The vast majority of fathers in our country are excellent parents. Yet stereotypes about men and assumptions about their maleness are far too prejudicial in a number of areas regarding fathers and their children. Steven Van Valkenburg and Trudy Scheutt write on men’s issues. They remind us that:
“With roughly 50% of marriages ending in divorce, and most child custody decisions going in favor of mothers, many men find themselves deprived of their children while making large support payments to an ex-wife who may be turning their children against them. The family court system is in itself adversarial, and makes an “amicable divorce” unlikely. In far too many cases, this has led fathers to become unemployed, bankrupt, imprisoned, homeless, and even suicidal. Meanwhile, children from fatherless homes are more likely to abuse illicit drugs or alcohol, become pregnant as teenagers, drop out of school, commit crimes, and go to jail. Children benefit most when both parents are equally involved in their lives, and public policy should reflect this by adopting a presumption of shared custody.”
These provocative statements ought to incite conversation around issues pertaining to children and fathers. Public discourse lags behind in these matters in part because certain assumptions (which are really fallacies) about men have been buttressed by anecdote, hysteria, and the media:
- Men are unfeeling.
- Men are stronger than women.
- Men wish to dominate women.
- Men need women to straighten out men’s lives.
- Men cannot parent as well as women.
- Men should not be teachers of young grade school children.
- Men are always the aggressors in domestic disputes.
- Men enjoy going out to work every day.
- Men put their careers ahead of their family.
- Men are sexually irresponsible.
- Men don’t care for their children born out-of-wedlock.
- Men will try to get away with not paying child support.
- Men have little to contribute to the spirituality of their children.
- The world would be a better and more peaceful place if women were in charge of everything.
A wise professor once said that to assume means to make an “ASS out of U and ME”. While there may be truth in certain assumptions, they never represent a full picture. If we’re going to have any intelligent discourse on anything we need to table our assumptions and communicate with each other honestly, admitting our ignorance and seeking truth from one another’s experience.
We’ve come far since the day when women and children were considered chattel. Unfortunately some groups within organized religions continue to pigeon-hole men and women according to stereotypical roles and identities. This does violence to any concept of a healthy spirituality. The fullness of men and women, of fathers and mothers, cannot stand up to such narrow and prejudicial definitions as if they come from God, no matter whose scriptures are quoted, no matter how eloquent the preacher, no matter how emotionally convincing the argument.
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