Is the creation and implementation of a National Fatherhood Policy a blueprint for empowering and strengthening Fathers, families, communities, and a nation?
IN SEARCH OF FATHERHOOD(R) envisions a National Fatherhood Policy that sets the tone for eradicating the critical state of affairs of Men’s Health in America through the establishment of an Office of Men’s Health within the United States Department of Health and Human Services; facilitates the passage and enactment of “Fatherfriendly” legislation in the form of a Federal Equal Custody Act, Paternity Leave, and Parenting Time Credit; launches a “National Initiative to Resolve the ‘Crisis of Boys’ in America” as a means of greatly improving the manner in which a number of challenges faced by boys and adolescent young males in the United States are resolved; and fosters the development of Fatherhood and Men’s Studies Programs in every American college and university.
MEN’S HEALTH: ESTABLISHING AN OFFICE OF MEN’S HEALTH
In the Millennium, Men’s Health in the United States has become a critical path item. It is estimated that American women are outliving American men by approximately six (6) years. Approximately 22.1% of men in the United States have coronary heart disease. According to the American Cancer Society, prostate cancer is the most common cancer in American men. It accounts for approximately 9% of all cancer-related deaths in men in the United States. The American Cancer Society (www.acs.org) projects that 1 out of 6 men in America will be diagnosed with prostate cancer and that 1 out of 35 men will die from prostate cancer. Approximately, 10.9 million men in the United States -- or 10.5% of all American men -- who are over the age of 20 are estimated to have diabetes. Diabetes increases significantly the risk for an individual to suffer a stroke or to be diagnosed with heart disease. And not surprisingly, the incidence rate for stroke and heart disease is high for American men.
The establishment of an Office of Men’s Health within the United States Department of Health and Human Services would do for Men's Health what the Office of Women's Health, created in 1991, has
done and continues to do for Women's Health. It would help to (a) facilitate increased research and increased research funding for prostate cancer, diabetes, heart disease, colon cancer, and Alzheimer’s Disease; (b) develop, expand, and sustain a myriad of national, regional, and local health awareness and education programs for Men; and (c) provide Men with equal and greater access to health resources and support services. Is there support for the establishment of an Office of Men’s Health? Yes! Support for the establishment of an Office of Men’s Health exists among a myriad of stakeholders that include Fatherhood Advocates, Fatherhood Practitioners, health care professionals and providers, social service professionals and providers, legislators, educators, and concerned individuals. And the need for the creation of an Office of Men’s Health within the United States Department of Health and Human Services has not gone unnoticed by American legislators. In 2001, United States Congressman Randy Cunningham of California (R-San Diego) and United States Congressman James McDermott of Washington State (D-Washington) first introduced into Congress the Men’s Health Act (“The Men’s Health Act”) as legislation which would establish an Office of Men’s Health within the United States Department of Health and Human Services and promote men’s health in the United States. The Men’s Health Act has been introduced into Congress annually since 2001. In 2007, H.R. 789, the Office of Men’s Health Act of 2007, was introduced in the 110th Congress. The last known “major action” taken in 2007 in connection with H.R. 789 occurred on 2 February 2007, when the legislation was “referred to the House Subcommittee and referred to the Subcommittee on Health” (see Washingtonwatch.com at http://www.washingtonwatch.com/bills/show/110_HR_ 789. html). In 2009, efforts continued to establish an Office of Men’s Health within the United States Department of Health and Human Services. On 27 April 2009, United States Congressmen Baron P. Hill (D-Indiana) and Timothy "Tim" Murphy (R-Pennsylvania) introduced into the 111th Congress of the United States H.R. 2115 Men and Families Health Care Act (“H.R. 2115”). H.R. 2115 which is also co-sponsored by United States Congressman Frank LoBiondo (R-New Jersey) was referred to the House Of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce on 27 April 2009. As of this writing, the United States Congress has not taken any action to place this legislation on the fast track for passage and enactment.
newborn); Spain (15 days); United Kingdom (2 weeks); Turkey (3 days); Argentina (2 days); Brazil (5 days); Algeria (3 days); Chad (10 days); Cote d’Ivoire (10 days); Kenya (2 weeks); South Africa (3 days); Uganda (4 days); and Australia (18 weeks). The United Nations also offers paid paternity leave – 100% paid leave for Fathers for 4 weeks or 8 weeks for male staff members “serving at locations where they are not allowed to live with their family.” In the United States, the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 mandates unpaid parental leave for the majority of its workers, but America is one of the few nations in our global village that does not mandate paid parental leave.
