By Darryl James
Some phrases fall too quickly off of the lips of the masses.
Take “Deadbeat Dad,” for example.
How many of us even bother to think about other people who could be found “Deadbeat,” aside from fathers?
For example, our very own society is a Deadbeat.
First, because the overwhelming majority of children in single parent homes are born to parents who are already living in poverty, society’s “remedies” often do more harm than good, with the net result of fewer fathers in the lives of children.
Those “remedies” pursue the assigned father to reimburse the state for benefits provided to the mother, sending some men to jail for their inability to pay, and forcing others out of the workforce, by taking away their driving privileges, leaving many of them to choose to quit their job or leave the state when they cannot pay.
But if we pay taxes into a pool to be called on in times of need, then the overseers of those tax dollars would do greater good for society by assuring that custody agreements are being complied with and that the goal of more fathers in the lives of children be paramount.
But there are no state programs to enforce custody and no incentives for being present in the lives of children, only penalties for failure or inability to pay.
This makes society a “Deadbeat Society,” because millions of children are left without fathers in their lives while the focus is on making them pay, ostensibly so that society does not have to.
There are laws to assign a father the financial responsibility, laws to access his bank account to take the money and laws to penalize him further by taking away his driver’s license or imprisoning him.
Yet, there are no laws to address the very real phenomena of the “Deadbeat Mom,” a mother who has a child without having the financial wherewithal to support the child, even in tandem with child support, if collected.
Society will continue to diminish itself if all single mothers are looked upon as mere victims who have been abandoned by the male parent, or as strong, heroic women who stoically shoulder the parental burden alone, instead of viewing a portion of them in realistic terms as Deadbeat Moms who give little forethought to parenthood, viewing men as sexual partners and/or ATM machines.
But that isn’t a discussion that many people want to have.
If a woman knowingly has unprotected sex and a full term birth with a partner who was underemployed or unemployed to start with, why shouldn’t she be taken to task for bringing a child into the world without properly preparing for that child with emotional and financial support?
That has been the focus when it comes to fathers who have failed to prepare emotionally and financially for their children.
Even Michael Jackson understood that in the ‘eighties when he admonished in Wanna Be Startin’ Something: “If you can’t feed your baby, then don’t have a baby.”
If we’re going to address men who don’t pay and don’t show up, we should also address the lifestyles and habits of the women who should be equally prepared and responsible.
For example, we should examine the rate of unpaid child support among non-custodial mothers.
According to the United States Census Bureau, non-custodial mothers failed to make child support payments 37% of the time, compared to 24% of the time for men.
Many of these are “Deadbeat Moms.”
Let’s talk about who the so-called “Deadbeat Dads” are. There is no one simple catch-all description.
In some cases, men who father children abdicate all aspects of their responsibility.
In other cases, men pay the amount of child support proscribed by law and never participate in the lives of those children.
The men in both categories are Deadbeat Dads.
But, some men are paying child support and making every human effort to participate in their children’s lives, but are actually being prevented from seeing their children. Yet, they, too, are labeled “Deadbeat Dads.”
In still other cases, some men care for their children daily, participating in the rearing of their offspring and are just unable to pay the legally mandated child support. Some are doing it well and some are even doing it without the mothers, but they get lumped into the Deadbeat Dad category as well.
However, it may surprise some of us who care that according to the Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement, 70% of fathers who are in arrears on child support earn $10,000 a year or less. Fathers who earn above $40,000 a year account for less than 4% of the arrears.
And, also for those who care, many of those fathers still make contributions to their children’s lives, in the form of groceries, toys, diapers and baby furniture. Many non-custodial fathers actually share in the daily care of the child, which is perhaps more crucial than being assigned child support that may financially overwhelm them.
The problem is that once child support is assigned to men earning very little salary, absenteeism increases.
There is no accounting for a father’s contributions to the child if he is not paying the assigned child support.
The question may be posed: “Why not pay child support instead of making purchases?” And the answer is simple: Primarily, the purchases may be less than the assigned child support and according to surveys, many fathers feel connected to their children when they are able to show up with items they have paid for.
Again, these purchases as well as any time spent with the child are completely discounted if the assigned child support is not paid.
The point is not to exonerate Deadbeat Fathers, but to examine all sides, because for far too long, society has pointed the finger of responsibility solely at men, leading to many of them being imprisoned and many of them otherwise falling out of society. Yet, at the end of the day, there are still children growing up without fathers and there are still single mothers on Welfare.
If we focus on getting more fathers involved in the lives of their children, as opposed to viewing them as cash machines, we will end up with more positive male role models in the lives of the women and children who need them.
At that point, there will be fewer instances of people asking “Who’s Your Daddy?”
Sadly, there is overwhelming focus on making men pay, as opposed to making sure that more fathers are present in the lives of children.
Darryl James is an award-winning author of the powerful new anthology “Notes From The Edge.” Now, listen to Darryl live on BlogTalkRadio.com/DarrylJames every Monday from 7-9pm, PST. View previous installments of this column at www.bridgecolumn.proboards36.com. Reach James at firstname.lastname@example.org.