Fathers and Children
by Stephen Baskerville, PhD
contributor Stephen Baskerville has been elected president of the
American Coalition for Fathers and
This is based on his January 7, 2004, acceptance address:
is a tremendous honor to be asked to serve as President of the American
Coalition of Fathers and Children. We stand at a critical
point. Families today are under attack as never before. But this
attack does not come primarily from pornography, television, rock
music, drugs, or even homosexuality. The attack comes from government,
and it targets the family's weakest and most vulnerable point: the
father. The wholesale separation of children from their fathers,
the mass incarceration of fathers without due process of law, the
seizure of children from both mothers and fathers, the abuse of
children by the very officials who claim to be protecting them
this is hidden behind a media blackout, hidden behind the silence
of the politicians, but it is the terrifying reality for millions
crisis is especially acute now. Sharp increases in already-crushing
"child support" burdens, new penalties ostensibly to combat "domestic
violence" these will produce more broken homes and fatherless
children, more parents in jail, and further erosion of constitutional
it is also a hopeful time. As Americans wake up to the crimes being
committed against families by their own government, they shake their
heads in disbelief but cannot deny the reality they witness in their
own lives. The media and politicians too can no longer look the
other way, as fathers speak out and organize to protect their families.
and marriage issues are on the front pages around the world, and
ACFC intends to make fathers and parents generally a leading voice
in that conversation.
the coming months and years, I look forward to working with ACFC
Founder and Board Chairman David Roberts, Executive Director Mike
McCormick, Communications Director John Maguire, Treasurer Ileana
Basil, Membership Director Susan Antomarchi, and other prominent
activists and all of you to stop the systematic destruction of families.
ACFC is a rapidly growing organization, with new members and new
affiliates added daily. In partnership with groups formed by many
of you, ACFC will publicize and challenge the government's offensive.
are now resisting the government's intrusions with new determination.
I hear parents asking how they can become active, pledging to sacrifice
whatever is required, vowing never to relent, dedicating the remainder
of their lives to rescue their children from the clutches of this
cruel machine. And yes, I hear some parents (increasing numbers,
it seems) threatening to use measures which we dare not condone.
But I also hear them vowing sacrifices which we can only admire.
now, we witness courageous deeds and heroic sacrifices. In Britain,
fathers have placed their demands on the front pages of the most
prestigious news organizations in the world. In Australia, Prime
Minister John Howard has put divorce and custody issues before the
national legislature. In Canada, debates on custody law are also
fathers and parents, we are uniquely situated to lead families out
of this bondage, as others have done before. But we must have no
illusions. Before we reach the promised land of freedom, we must
fight our way through a wilderness of despair.
will be called vicious names: "deadbeat," "batterer," "pedophile,"
and more. We must withstand scorn from the media and politicians
that offers us no platform to defend ourselves. We must be prepared
to endure fabricated accusations of the most hideous crimes against
our own children, with few constitutional protections for our rights.
We must face summary incarceration from government bullies motivated
by a toxic mix of self-righteousness and self-dealing. Indeed, some
of us will find ourselves called upon to make (as some have already)
the supreme sacrifice that fathers have never hesitated to make
for the children.
must dispense with the illusion that others will win this struggle
for us. We must discard the vain hope that if only we inform them
of the terrible injustices perpetrated against parents and children,
then journalists, politicians, family advocates, or civil libertarians
will wake up, and do their jobs, and end this injustice.
bitter truth is that no one can "save the children" but their parents.
We alone are responsible for our children, and we alone must protect
them. No one will cry for us if we succumb. No one will respect
us if we complain. No one will listen to our excuses if we fail.
No one including our children themselves. The entire burden
rests upon us and no one else. But when we succeed and we will
succeed we will create a legacy of moral authority and family
strength that will be passed to our children, and to theirs, and
the most vicious among our opponents have paid us this high tribute:
They have made us responsible. "Father absence," we are told (and
told correctly), accounts for virtually all today's social problems.
And so we are blamed for being "absent" even when we have no
right to be present. We are held responsible when a marriage ends,
even when we did not end it. We alone are made responsible for providing
for our children, even when they are forcibly removed from our care.
We alone are held responsible for violence in the family, even when
we have not committed it (and even when it is committed against
us). We are held responsible for the abuse of our children, even
when they are abused by others. We are held responsible for the
wayward behavior of our children, even when we are not permitted
to offer them guidance and correction. Even when it is beyond our
control, we alone are responsible.
must not shirk this responsibility, for it is the essence of fatherhood.
We must embrace it, for it is the salvation of our children and
the restoration of our families. It is time we took the fair-weather
friends of fatherhood at their word by standing up and taking action.
The time for talk is past. It is now time to act.
let us take this opportunity to state clearly before the world who
we are and what we stand for.
are those who claim to advocate for an abstraction called "fatherhood."
Others describe themselves as defenders of "the" family. Many are
well-intentioned. But they tend to be political professionals, and
they often claim to speak for "the children," not their own.
of these professionals chide us because (they say) we are looking
out for our own interests, our own families. They seem to claim
moral superiority because they concern themselves with other people's
is true that we have a personal interest in preserving families.
Because we (and we alone) are defending our families. For
us, the family is not an abstraction or an object for our good deeds.
