys in divorce - the former because it
squares with their view of women as victims of male oppression, the
latter because it squares with their view that men are biologically
predisposed to sow their wild oats. From now on, any politician or
commentator who traffics in these stereotypes should be required to read
Cathy Young is vice-president of the Women's Freedom Network. Her column
is published on Tuesday. You may write her at The Detroit News, Editorial
Page, 615 W. Lafayette Blvd., Detroit, Mich. 48226. Her e-mail address is
Kirkus Reviews provides more information to buttress Ms. Young's summary:
From Kirkus Reviews , July 15, 1998
"Bad dads'' have been getting a bad rap, says Braaver, who offers results of a federally funded study showing that some divorced fathers really do care about their children. In 1985, Braver (Psychology/Arizona State Univ.) began following more than 1,000 families in Maricopa County, Ariz. (which includes Phoenix), who had filed for divorce but whose marriages were not yet dissolved. His purpose was to put some meat on the bones of the numbers that pointed to divorced dads as abandoning their children financially and emotionally, and to find out why this was happening, if it was. He and his colleagues discovered the numbers were wrong. The Census Bureau figures that had fueled tough new laws (and expensive bureaucracies) to enforce child support were based on interviews only with custodial parents (usually mothers). Then, too, census researchers combined statistics concerning families of divorce with those of never-married single parents to create what Braver calls the myth of deadbeat dads. The author's research demonstrates that the divorced father's unemployment is the most important factor in nonpayment of child support. Myths under attack: the "disappearing dad,'' who initiates the divorce and then deserts his children; and the widely cited 73 percent drop in standard of living that divorced mothers and children suffer (an alleged error in arithmetic by Harvard researcher Lenore Weitzman). Braver's calculations indicate that post-divorce mothers and fathers share about the same standard of living, at least in the beginning. Although he's not above citing outmoded figures and attitudes himself, Braver does demonstrate that much of the negative view of divorced fathers is dated. The book concludes with suggestions for reform of custody policies and for programs, including extensive counseling and mediation, to either prevent divorce or help both parents minimize its impact on their children. Male martyrdom may be overstated here, but new material suggests that everyone, including fathers, suffers in divorce. -- Copyright ©1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. (provided by Amazon.com)
What does the Men's HOTLINE have to say about it? "Run, don't walk, to the bookstore and buy Divorced Dads: Shattering the
Myths by Sanford Braver, PhD. Buy extra copies for judges, key lawyers, and members of your state legislature. Send a copy to your Governor, the Speaker of your House, and the presiding office of your Senate. Send a copy to each journalist writing on family issues in your local newspapers. Send copies to the editors of those newspapers."