For many Dads in America, spending more time with our children means that they must take time off from work – without pay. Mandatory paid paternity leave would prevent the financial penalization of Fathers who want to or may need to spend time at home immediately after the birth of a newborn. The enactment of legislation mandating paid paternity leave would provide Fathers who, otherwise would not be able to take time off from work, to visit our children’s schools and meet with principals and teachers during the day and attend our children’s extracurricular activities which are conducted during the day (e.g., soccer or football practice, hockey, baseball, volleyball, rugby, and basketball games).
FEDERAL EQUAL CUSTODY ACT
There is an estimated aggregate of approximately 25,000,000 Non-Custodial and Divorced parents
in the United States. Many of them contend that the courts relegate them to spending time with our children for only approximately two weekends out of each month, which they estimate to be about 14% of parenting time. As a result, they refer to themselves as “Fourteen Percenters.” Non-Custodial and Divorced Fathers are clamoring for the creation and enactment of a Federal Equal Custody Act that would establish equal parenting as the law of the land. Their argument for the enactment of a Federal Equal Custody Act revolves around the school of thought that the establishment and enforcement of equal parenting legislation is “in the best interest of the child”. Researchers in the United States and in countries outside of the United States agree.
The hope of American Non-Custodial and Divorced Fathers for the enactment of a Federal Equal Custody Act in the United States has been buoyed by Denmark’s enactment and implementation of equal parenting legislation in October 2007. Denmark, a nation which has a high divorce rate, now ensures that children of divorced and separated parents have equal access – on a 50/50 basis – to both Mom and Dad. Danish Dads now have joint physical custody and parenting time which amounts to 50%, thus eliminating the need for “knock-down-drag-out” child custody battles in Danish courts. American proponents of a Federal Equal Custody Act argue that enactment of this legislation would provide a mandate for American family courts to “act in the best interests of the child” and award joint legal and physical custody of children to separated and/or divorced parents. Throughout the Millennium, in the absence of a Federal Equal Custody Act, Fathers, Fathers’ Rights Advocates, Fatherhood Practitioners, state legislators, and concerned citizens have created equal parenting initiatives which have found their way to the ballot box in a number of states and state legislatures which include, but are not limited to California, Indiana, Michigan, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania. Let’s take a look at equal parenting initiatives in Pennsylvania, California, Indiana, Michigan, and West Virginia.
Legislation designed to make the child custody process “fairer” and to “prevent judges from
assuming that one parent or the other should get custody” of children solely based on their gender in the form of House Bill No. 1639 passed unanimously in the Pennsylvania Senate on 13 October 2010. House Bill No. 1639 whose prime sponsor was Pennsylvania State Representative The Honorable Kathy Manderino (D-Philadelphia) was passed unanimously by the Pennsylvania House of Representatives on 15 November 2010. The legislation which became “the law of the land” in Pennsylvania, mandates that courts consider other factors when deciding whether a Father or Mother will obtain custody of a child. These factors include: (a) the likelihood of maintaining frequent contact with the other parent; (b) stability; (c) continuity for the child’s schooling and community life; and (d) access to other family members. And, for the first time, judges will be required to explain the decisions they have made in child custody cases.
The groundswell for equal parenting legislation in California moved California State Assemblyman
Merwyn Dymally, during his tenure as a state legislator, to become the principal author of California Assembly Bill No. 1307 (Shared Parenting Bill 1307 (AB 1307)). Thousands of California voters placed telephone calls and e-mailed, faxed, and “snail-mailed” letters in support of Shared Parenting Bill 1307 to members of the California State Assembly. However, despite the demonstrated support for the equal parenting legislation, on 3 May 2005, California Assembly Shared Parenting Bill No. 1307 was defeated in the California Assembly Judiciary Committee.
