American fathers get a bad rap. Unfairly stereotyped by critics left and right, male and female, at best the American father is generally portrayed as a second class parent. Worse still are the common images of fathers as deadbeats, philanderers, and abusers. However, research indicates that the overwhelming majority of American fathers are none of these.
Bad Rap #1: Men often desert their wives and children.
Actually, two-thirds or more of all divorces involving couples with children are initiated by mothers, not fathers.
A randomized study of 46,000 divorce cases published in the American Journal of Law and Economics found that in only 6% of cases women claimed to be divorcing abusive husbands, and that adultery was cited by women as a cause of divorce only slightly more than by men. Surveys of divorced couples show that the reasons for their divorces are generally a lack of closeness or of "not feeling loved and appreciated." It is usually women, not men, who are abandoning their spouses.
Bad Rap #2: Many, if not most, divorced and unwed fathers are "deadbeat dads."
Studies show that the overwhelming majority of steadily employed divorced fathers pay their child support. According to a US Government Accounting Office report, two-thirds of those fathers who do not pay their child support fail to do so because they are financially unable to do so, a figure verified by single mothers' explanations of why their exes were not paying child support. Most "dead beat dads" are either poor, unemployed, disabled, or in prison. Overall, 75% of the nearly $15 billion in child support owed annually is paid.
Bad Rap #3 Men, but not women, are often unfaithful to their spouses.
This popular misconception is belied by a large body research, including the 1990 Kinsey Institute of Sex Research report, the work of psychologist Anthony Thompson and licensed clinical social worker Paul Wulkan, and researchers such as Shirley Glass, Thomas Wright, Gilbert Nass, Roger Libby, and M. P. Fisher. This research estimates that for every five unfaithful husbands, there are four unfaithful wives.
Bad Rap #4 Almost all domestic violence and murder of spouses and intimates is committed by men.
Domestic violence research overwhelmingly shows that women are just as likely as men to initiate and engage in domestic violence, and that only a small percentage of women's domestic violence is committed in self-defense. Studies show that women often compensate for their smaller size by their significantly greater use of weapons and the element of surprise.
Official Department of Justice statistics show that men commit 70% of all murder of intimates. However, when other factors are accounted for, including unsolved murders, poisonings mistakenly classified as heart attacks, and contract killings classified as "multiple offender killings," women have been shown to be at least as likely as men to murder their current or former spouses or intimates.
Bad Rap #5 Most child abuse is committed by abusive fathers.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, nearly two-thirds of confirmed cases of child abuse and of parental murders of children are committed by mothers, not fathers. A 1999 report by the US Department of Health and Human Services revealed that, adjusting for the greater number of single mothers, a child is five times more likely to be murdered by a single mother than by a single father, and that children are 88% more likely to be seriously injured from abuse or neglect by their mothers than by their fathers.
Bad #6 Men don't do their share in the household, thus saddling mothers with a "second shift" of household labor.
For three decades independent studies, including the study released this spring by the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research (ISR), have shown that men do their share of household labor.
The ISR study shows that women do an average of 27 hours of housework a week, compared to 16 hours a week for men. Balanced against this, however, is the study's less-publicized finding that the average man spends 14 hours a week more on the job than the average woman. Thus men's overall contribution to the household is actually slightly higher than women's. In addition, working class men often do physically strenuous and dangerous jobs--a factor the survey does not consider.
The unfair stereotypes American fathers endure are more than an annoyance. They have had real and damaging consequences, such as the discrimination fathers often face in child custody matters. While there are bad apples in any group, the average American father does right by his children, and deserves to be spoken of accordingly.
This column first appeared on Cybercast News Service (6/17/02)