President's Program for Fathers Misses Mark
Thu Mar 2 08:49:04 EST 2000
from: Smart Marriages
Wade Horn will open the Smart Marriages conference with "Fathers Count
and Marriage Matters".
President's Program for Fathers Misses Mark
February 29, 2000 Washington Times
Dr. Wade F. Horn
President, The National Fatherhood Initiative
Shortly after the President released his proposed 2001 budget, a
of mine called me from a Governor's office in the midwest. "You must be
pretty pleased," he opened confidently. "He's proposing a bunch of new
for fatherhood programs."
"Actually," I answered, "I think his fatherhood initiative does more
"Really?" my friend replied incredulously, "But I thought you were in
My friend, of course, is correct. As President of the National
Fatherhood Initiative, I am in the fatherhood business. And President
Clinton did propose a bunch of new money for fatherhood programs -- $125
million to be exact. So why am I not jumping up and down with excitement
over his new fatherhood program?
Let's begin with the good news. The President's budget, as have all
presidents' budgets since, I think, George Washington's, includes a lot
"get tough on deadbeat dads" initiatives, including "booting" the cars of
delinquent payers, intercepting gambling winnings to collect past-due
support, and denying passports to parents who owe $2,500 or more in child
Nothing wrong with getting tough on deadbeat parents. Any
parent who has the ability to help support financially his or her
and does not, gets no sympathy from me. Children don't ask to come into
world. When we become parents, we incur an obligation to do all we can
support our children, and that includes financial support. That
doesn't end simply because a marriage does -- or because a marriage
happen in the first place.
But life is more complicated than is suggested by "deadbeat dad"
alone. Some non-custodial parents are more "dead broke" than "deadbeat."
Others have not so much "walked away" as they have been "pushed away."
Interestingly, the President's budget takes a giant step toward
recognizing these complexities, for in addition to efforts to "get tough
deadbeat parents," it also includes a program to help low-income,
non-custodial parents -- mostly fathers -- get jobs, pay child support,
reconnect with their children.
So what's my problem? Sounds like a pretty good idea, doesn't it?
Well, not really. The problem with the President's fatherhood
is this: It punishes fathers who get married. Here's how.
Suppose you are running a program under the President's proposal and
24-year-old, unwed father walks into your office. He grew up in a
neighborhood, is under-educated, and marginally employed. But he is now
father and wants to do right by his child. He asks for your help getting
steady job so that he can better fulfill his child support obligations
wants to learn how to be a good dad. Can you help, he asks?
You bet, you reply. We have a wonderful program for you. We will
improve your job skills and find you a decent job. Once employed, we
provide you with an on-going supportive employment program to increase
likelihood that you will keep your job. And we also have a peer support
program to help you learn the skills necessary to be an involved father.
Great, this young man says, sign me up.
Now imagine that soon after this young father leaves your office,
young man comes into the room. He, too, is 24-years-old and from a
low-income neighborhood. He, too, is under-educated and marginally
He, too, is now a father and wants to do right by his child. Can you
Before you answer, "of course," imagine there is this one little
difference between these two young men. Imagine the second guy is
the mother and is living with his children. Under the President's
you would have to say there's nothing you can do for him.
What, the guy answers, but my buddy was just in here. We live in the
same neighborhood, earn the same amount of money, and our kids are the
age. How come you can help him, but not me?
Well, you answer, you're married. He's not. This program is for
low-income, non-custodial fathers only.
What, this second young man asks, do I have to do to get the same
Your reply -- if you are honest -- would have to be this: Divorce the
mother and move out.
The reason you would have to answer this way is because the
proposal, well-meaning though it might be, limits eligibility to
non-custodial fathers. Programs funded under such an approach would have
hang up a sign at the door saying, "Married fathers need not apply." I
think of anything that would be worse for fathers, mothers, and children
To be fair, the President has not yet submitted legislative language
his fatherhood initiative. There is still time for the President and his
advisors to rethink this ill-conceived idea to restrict eligibility to
non-married, low-income fathers.
But unless a fix is made, making both single and married low-income
fathers eligible, this proposal is worse than nothing. We've seen the
devastation that 70 years of welfare largely restricted to unmarried
has wrought. It would be a shame if we spend the next 70 years repeating
that mistake with fathers.
Dr. Wade F. Horn is President of the National Fatherhood Initiative, a
clinical child psychologist, and co-author of several books on parenting
including the Better Homes and Gardens New Father Book (Meredith, 1998)
the Better Homes and Gardens New Teen Book (Meredith, 1999). Send your
question about dads, children or fatherhood to: The National Fatherhood
Initiative, 101 Lake Forest Blvd, Suite 360, Gaithersburg, MD 20877, or
e-mail him at NFI1995 at aol.com.
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