Indiana State Senator Dennis Kruse (Indiana State Senatorial District No. 14), on 20 January 2009 introduced Senate Bill 560–Presumptive Joint Custody Following Divorce – which, inter alia, requires that courts adopt the presumption that joint legal custody and joint physical custody are in the best interests of the child in divorce cases. Indiana Senate Bill 560 also mandated that meetings, hearings, and conferences in family law litigation matters be recorded. As a general rule, to date, these meetings, hearings, and conferences are not usually recorded. The proposed legislation provided for (a) punitive action to be taken against a parent who knowingly (i) falsely accuses the other parent of child abuse, child neglect or spousal abuse; and (ii) prevents the other parent from exercising his or her right to parenting their child or children; (b) law enforcement officers to file a report with the law enforcement agency employing the said officers in connection with their responses to calls involving parenting time contempt; and (c) mandatory collection of statistics on child support payment contempt charges – i.e., the
number of individuals who are incarcerated for contempt of court for failing to pay child support, inclusive of the length of the sentence and the amount of time served.
In 2003, the DADS of Michigan Political Action Committee (www.dadsofmichigan.org) launched a petition drive to place equal parenting legislation as a question on Michigan’s election ballot. Due to insufficient signatures, the move to place equal parenting legislation as a question on Michigan’s election ballot was unsuccessful. On 5 April 2007, House Bill 4564, an equal parenting legislation, was 35 introduced into the Michigan State Legislature by Michigan Representative Glenn Steil, Jr., a Republican. House Bill 4564 was referred to the Michigan’s House Family and Children’s Service Committee. On 10 October 2007, House Bill 4564 was reported in the Michigan House and it was recommended that the bill be referred to the Michigan House Judiciary Committee. House Bill 4564 was referred to the Michigan House Judiciary Committee on 10 October 2007 and no further action was taken. An effort to revive equal parenting legislation in Michigan occurred in 2010. According to a Michigan-based Fathers’ Rights organization, A Child’s Right (www.achildsright.typepad.com), in 2010, a Michigan Equal Parenting Bill
was authored, but still lacks legislative sponsors. A Child’s Right is encouraging voters in Michigan to send letters to their state legislators asking them to sponsor the proposed legislation.
On 30 January 2008, an Informational Equal Parenting Legislative Hearing, organized by Fathers,
Fatherhood Advocates, Fatherhood Practitioners, and concerned citizens, was held in the Capitol
Building in Charleston, West Virginia. At that time, supporters of equal parenting legislation, voiced their support to West Virginia legislators for the passage into law of HB 4042 – Joint (Equal) Parenting Act; HB 3060 – Penalties For False Reports Of Child Abuse, Sexual Abuse, And Domestic Violence; and HB 4002 – Providing Procedures For Contesting Paternity.
PARENTING TIME CREDIT
Non-Custodial and Divorced Fathers, as a whole, honor their financial obligations to their families. Non-Custodial and Divorced Fathers, Fatherhood Advocates, and Fatherhood Practitioners contend that it is the fairness of the calculation of the formula for child support and child support guidelines which gives them “cause for pause”. The angst expressed by Non-Custodial Fathers, Fatherhood Advocates, and Fatherhood Practitioners centers around the contention of Non-Custodial and Divorced Fathers that access to their children and the time allotted to them by the family court system to nurture, mentor and love them is miniscule when compared with the large sums of money garnished from their wages for child support. In 2004, the State of Indiana modified its child support guidelines to reflect the institution of Parenting Time Credit for Non-Custodial Parents. As a result, the amount of child support obligations paid by Non-Custodial Fathers in Indiana are reduced by the additional amount of time that Non-Custodial
Fathers spend with their children. The State of Indiana’s modification of its child support guidelines, through the institution of Parenting Time Credit, represents a blueprint for modifying child support guidelines throughout the United States.
