June 16, 2005
By Jeffery M. Leving & Glenn Sacks
Fatherhood has changed dramatically in the era of divorce and out of wedlock births, and much attention has been paid to two unfortunate products of this era—the absent father and the deadbeat dad. However, there is another type of father this era has produced, one which has received very little attention—the hero father.
According to the Children’s Rights Council, a Washington-based advocacy group, more than five million American children each year have their access to their noncustodial parents interfered with or blocked by custodial parents. Behind that statistic are legions of heroic divorced or separated fathers who fight a long, hard but generally unrecognized battle to remain a meaningful part of the lives of the children who love them and need them.
Some hero fathers move repeatedly to be near their children. In the controversial case of DeBrenes v. Traub, Eric Traub had already moved to new cities twice in order to be near his daughter when he was forced to conduct a lengthy and expensive legal struggle to prevent her from being moved to Costa Rica. As is typical, the court allowed the move. Traub’s determination paid off, however, as the now teenaged girl became so set against the move that her mother, to her credit, dropped the request.
Most fathers are not so fortunate. In a recent California Supreme Court case, Gary LaMusga, who operates a business in Northern California, fought for eight years to prevent his two young sons from being moved to Ohio, 2,000 miles away. He eventually won, but his victory was a pyrrhic one because his children had already been moved out of state in violation of court orders. In the strange world of modern family law, even with the new decision his children will not be moved back.
While divorced dads are unfairly stigmatized as stingy, some noncustodial fathers raise their children in their homes but still pay child support to the children’s mothers. Many others never ask for child support. In the face of a family court system which usually grants mothers a monopoly of power over children, these fathers must buy or rent their children back. When mothers allow their children to live with their fathers—or send them there because they’ve become unruly or inconvenient—fathers often won’t challenge custodial and financial arrangements because they fear doing so will mean they’ll be pushed out of their children’s lives.
Other fathers endure physical abuse at the hands of their wives but remain in the relationships because they know that divorce will leave their children alone in the custody—usually sole custody—of an abuser. Decades of research show that women are as likely to abuse their male partners as vice versa, and that heterosexual men make up a significant minority of those suffering injuries in domestic assaults. However, gender politics has kept this research from influencing government and law enforcement policies. Many men know that revealing their wives’ violence usually means the wife will claim that she was abused, and the system will side with her. Fathers are commonly arrested, punished or slapped with custody sanctions for their wives’ violence.
In one highly publicized case, Dr. Xavier Caro, a Northridge, California rheumatologist, endured years of physical abuse at the hands of his wife Socorro, who once assaulted him so badly he had to have surgery to regain his sight in one eye. Xavier stayed in the relationship for the sake of his kids but his efforts failed, as Socorro later shot and killed three of their four children.
Some fathers face false charges of domestic violence or sexual abuse, which are commonly used as custody maneuvers in divorce. Those most vulnerable to these charges are dads who are their children’s primary caregivers. Such charges are often made to separate these dads from their children so a new custody precedent can be set with mothers as the primary caregivers.
Falsely accused men often bankrupt themselves fighting to regain access to their children. Meanwhile, many can only see their children in nightmarish visitation centers where fathers are treated like criminals.
Over the past several decades the love and devotion of millions of fathers has been tested in ways few in previous generations experienced. This Father’s Day, let’s honor the hero father.
This column was first published in the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram (6/19/05).