When the National Organization for Women holds its annual conference in St. Paul, Minn., on June 21, the voices silenced by NOW will be across the street, calling for gender justice.
The rally will include fathers whose rights have been ignored or maligned by NOW. It will include women who refuse to tolerate anti-male bias in the family court system.
My sign will read, "Justice for Fathers." It will be a late Father's Day gift to my dad's memory.
For years, NOW has courted confrontation with advocates of father's rights. At NOW's 1996 national conference, it resolved to "challenge such groups." The '96 resolutions included an "Action Alert on 'Father's Rights'."
The resolution caricatured such fathers as men attempting to escape support payments through abusing the courts "in order to control in the same fashion as do batterers."
The reality is quite different. At the core of the movement for father's rights are men who deeply love their children and want to share their lives. Men so victimized by biased family courts that the Superior Court in Georgia recently found its own child support guidelines to be unconstitutional.
Estranged fathers are becoming desperate. According to a 1999 Surgeon General's report, suicide is the eighth leading cause of death in America, with men four times more likely to kill themselves than women.
Studies conducted in North America, Europe and Australia suggest that one reason for the perilous increase may be the discrimination fathers encounter in family courts, especially the denial of access to their children.
The demands of fathers include:
— Joint custody of children upon divorce with sole custody being awarded only with a compelling reason.
— Child support orders based upon the actual cost of raising a child, with the custodial parent being accountable for how the support is spent.
— Vigorous enforcement of visitation rights.
— No support orders against those proven not to be the biological father.
— The option for an unmarried father to raise his child if the unmarried mother chooses to put it up for adoption.
The National Coalition of Free Men is sponsoring the rally and a conference later the same day.
"We have become a society where a loving, caring father, who is not charged with doing anything wrong, is ordered to stay away from his children — and ordered to pay child support for the children that he cannot see," said Will Hageman of the Twin Cities NCFM, explaining one motive behind his activism.
"A society where genetic tests can prove that a man is not the father of a child, but judges order him to continue paying child support anyway — to the woman who lied to him about who the child's father was. A society where adoption agencies actively coach an unmarried mother to go into hiding and conceal the birth from the father for 30 days — until the father's legal right to contest adoption has expired," Hageman said.
You can celebrate Father's Day this June 16 in a variety of ways. You can convert it into another platform for women's rights as NOW Action Center does in its Father's Day message to George W. Bush, which lectures him on his own daughters.
Or you can express the true meaning of fatherhood, as my friend Ken Gregg did in an open letter to the birth fathers of his three adopted children:
"I've never met you, but without you, my life would never have been blessed with the joys of my children. My son, now 26, is on his own path and bears many traits, both physical and psychological, that you have given him. My daughters (full sisters), 10 and 11, show talents that, in part, must have come from you.
"I do not know how my life would have turned out without your part, but certainly far poorer spiritually and far less joyous. You gave my children life, and for that I will never be able to thank you enough.
"I want to let you know that my children are happy and healthy. I will continue to give all of the love and nurturing they deserve — and more! I will protect them and love them in all the ways that a father can.
"You may have helped to give your child a new life through adoption. You may not have known that you gave life to a child. Newspaper ads fulfilling the legal requirements for terminating your parental rights may have been published and never seen by you. Perhaps you did not know how to assert your rights to the child. You may not have decided wisely.
"What choices and what difficult times you have faced, I may never know. I have read many poems honoring the birth mother, but little is said of your gift to me. But man to man, birth fathers will never be forgotten. I will always remember."
On June 16, I intend to say: "Thank you Dad. I didn't have your arms around me long enough." On June 21, a group of men and women will speak up for fathers who long to put their arms around children taken away.
Wendy McElroy is the editor of ifeminists.com. She is the author and editor of many books and articles, including the forthcoming anthology Liberty for Women: Freedom and Feminism in the 21st Century (Ivan R. Dee/Independent Institute, 2002). She lives with her husband in Canada.