Column: Fatherless in America

By John Bambenek

Last week in Urbana, the American Coalition for Fathers and Children began a campaign aimed at Champaign County Judge Arnold Blockman on how he handles custody of children in divorce cases. Generally speaking, in almost all cases Judge Blockman will award custody to only one parent and give two weekend visits to the other parent. Most of the time (but not always), it is the mother that gets total custody – thus cutting the father out of the child’s life in a significant way.

Every reputable study on the subject indicates that children do best when both biological parents have a relationship with their children. Yet the courts, particularly in Champaign County, do not recognize this. In fact, when a parent expresses that they’d like shared custody, Judge Blockman makes the assumption they don’t really want to parent the child and terminates their custody. This is not the behavior of a judge; it is the behavior or a bureaucrat who decides not on the merits but on some list of rules. If bureaucracy was sufficient to handle such matters, then divorce could be handled by the county clerk’s office.

It’s true that some parents need to have their custodial rights terminated. But, most parents want to have a positive role in their children’s lives. Preventing them from building a relationship with their children without just cause is fundamentally wrong. This is particularly true of fathers who more often than not get told the only contribution they should be making after divorce is child support payments. While this attitude has tempered somewhat over the years, it is still present.

Radical feminism is, in part, to blame. For years, radical feminists told women that they don’t need men. In this line of thinking, filing for divorce is liberating because she doesn’t need a man. And apparently, neither does her children. In reality, women need men, men need women and children need their parents. Both of them.

Men – fathers in particular – have taken a beating in the media as a result of radical feminism. Gone are the images of wholesome and honest fathers on TV to be replaced by babbling, whining baboons that act more like children than fathers. Many hold up the image of the hard-working single mother (and rightfully so), but where are the images of the hard-working father celebrated?

Illinois law is largely silent on the issue of parental custody leaving the issue to be adjudicated by a judge. All the evidence points to the fact that shared parenting would be a far superior arrangement except in the cases of abuse or other significant defects; yet this doesn’t translate into how things are done in Champaign. One person going through the custody process now questions whether the American Bar Association takes into account the fact that $15 billion in legal fees would be lost if shared parenting were the rule. Perhaps this is why when Rep. Richard P. Myers, R-94th., introduced a bill to emphasize shared parenting as the rule last year, it was the lawyer lobby that helped kill the bill.

The other camp of opposition to making shared parenting the rule and not the exception was the domestic violence lobby. Once again, this shows the difference between how liberals and conservatives look at things. Conservatives see the case of domestic abuse as an exception that should be handled when it happens. Liberals see the potential of domestic abuse in all men, and thus all men must be treated as if they are already guilty of it and have their parental rights terminated.

Children need a mother and a father. Divorce is an unfortunate reality in this culture which need not translate into ripping one parent out of the life of their children arbitrarily. What’s best for children, and not lawyers, is what custody decisions should be based on. It would be ideal if men and women were given the tools and support in this society to remain married for their whole lives, but that’s a topic for another column.

John Bambenek is a graduate student and a University employee. His column appears every Friday. He can be reached at [email protected]