NATIONAL INITIATIVE TO RESOLVE THE “CRISIS OF BOYS” IN AMERICA
For a variety of reasons, boys and young adolescent males in the United States – our sons and the Next Generation of Fathers – are more likely than their female counterparts, our daughters, to be (a) characterized as “behavioral problems” by educators and school administrators; (b) enrolled in Special Education classes; and (c) victims of violence and homicides. A “National Initiative to Resolve the ‘Crisis of Boys’ In America” would work to resolve five (5) key challenges that boys and young male adolescents in the United States struggle with. These five (5) key challenges are exactly the same challenges that confront boys and young adolescent males in Canada, Australia, Europe, Africa, and Asia and were
originally identified by Global and Regional Coordinators for 2010 International Men’s Day
(www.international-mens-day.com) in a series of discussions which occurred throughout the month of December 2010:
• HEALTH AND LIFE EXPECTANCY: Why are boys around the world more likely to die before the age of five and why do boys in every continent look forward to a much shorter life than girls? What are the reasons for boy’s higher likelihood of suicide? What action can we take to give boys the best possible start in life and help them live longer, happier, healthier lives?
• EDUCATIONAL FOCUS: Why are boys in richer countries underperforming girls and also less likely to be in education, and why are tens of millions of boys in poorer countries still not completing a primary education? How can we address truancy, and poor literacy rates which leave boys prone to adult unemployment, substance abuse, obesity, depression, and poverty? What action can we take to focus on boys’ education in ways that gives them the best possible start in life and closes the gaps between girls and boys and rich boys and poor boys?
• TOLERANCE OF VIOLENCE: Why are we so tolerant of violence and abuse against men and boys and why do we still tolerate a world where we send boys to fight the wars among adults? What actions can we take to help boys’ grow up free from violence and challenge our collective tolerance and support of violence against men and boys?
• RIGHTS TO FATHERHOOD: How can we give boys a right to family life that gives them an equal opportunity to know and experience both their father and mother and ensure that their role as a future father is equal to a girl’s role as future mother? What actions can we take to give every boy an equal right to fatherhood?
• REAL LIFE CHOICES: How can we make sure that every boy has opportunities to make a range of positive life choices in terms of work, family, and leisure and reduce the number of boys whose life choices are limited and end up poor, illiterate, unemployed, homeless, imprisoned, and isolated? What action can we make to help every boy get the best possible start in life and make a positive transition form boy to man that makes the world a better place for everyone?
Components of the “National Initiative to Resolve the ‘Crisis of Boys' in America” would take the form of:
TOWN HALL MEETINGS
National, regional, and local Town Hall Meetings would serve as a venue for boys and adolescent young males to engage in “straight, no-chaser” dialogues to discuss with stakeholders how, in their view, the five (5) key challenges – Health and Life Expectancy; Educational Focus; Tolerance of Violence; Rights to Fatherhood; and Real Life Choices – which they struggle with on a day-to-day basis, can be resolved.
The stakeholders with whom boys and adolescent young males would engage in discussions include educators, school administrators, law enforcement professionals, legal professionals, health care professionals and providers, social services professionals and providers, parents, legislators, religious leaders, social entrepreneurs, business leaders, and Fatherhood and Men’s Issues advocates and practitioners.
Stakeholders and boys and young adolescent males would collaboratively identify existing national, regional, and local institutions and programs which have a successful track record in resolving the five (5) key challenges (Health and Life Expectancy; Educational Focus; Tolerance of Violence; Rights to Fatherhood; and Real Life Choices) that hinder our sons – the Next Generation of Fathers – from achieving academic excellence and maturing into purpose-driven, productive, and successful adults. A collaborative task of designing national, regional, and local institutions and programs that resolve the five (5) key challenges identified above which do not exist in cities, rural districts, reservations, subdivisions, suburbs, townships, and municipalities would be assigned to stakeholders and boys and young adolescents participating in the Town Hall Meetings. The design of these institutions and programs and the manner in which these programs are implemented would be modeled after institutions and programs which have a demonstrated successful track record of resolving the five (5) key challenges confronting
boys and adolescent males in the United States.