We do not pretend to be motivated by concern for someone else's
children. We concern ourselves only with our own. We are not crusaders
or zealots. And we are not professionals. We are proud to be amateurs
(literally, those "who love"). We are parents, and our aims are
limited. But that is not our weakness; that is our strength.
is our strength because we have the authority not of paid officials
but of parents and citizens. Politicians always promise to return
power to "the people." But we are the people. We have endured
much from the politicians, but when they take our children, we draw
good intentions of fatherhood promoters, family defenders, and children's
advocates cannot meet the test. They will not fight for our children.
They will not sacrifice for our children. They will not risk their
careers or livelihoods or lives for our children. They will not
die for our children.
is no such abstraction as "the" family. There are only families
our families. We alone can and will defend them. If others
wish to help journalists, politicians, defenders of the Constitution,
critics of the judiciary, civil libertarians we welcome them,
and they will have our gratitude. But we must make it clear to friend
and foe alike that this is foremost our struggle. We and
we alone can save families, because they are our families.
we do not trumpet an abstraction called "fatherhood." We are concerned
with our fatherhood, the fatherhood of each individual father.
And we will establish it not with words that cost nothing but with
deeds that may cost us dearly indeed.
those who pose as the champions of fatherhood dislike our deeds,
then it is time they examined what they mean by "fatherhood." For
if it means anything less than defending one's children against
those who would interfere with them or take them away, then theirs
is a definition of fatherhood we find wanting. They are entitled
to their opinion, of course, but we are entitled to our children.
And our children are entitled to us.
are important (to a point), and "a decent respect to the opinions
of mankind" is obligatory in a democracy. But few who have both
would regard their opinions as being of equal importance as their
children. While we respect the opinions of others about the best
interest of children in the abstract, we expect others to respect
our decisions about the best interest of our own children. And we
expect them to understand something more: that no parent is answerable
to government officials for how they raise their children or for
exercising their right and duty to protect them. The best
interest of children is a continued meaningful relationship with
both parents. And the best way to achieve that is limit the discretion
of judges with a rebuttable presumption of 50-50 shared parenting
We Stand Now
is impossible to overestimate the burden that weighs upon our shoulders.
We face a government that threatens our children, our lives, our
Constitution, and quite possibly the very basis of civilization
itself. Before our very eyes we see history's greatest experiment
in human freedom being debased into a ruthless, depraved, diabolical
has fallen to us "to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never
surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime." But
this tyranny does not come from abroad; it has arisen in our very
midst. It is a tyranny of cowards, that hides in secret courtrooms
and protected offices, that fears the citizens it ostensibly serves,
while cynically using and abusing innocent children to increase
the power of grown-ups.
this foe, we have no illusions that our struggle will be easy, that
laws will be passed tomorrow to free our children. Even were this
to happen, it would be to little avail. New laws are only as effective
as the citizens who demand them. The means of freeing our children
are already in our own hands. Our children will be free when their
fathers stand up and speak out like men. Families will be safe and
strong when parents everywhere know they must join us and build
upon our work or face destruction, as we do now.
is not an option, because we fight for our very survival and for
the survival of our children, and of their children. We will comport
ourselves with dignified outrage. We will never cross the line into
violence. But neither will we relent, withdraw, or surrender. And
if we are struck down, others will rise up in our place.
Far Do We Go?
we speak out is a decision that each of us must make alone. We in
the national offices of ACFC understand our task of providing leadership.
But some initiative must come from you. Throughout the US and the
world, parents are finding bold and creative ways of calling attention
to this tyranny. Their courage is producing results.
is a broad political church. Each of us has our own views about
the most fundamental questions before us: the goals we seek, the
priorities we deem most urgent, the methods of achieving those aims.
Inevitably, differences and disagreements must arise. As always,
there will be the cautious and the impatient, the timid and the
eager, the moderates and the militants. In our case, however, these
differences represent more: Often, they reflect what the government
has done (and can still do) to us in particular and to our children.
the usual need for unity and forbearance of differences, therefore,
we have a special need for charity toward one another. No man who
sees his children has a right to brand as extreme one who does not.
Likewise, no man has a right to label as timid one who, by acting
rashly, could lose access to his children as a result. Were the
circumstances reversed, the self-styled man of reason may be the
one to find himself (as journalists say) "foaming at the mouth,"
and the coward may prove a hero.
each decides to serve, each has a role, and all are needed. ACFC
is here to offer support. The only line we draw is that ACFC does
not condone violence in any form as a political method.
You Can Do
power of the divorce regime is formidable, but the power in our
own hands is much greater. They are trading in lies, and as Dr.
King said, "No lie can live forever."
the power of the truth, we have 1520 million non-custodial
parents, plus tens of millions more who love and support them. United
in one voice and with our friends abroad, we have the power to check
the global destruction of families.
even short of that, your personal action now sends a message to
your own children in particular, even children whom you may think
have been irrevocably lost to you: Their father or mother loves
them enough to sacrifice, to risk, and to act.
times of crisis, people often ask, "Where are the heroes?" In this
crisis, the heroes can come from only one place: the parents, and
foremost fathers. You may not realize it yet, but eventually the
eyes of the world and of history will be upon us. We will be weighed
in the balance, and future generations will judge what we do.
[send him mail],
teaches political science at Howard University in
Washington, D.C. He earned his Ph.D. in political science from the
London School of Economics.
© 2004 Stephen Baskerville