Military Dads Denied Father's Rights

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While
he was deployed in Afghanistan, a U.S. Navy Seal wrote a
lullaby
for his son Sean, whom he calls “SS.”

The
song opens:

Rock
a bye SS/ ROCK Rock a Bye/ you sang to me each eve/ And you gave
me rolling rock a byes of dreams I’ve yet to dream.

Each
night I’d pray that when I’d awake/ You’d have safely ROCK’d me
home to the greatest gift, the Lord hath given me/ my little son
named Sean.

Sean
may never hear that lullaby again, not because his father Gary died
but because Sean’s mother relocated him to Israel. She visited family
there during one of Gary’s re-deployments and simply stayed, seeking
a divorce from abroad.

Gary
has unsuccessfully battled the family court system in California,
which has jurisdiction over the divorce, for almost two years in
order to gain some access to SS. After all, that same court demands
he pay hefty child support.

“I
am paying $2,100 a month not to see my son,” Gary told Fox News
in 2003.

This
is the new face of father’s rights, a face men’s rights activists
are determined you will see in coming months: the military man who
is "processed" by the family courts during his tour of
duty or upon his return. A father who returns "home" to
children he cannot see and, often, to support payments he cannot
make.

“Sometimes
I wonder what I risked my life for [in Afghanistan],” Gary told
fathers’ rights activist Glenn Sacks. "I went to fight for
freedom but what freedom and what rights mean anything if a man
doesn’t have the right to be a father to his own child?”

On
March 13, the men’s rights syndicated radio show “His Side” featured
Gary in a program
entitled “Two Years into Iraq War, Little Has Been Done to Protect
the Rights of Military Fathers.” Gary is not
alone
.

The
grassroots organization American Coalition of Fathers and Children
has just launched a vigorous ad
campaign
to educate the public on how anti-father bias in the
courts is destroying the family. An ad currently being prepared
by the ACFC highlights the dilemma of military dads who are victimized
by zero-tolerance and unreasonable legislation that was passed to
deal with “deadbeats.”

Activists
are pushing the image of the military father who is victimized by
family courts not merely because it is true but primarily because
it is effective. That image breaks through the pervasive cultural
stereotype that fathers who lose custody or become “deadbeats” are
uncaring, unfit, wife beating, child-abusing losers who deserve
what they get.

Do
uncaring and unfit fathers exist? Absolutely. But others fathers
resemble Gary – a Navy veteran with a perfect military and
civilian record. It is his image that father’s rights activists
want you to see.

Why?
Because to a large extent, it is the stereotype of the loser or
abusive dad that permits family courts, government agencies and
the general public to turn a deaf ear to the three main complaints
of father’s rights activists. These complaints are:

  • Responsible
    fathers are commonly denied custody or access to their children,
    often through the mother’s relocation
  • Paternity
    fraud goes unpunished or even rewarded by judges who assess
    child support nevertheless
  • Child
    support standards are unreasonable

By
contrast, the family court system cannot ignore the complaints of
alienated military fathers with the same impunity. For one thing,
public opinion will not permit them to do so.

An
indication of how strong the public backlash might be came in the
early ’90s with the Bobby
Sherrill
case. Sherrill wasn’t a member of the military proper;
he was a Lockheed employee and divorced father working in Kuwait
when Iraq invaded.

Sherrill
was held captive by the Iraqis for five months. Upon his return
to North Carolina, he was arrested for non-payment of $1,425 in
child support that accrued while he was a hostage.

The
public backlash passed, partly because people assumed Sherrill was
an aberration, a bizarre exception under an otherwise "good"
law. But Sherrill was imprisoned because of the same unreasonable
legislation that returning military fathers and every other alienated
dad in America must face.

Phyllis
Schlafly, who publicly endorses the ACFC ad spotlighting military
fathers – blasts one particular piece
of legislation
in her Feb. 18 column at TownHall, entitled “Reservists
deserve protection from family-court mischief.”

She
writes, "The Bradley
Amendment
…takes us back to the cruel days of debtors’ prisons.
It requires that a child-support debt cannot be retroactively reduced
or forgiven, and states enforce this law no matter what the change
in a father’s income, no matter if he is sent to war…and no matter
if he is ever allowed to see his children.”

Consider
one example of how the Bradley Amendment impacts military fathers.
Reservists typically assume a sizeable pay cut when they transfer
into military life. But child support is based on their civilian
salaries and the Bradley Amendment effectively blocks readjustment
of that debt.

Thousands
of miles away and out of communication, such fathers are vulnerable
to defaults that can lead to financial ruin, as well as the forfeiture
of passports, driver’s and professional licenses. In some states,
a default of over $5,000 is a felony that includes imprisonment.

Advocates
of the Bradley Amendment maintain that taking a rock-hard line is
necessary to ensure that deadbeat dads do not use loopholes to avoid
their obligations. But these advocates are now arguing against a
very different image of divorced fatherhood: the military dad.

He
voices a message on behalf of every alienated father. Repeal the
zero tolerance laws that have removed compassion and circumstance
from family law. Repeal the Bradley Amendment; remove the bureaucracy
that automatically separates father and child.

March
24, 2005

Wendy
McElroy [send her mail]
is the editor of ifeminists.com
and a research fellow for The
Independent Institute
in Oakland, Calif. She is the author and
editor of many books and articles, including the new book, Liberty
for Women: Freedom and Feminism in the 21st Century

(Ivan R. Dee/Independent Institute, 2002).

Wendy
McElroy Archives

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