NATIONAL ACTION PLAN
Information, solutions, and suggestions offered at national, regional, and local Town Hall
Meetings would be compiled into a National Action Plan which addresses each of the five (5) key
challenges -- Health and Life Expectancy; Educational Focus; Tolerance of Violence; Rights to
Fatherhood; and Real Life Choices -- that make it very difficult for boys and adolescent young males to have “the best possible start in life.”
How would a National Action Plan address the key challenges of Health and Life Expectancy,
Educational Focus, Real Life Choices, and Tolerance of Violence?
Here a few suggestions:
Health and Life Expectancy: Designing and implementing national, regional, and local Health Education and Awareness Programs for boys and young adolescent young males which would provide, among other things, nutrition and preventive health information and equal and greater access to health resources and support services under the umbrella of the proposed Office of Men’s Health in the United States Department of Health and Human Services. These programs can be conducted in schools, religious institutions, community centers, recreation centers, and barber shops.
Educational Focus: Developing and sustaining “male-friendly” academic institutions and programs which are designed to resolve the problem of academic underperformance for boys and young adolescent males. One academic institution which can serve as a model for designing and sustaining “male--friendly” academic institutions in our cities, reservations, rural districts, subdivisions, suburbs, municipalities, and townships is located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In the fifth largest metropolitan area in the United States, 360 young adolescent males attend the Boys’ Latin of Philadelphia Charter School (www.boyslatin.org), where they receive “the best possible start in life.” Founded in the Summer of 2007, the Boys’ Latin of Philadelphia Charter School immerses its young male students in an intense curriculum that offers, among other things, four years of Latin Language and Culture, English divided into Composition and Literature, Scholastic Aptitude Test (“SAT”) preparation, a Summer Reading Program, and a Public Speaking requirement. Soccer, football, cross-country, basketball, and baseball are some of the components of its Athletics program. Each new student at the school is required to participate in two weeks of intensive classes which comprises basic skills, an overview of the school bibliography, organization, and note taking. Students are also engaged in experiential learning initiatives during this two week period. In Grades 9 through 10, the young men find that the school places emphasis on their mastery of basic skills in English, Mathematics, History, Science, Latin, and writing. In
Grade 11, for these young men, the emphasis moves from individual learning to team-project based
learning. Senior classmen entering Grade 12 are required to attend a two-week planning session during the summer which is geared to prepare them for their final year of high school and for their application to college. The curriculum for Grade 12 offers greater independent study, project-based instruction, opportunities for off-campus classes, and a senior project and presentation. Students at the Boys’ Latin of Philadelphia Charter School must abide by a strictly enforced Code of Conduct. And 20 hours of community service is mandatory for freshman, while sophomores are expected to perform 25 hours of community service! Did I mention that after-school activities are also mandatory? The after-school activities include drama, technology, debate, music, chess, science, virtual media, economics, robotics,
bicycle repair, government, rock climbing, fencing, model trains, and mock trial.
Real Life Choices: Facilitating national, regional, and local academic enrichment, mentoring, leadership, and internship programs for boys and young adolescent males that offer tutoring in English, Mathematics, Science, Foreign Languages, and Writing; field trips to businesses and colleges and universities; and internships at engineering firms, academic and medical institutions, law firms, broadcasting and communications organizations, and information technology companies which will lead to full-time employment.
Tolerance of Violence: Facilitating national, regional, and local programs that offer mentoring, conflict resolution, and anger management training to help boys and young adolescent males deal with anger, rejection, and self-esteem and body image issues and provide them with options and tools to peacefully resolve volatile situations. An internationally acclaimed organization, the House Of Umoja, Inc. (www.houseofumoja.org) serves as an excellent model for conflict resolution, mentoring, and helping to “give boys the best possible start in life”. Created in 1968, the House of Umoja, Inc. has provided a life line to and positively shaped the minds and souls of over approximately 3,000 young urban males between the ages of 15 through 18 in Philadelphia. The House of Umoja, Inc.’s successful track record of working with and positively transforming youths has moved universities and institutions that include, but are not limited to, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Prevention and the Center for Disease Control to seek the House of Umoja, Inc.’s expertise in the areas of gang reduction, youth programming, and community organizing. Former United States Presidents Jimmy Carter and the late Ronald Reagan have recognized the House Of Umoja, Inc. for its pioneering work which has been documented in published articles such as A Summons To Life, by Robert Woodson of the American Enterprise Institute in 1981 and The Violent Juvenile Offender by Paul DeMuro and Richard Allison of the National Council On Crime And Delinquency in 1984.
