Jewish World Review Oct. 19, 1999 /9 Mar-Cheshvan, 5760
The deadbeat dad is less a
scoundrel than an object of
IT IS HELPFUL to have a calculator and a lie detector handy
when trying to navigate the backwaters of our nation's
child-support industry. Between ravenous bureaucrats,
his-'n-her statistics and billion-dollar budgets, it's no
wonder Americans can't tell the difference between a
deadbeat and a throwaway dad.
For years, Americans have been fed a diet of "deadbeat
dad" propaganda while a growing number of fathers
heartbroken over the loss of their children suffer the
backlash of negative association.
Everyone "knows," for instance, that fathers routinely
abandon their children, shirk their responsibility -- to the
tune of $34 billion a year in child-support arrearages, by
one ubiquitous (apocryphal?) estimate -- and frolic on
beaches with girl-friends while their ex-wives and
children search clothing dumpsters.
In fact, some fathers do abandon their children, though
most in that category never were married to the woman
with whom they bred, an occasion that inspires little
sympathy for either side. The $34 billion that fathers
allegedly owe, meanwhile, is based on a dubious
estimate of what the total would be if every
non-custodial father earned the median salary and if
every single mother had a support award. Most of the
fathers on deadbeat lists are undereducated, unskilled
laborers. A University of Wisconsin study found that of
nonpaying fathers, only 12 percent had annual incomes
of more than $18,464; more than half made less than
Of fathers with regular visitation, meanwhile, 79 percent
pay the amount due, according to a 1995 U.S. Census
Bureau report, the most recent year for which figures are
available. Indeed, only 12 percent of women with
children of absent fathers received no child-support
payments, according to the report.
The deadbeat dad, alas, may be more pitiable than
Why, then, have politicians been so eager to demonize
the "deadbeat dad" when the facts so clearly contradict
his existence? Is their denial a function of the
pervasiveness of advanced feminist ideology? Or is the
divorce industry, which inarguably keeps attorneys in
BMWs and greases the gears of government, too
prosperous a constituent to offend?
Consider: The federal Office of Child Support
Enforcement today employs 59,000, spends $4 billion
annually and has draconian police powers unimaginable
to most Americans. For failure to pay child support,
regardless of the reason, a "deadbeat" can lose his
driver's license and passport, his occupational and
recreational licenses, have his wages garnished and his
assets seized. He also can be restrained without due
process -- a governmental feat even accused murderers
wouldn't be expected to tolerate.
Granted, the world isn't short on random randies who
impregnate women and run. But the "deadbeat dad" is
an egregious exaggeration -- a caricature of a few
desperate men who for various reasons, sometimes
pretty good ones, fail to hand over their paycheck.
In general, the deadbeat dad is less a scoundrel than the
pitiful, bastard off-spring of a divorce industry
predicated on the mistaken assumption that children
belong to one parent (the mother in 90 percent of
divorces), and that fathers, regardless of their income,
are cash cows.
The children of such couplings surely deserve better than
they're getting -- and surely some of that $4 billion in
taxpayer money could be used to that end -- but
building bureaucracies, policies and a police state
around myths and propaganda is helping no one.
The solution to the mythical deadbeat problem is
foremost to recognize that we're really talking about two
classes of people -- the welfare (never-married) class
for whom lack of education and unemployment are the
biggest problem; and the divorce class, whose problems
stem largely from the win-lose adversarial court system.
In both cases, government might properly play a role in
helping fathers become part of their children's lives
rather than in further alienating them. Children would
win; lawyers would lose; bureaucrats might get real jobs;
and government would return to the original concept of
by and for the people, rather than against.
Any dissenters to this ideal might be considered
JWR contributor Kathleen Parker can be reached by clicking here.
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©1999, Tribune Media Services