DON MATHIS--AN ELOQUENT VOICE FOR NONCUSTODIAL FATHERS AND A KEY PLAYER IN THE FATHERHOOD MOVEMENT: D.A. SEARS
Where did Mr. Mathis grow up? Where was he educated?
“My family of origin has Arkansas roots. My dad served in the Army when I was growing up so I lived in a variety of places in Arkansas and Texas -- mostly in San Antonio. I married at age 40 so I started my family of destiny later than most. My son is 15 now; I'm almost 57. So he keeps me young in a variety of ways. I studied journalism at San Antonio College and have taken several courses at the University of Mexico at San Antonio as well as Trinity University,” Mr. Mathis responded.
When I asked Mr. Mathis to talk about the role models he had as he made the journey from childhood to manhood, without hesitation, he pointed to his father:
“Parents can teach by commission or omission. I credit my father with both. He instilled in me a love for the outdoors and conservation. But as he often put business first, I resolved not to be like him in that respect. My first memory of him is when he returned from Korea when I was two. I am so blessed to have been able to be involved in the life of my son during his most formative years. I’d like to note that my poem, ‘And I Fell In Love,’ would be a good side-bar.”
Who or what inspires him?
“I am inspired by men who struggle to remain involved in their children's lives. So many men are ordered to live apart from their kids. Uncaring judges and vindictive ex-wives cause so much alienation of the noncustodial parent and child bond, it is a wonder more men do not drop out altogether. The men that make the most of their meager time with their children are a model for me,” Mathis replied.
Mathis is one of the key players in the Fatherhood Movement. How and why did he decide to become involved in the Fatherhood Movement? And what is a Fourteen Percenter?
“When I was 'growing' through my divorce, I became a support group 'junkie.' I found great camaraderie and learned lots of lessons from people who were trying to turn the stumbling blocks of failed relationships into building blocks for future endeavors. SOLOS -- Singles Overcoming Life's Obstacles -- was a group in Seguin, Texas. They used Bruce Fisher's book, Rebuilding When Your Relationship Ends, as a guide and published a monthly newsletter. About the same time, I discovered a newsletter for single custodial mothers. I realized there was a need for a publication dedicated to strengthen the bond between the noncustodial dad and child, because this was the part of the family most susceptible to destruction. So in 1997, The Fourteen Percenter was born. Its name comes from the fact that I see my child two days out of every fourteen. That's about fourteen percent. That's not enough. My involvement with the child's right to have two equal parents has grown ever since.”
What is the Fatherhood Movement ? Why is there a need for a Fatherhood Movement? What are its goals?
“The Fatherhood Movement is personal,” says Mathis. “It is one man's decision to be the best father he can be. The Fatherhood Movement is a worldwide phenomenon, too. Dads across the nation and the world are seeing the inequalities in the 'justice' system when it comes to single mothers and fathers. Men are joining together to combat discrimination against dads in custody courts. Men are fighting on their own -- in courtrooms and in letter-writing campaigns -- to combat gender stereotypes. One of my goals is to dispel the notion that only one parent can be nurturing. The majority of child abuse is perpetrated by mothers, but this is rarely admitted. A man’s traditional role was that of provider and protector. But due to the disenfranchisement of dads, divorced men are now removed from the day-to-day lives of their children and relegated to only providers -- child support providers. Equality was a long time coming for oppressed minorities. I fear it may take generations to bring equality to custody courts, too – but that is my goal.”
The discussion moved to Mathis’ role as a publisher of an international Fatherhood publication. Why did he decide to title his publication, The Fourteen Percenter?
“I see my child two days out of every fourteen; that's about 14%. That's not enough. My child is a ‘fourteen percenter’, too. My publication is for men and women who want to make the best of the meager time they share with their kids. The Fourteen Percenter also strives to seek changes in the legal system to facilitate more time between the child and the noncustodial parent. The publication celebrates its eleventh year in April 2008,” Mathis remarked.
In October 2007, Denmark made “50/50 Equal Parenting” the law of the land. Divorced Danish Fathers and Mothers share custody of their children equally. As a result, lengthy, acrimonious and costly custody battles are no longer waged in Danish courts. A number of states in the United States have embarked upon an “Equal Parenting” Initiative. What is fueling this move? What is “equal parenting”?
“I was unaware of the Danish change in custody legislation. I believe it is a good thing. The current system in the United States is 'winner-take-all.’ Whoever 'wins' custody of the child also is 'awarded' child support. So this keeps a high level of acrimony in many divorces. The lawyers are always the winner in the current system. But there is always a loser too -- the children. They lose normal contact with one parent as a matter of 'justice.' Sometimes, children of divorce lose the custodial parent as well because she often has to return to work.”
Is there a gender war? If so, what is fueling it? What impact does the gender war have on male-female relationships, parenting and the divorce rate? How do we arrange for a “cease-fire”?
“The gender war plays a minor role in divorcing situations. I believe the 'Winner-Take-All’ concept is the fuel for nasty divorces. And there are many. It is said that in criminal courts, every one tries to paint himself in a beautiful light. But in custody courts, every one tries to paint the other party in an ugly light. False allegations are routine in a ploy to gain the upper ground. And men become so busy trying to disprove such allegations, that they have no time to show what good and loving dads they are. The concept of fifty-fifty shared parenting would change a lot of this.”
Our parents, grandparents, and great grandparents – under the most difficult set of circumstances and without access to the educational and career opportunities that many of us enjoy -- managed to create and implement plans that moved their families forward. They held their families and their marriages together. On the other hand, we have access to educational and career opportunities that our parents, grandparents and great grandparents could only dream about. Yet, many of us, are struggling to keep our families and our marriages together. What’s wrong with this picture? What are we doing wrong?
“Our parents' generation had a lot of stigmas, some bad but some good. A divorced person was shunned by society by and large. And there were no incentives to divorce in olden times. Nowadays, our custody courts will order one parent -- usually the mother --to be the primary caregiver, regardless if both parents are fit and loving. These same courts will order the other parent -- usually the dad -- to pay child support, regardless if both parents earn an equitable amount. One only needs to ponder these facts to realize why most divorces are filed by women. The State also has a financial interest in the destruction of the family. For example, the Texas Attorney General receives federal funds for every divorced dad he can list in his child support registry. And the more money the disenfranchised dad is ordered to pay, the more money the Attorney General receives from Washington. There is one last stigma that would be good to break. Currently, a divorced woman who does not have custody of her kids is viewed as unfit. Yet the majority of divorced dads do not have custody. But hardly anyone assumes they are unfit. They are simply male. So if custody courts started off with the presumption of 50/50 shared custody, instead of the 86/14 currently in place, I believe mothers would reconsider filing for divorce. And the women who use their children as 'cash cows' (i.e., commodities with which to receive child support) would be further dissuaded from seeking divorce. Because a part of 50/50 shared parenting would be the mandate that each parent supports the child during the time the child is with that parent. Even if such a plan did not curtail the preponderance of divorce, children would be better off with equal access to both parents,” Mr. Mathis observed.
What’s next for Don Mathis?
“When I started publishing The Fourteen Percenter in 1997, I had hoped to only publish it a few years. That's because I figured custody courts would stop their misandric ways. But then I realized the long road to the realization of Civil Rights for African-Americans spanned decades. The right for women to vote didn't happen overnight. So I'm digging in for the long haul. I fight for my son's right to father his future children. I attack injustice and hypocrisy every time it rears its ugly head. It is a noble battle.”