ESTABLISHING FATHERHOOD AND MEN’S STUDIES DEPARTMENTS AND CURRICULA
IN AMERICAN COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES
The Women’s Movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s, spawned the development of
Women’s Studies Programs in America’s colleges and universities. The establishment of Women’s
Studies Programs in American academic institutions has helped to empower women, address their
unique issues and needs, and transform the manner in which they are perceived by society. Nearly every college and university in the United States has a Women’s Studies Department and some form of a Women’s Studies curriculum. In the Millennium, Men, too, have a need to have their unique issues and needs addressed and the manner in which they are perceived by society transformed as they continue to redefine their roles and responsibilities and reshape public policy and legislation. A National Fatherhood Policy would foster the development of Fatherhood and Men’s Studies Departments and curricula in every American college and university.
The groundwork for establishing Men’s Studies Departments in American colleges and universities, was laid by a number of Men’s Studies pioneers – Martin Acker, Shepherd Bliss, Harry Brod, Sam Femiano, Martin Fiebert, and Mike Messner – who created the Men’s Studies Task Group of the National Organization for Men through which, Men and Masculinity conferences were organized. In 1984, under Harry Brod’s leadership, the “Men’s Newsletter” was launched. In 1989, the Men’s Studies Task Group was transformed into the American Men’s Studies Association and its First Annual Interdisciplinary
Men’s Studies Conference in conjunction with the Fourteenth Men and Masculinity Conference was held at Chatham College in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania from 1 June 1989 through 4 June 1989. Panelists at the conference included, among others, Harry Brod, Martin Acker, Clyde Franklin II, and Michael Kaufman.
A number of study modules exist which can be incorporated in Men’s History courses to be offered by Men’s Studies Departments in American colleges and universities. One such module, the
International Men’s Day Study Module (www.international-mens-day.com/Module_intro.php),
documents the history of International Men’s Day (www.international-mens-day.com) which is observed by over 50 nations throughout our global village on 19 November of each year. Founded in 1999, by Jerome Teelucksingh Ph.D., International Men’s Day celebrates and honors the sacrifices and contributions that Men make to our families, communities, and society. It has been endorsed by a number of globally recognized Thought Leaders on Fatherhood and Men’s Issues who include Warren Farrell, Ph.D. and Stephen Biddulph. Viewed by many as one of the critical components of a Men’s History course, the International Men’s Day Study Module was created in 2010 by Jason Thompson, the Historian and Global Promotions Coordinator for International Men’s Day, a member of the International Men’s Day Coordination Committee, published author, and Single Father who resides in Australia.
American colleges and universities that develop plans to establish Men’s Studies Departments and
Fatherhood and Men’s Studies programs can look to Akamai University (www.akamaiuniversity.us) and its Fatherhood and Men’s Studies Program as a model. Located in Hilo, Hawaii, Akamai University offers one of the most uniquely comprehensive Fatherhood and Men’s Studies Programs. It is an academic institution that has a reputation for being “dedicated to the betterment and sustainability of the human condition and the planet”. The Fatherhood and Men’s Studies Program at Akamai University offers a myriad of courses that include male psychology, men's and father's rights, masculine spirituality, models and roles of masculinity, contemporary issues facing men, early childhood development, new roles for fathers, the modern family, gender and power, the challenge of marriage, issues in men's physical health, gender and politics, ancient and modern rites of passage, life stages, male psychology, men in literature, the Men's Movement, and new models of male leadership..
Strong men create and sustain efficiently functioning and strong family units that positively shape the minds and souls of our children – our future – our bridge to the future; strong family units empower communities; and empowered communities strengthen a nation. One could surmise that the creation and implementation of a National Fatherhood Policy would be in the best interests of the United States.