Thursday, February 19, 2004

Evan Bayh, Senator, Indiana -- Positions on Fatherhood

Recently it was relayed to me that Evan Bayh, a Senator in Indiana, was at the forefront of fatherhood issues. This intrigued me so I visited Senator Bayhs web site, which can be accessed here. If you click on the Issues in Focus heading you can then choose the sub-heading Fatherhood.

I want everybody to know that at this point I was getting really excited. Aside from being a respected politician in Indiana, Senator Bayh commands respect nationally. His name was thrown around for the VP position when Al Gore ran in 2000 and is being thrown around again in conjunction with John Kerry. To have a congressman, or potentially a VP, interested in fatherhood of his own volition could at a minimum be a step in the right direction.

I can going to copy select parts of the Fatherhood page for you or you can access the entire page here. I'll start with a quote by Senator Bayh.

"The irony in our nation's unprecedented economic prosperity is that many Americans still feel like our country is on the wrong track, that there is a deterioration of our values that is fraying the social fabric. Many indicators point to the dramatic increase in absent fathers as the culprit -- this epidemic is self-destructive and anti-social." -U. S. Senator Evan Bayh

Okay, so at this point I am still thinking maybe this will be okay. I didn't really like the tone of the quote, but I haven't given up hope yet.

"Bayh's Responsible Fatherhood Act spotlights the importance of families and marriage for child development. It also aims to strengthen fragile families and promote responsible fatherhood through public awareness, community involvement and removal of federal barriers to active fatherhood and married, two-parent families."

Okay, getting better... And then here we go

"Women are heroic in their efforts to raise our nation's children. But it is unfair to ask them to shoulder the entire burden," Bayh said. "Many men have abandoned their families and have failed to do their fair share. Through their irresponsible actions, they are sending the wrong message to their children about morals and values."

What!? But wait, it keeps going...

"To understand what we address with this legislation, one must understand the scope of the crisis that absentee fathers present for our children and our communities," said Bayh, who noted that nearly 25 million children in the United States today (36% of all children) live apart from their biological father. 40% of children who live in households without a father have not seen their father in at least a year.

Children who live without contact with their fathers are, in comparison to their counterparts:

Five times more likely to live in poverty;
More likely to bring weapons and drugs into the classroom;
Twice as likely to commit crime;
Twice as likely to drop out of school;
Twice as likely to be abused;
More likely to commit suicide;
More than twice as likely to abuse alcohol or drugs;
More likely to become pregnant as teenagers.

I love that part. He uses accurate statistics but only to enforce the deadbeat dad mythology, not to question all of the reasons this might be occurring.

The Responsible Fatherhood Act has two sections. Title I seeks to raise public awareness and community involvement on the issue of absentee fathers and the importance of two-parent families through a state-by-state media campaign, a state block grant program for fatherhood programs, and the creation of a national clearinghouse to share best practices.

Title II seeks to remove federal barriers to responsible fatherhood and two-parent, married families through increased opportunities to move unemployed fathers into jobs through the Welfare to Work program, direct child-support payments to families, and state incentives for programs that promote maintenance of two-parent families and responsible fatherhood.

"We must address this challenge. The urgency is here because poverty, crime, drug abuse, teen pregnancy, all these problems come back to tackling the challenge of fatherlessness," Bayh said. "Children need the financial and emotional support of their fathers. The mothers of these children deserve the help and support that good fathers can provide. Getting fathers involved in the lives of their children is by and large much better than just handing these kids a check."

To check myself I thought, maybe Indiana has a huge problem with poverty that I was completely unaware of and that is why the welfare to work, direct payments, etc were part of the plan. Meaning Indiana poverty was so rampant that fathers were simply unable (not unwilling) to provide for their children in an adequate fashion. So I did some research and I found in the official poverty rate in 2002 (the most recent numbers I found) is 12.1% while in Indiana in 2002 it was 9.1%. So that's not the problem...

So then I decided to look at the site from which Senator Bayh had pulled his statistics to see if I had missed some major change in current studies. Then I realized he doesn't cite any source for those numbers so no check could be made. Convenient.

Then I thought, Senator Bayh simply must not have any children so he lacks the full understanding of the importance of a father and it just looking for some heart-string issue to latch on to... Nope, wrong again, Senator Bayh is the proud father of twin boys. God help him if his wife ever decides that they have grown apart... Though he probably has enough connections to guarantee equal rights in the eyes of the law.

As I looked through some of the statistics available on the CCJ website (here, here and here) it appears to me that some of the numbers cited on Senator Bayh's web site might have some support, other seem at least skewed. Potentially, Senator Bayh has access to more recent information than the general public so he may be able to support those numbers. However, it appears to me, that more likely he cherry-picked (for those of you watching the Kerry/Edwards run for the Democratic nomination, hopefully you will appreciate that terminology) and generalized the relevant statistics. This is in itself is unacceptable for a Senator who is basing an entire plank of his platform to the issue of "fatherhood."

Nonetheless, even using statistics in the fashion that Senator Bayh has chosen, the issue of children needing their fathers is entirely accurate and relevant to the landscape of this country, including all of the issues Senator Bayh mentioned in his summation (poverty, crime, drug abuse, teen pregnancy). However, the manner in which they were used is a disgrace. I would highly recommend reading the statistics provided by the CCJ that I linked to above and contrast those with how Senator Bayh presented the issue.

I think Senator Bayh is on the right track in his contention that children need their fathers but completely misguided about where the responsibility falls. We all know that there are deadbeat dads... but we also all know there are deadbeat moms- and more importantly, the majority of fathers desperately want to have a meaningful, fulfilling, relationship with their children, one in which they are on the same footing as the other parent. This is not asking too much.

If Senator Bayh would like to continue his fight against deadbeat parents , I commend him. It is his responsibility, however, to provide an accurate picture of all the facts regarding this fight. There is no reason that his fatherhood initiative could not (or should not) be expanded to include a legislative initiative to remove government barriers to able and desperately willing fathers and the extreme abuse of an overworked judicial system by custodial parents, more often than not - the mothers.

I encourage anyone to contact Senator Bayh with your thoughts on this matter. If you are a resident of Indiana, your thoughts will likely carry a little more weight. Remember, however, that Senator Bayh is a United States Congressman and therefore (in theory) must answer to all citizens of the US. All senators take the same oath: I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.

If you choose to contact Senator Bayh PLEASE do so respectfully. State your position in an informed and concerned manner utilizing whatever resources you have to back your position. (Also - Cite your sources!! This is so much more professional!) If you would like some direction on good supporting information, email me and I will get you started. If you want to utilize your own personal experience, do so in a manner that is explanatory but not overly verbose. Remember, the more concise your letter, the more likely it will get read in it's entirety.

Do not write pages and pages of how wronged you were by evil judges, bad evaluators or the antichrist that is your ex. Let the facts of your case demonstrate the wrongs you have suffered. Explain, in real dollars, the type of financial impact this has put on you and relate that money to how it would have been spent otherwise. Recently, a good friend calculated that just what he had spent in the past year of a 5 year battle, put into a 7 year CD at today's interest rates, would have entirely covered his sons 4 year state college education plus two years in a state college masters program. He even adjusted these numbers to the current percentage that tuition raises each year. He said when he presented this information to his judge it was the first time it appeared the judge understood the enormity of his case and the resources being drained from both parties.

But I say again, do not send off some letter in which you try to martyr yourself. Be clear, directed, organized and informed. Explain that you are simply seeking equal rights, do not present yourself as a woman hater or zealot. After you put something together a good thing to do would be to put the letter away for a day and then go back and re-read it. Do you sound like the caring, intelligent, concerned and rational father that you are? This will resonate, women and judicial bashing will not. You want to aware Senator Bayh of error in parts of his platform but still to commend him for taking any initiative in this arena.

You an contact Senator Bayh several ways. Email through his web site can accessed here and various addresses for postal mail can be found here. Also contact info is available through Yahoo.

If you would like to have your letter reviewed before you send it please email it to me as an attachment, with Evan Bayh Letter as the subject. Also, I would love to post any letters up on this site to provide as an example. I will be preparing my own correspondence in the following days and if I feel it will be a benefit, I will post in it's entirety here. However, I would rather show other readers examples, I think everyone here has a pretty good idea how I think.

I know this can be time consuming and emotionally draining, as almost all aspects of this fight can be. Remember, though, many men and women do not realize how bad it can get until its happening to them. When this started for us I honestly thought there was no way our government would act in this type of fashion, I truly thought such an injustice was simply unfeasible. We all know now that is not the case. And sadly, every day more parents will come to realize that as well. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to galvanize fathers until they are faced with a divorce and a custody hearing. I believe until that occurs we all live under the pretense that such flagrant inequity is not possible in our modern system of justice. For all of those who will wake up tomorrow to learn that they will soon be a statistic of divorce, we need to do what we can. Maybe Senator Bayh will be totally unreceptive. Maybe this is just a token issue for him, maybe his father abandoned him when he was young and he hold a severe grudge, maybe he will act as we have all come to expect politicians to act -- respond with some completely noncommittal, though understanding commentary, to keep his voter base intact without having to initiate any forward-thinking legislation....

But maybe not. And what if we did strike a chord?

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