Join 3,415 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


End Disposable Marriage
July 2, 2009 8:59 AM   Subscribe

Leah Ward Sears, former Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court, on the destruction of fatherhood in Western society. This may sound like heresy, but I believe the United States and a host of Western democracies are engaged in an unintended campaign to diminish the importance of marriage and fatherhood. By refusing to do everything we can to stem the rising rate of divorce and unwed childbearing, our country often isolates fathers (and sometimes mothers) from their children and their families.
posted by smoothvirus (127 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
Absolutely. And it doesn’t help matters when prime time TV has Murphy Brown – a character who supposedly epitomizes today’s intelligent, highly paid, professional woman – mocking the importance of a father, by bearing a child alone, and calling it just another “lifestyle choice.”
posted by Horace Rumpole at 9:05 AM on July 2, 2009 [28 favorites]


In my experience and the experience of most of my friends, the thing that separates more fathers from their children and families than anything else is being shitty fathers and husbands.

Or maybe it's the government's fault somehow. Could go either way.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 9:07 AM on July 2, 2009 [46 favorites]


He railed against intentional unwed childbearing and the ease with which divorce was possible.

which is certainly something worth railing against, in certain respects.

but there's always been this part of me that wonders if the problem is the ease of divorce or the ease of marriage. which is to say, if we make divorce difficult then marriage can be a trap easily entered into. if two people foolishly marry, then the release from that mistake shouldn't be difficult.

if we could, however, encourage forethought in marriage, and in some way impress the actual weight of committing yourself to someone for life on people, that seems to me to be the better solution to the problem of frequent divorce.

how would we do that?

I have no fucking idea.
posted by shmegegge at 9:08 AM on July 2, 2009 [20 favorites]


Horace Rumpole: "Absolutely. And it doesn’t help matters when prime time TV has Murphy Brown – a character who supposedly epitomizes today’s intelligent, highly paid, professional woman – mocking the importance of a father, by bearing a child alone, and calling it just another “lifestyle choice.”"

Is this a joke? stupid internet makes it hard to recognize jokes sometimes. are you quoting dan quayle here? if this isn't a joke, then you have a strange definition of both "today" and "mocking."
posted by shmegegge at 9:09 AM on July 2, 2009 [4 favorites]


"Unwed childbearing" is not a disease, nor is it responsible for men who are having trouble defining themselves as men/fathers/what have you. No man is being forced to marry, or to father children outside of marriage.

His brother's suicide is tragic, but to blame it on the fact that his wife was able to divorce him, and not perhaps a lack of access to counseling or other personal problems, is misguided.

And of course, his essay implies that if men/fathers are suffering, then we would be justified in making women suffer by not allowing them to get divorces anymore at will. Which is insane. And also does not allow that hey, men often want divorces too. Sometimes it's even mutual.

This whole piece is a big wailing trainwreck of confused assumptions and leftover sexism.
posted by emjaybee at 9:09 AM on July 2, 2009 [3 favorites]


It's one thing to rail against no-fault divorce, and it's another thing entirely to look someone in the eye and say 'You have to stay in this awful marriage.'
posted by box at 9:10 AM on July 2, 2009 [5 favorites]


Eliminating divorce as a potentially lucrative financial venture for one party might help.
posted by Krrrlson at 9:14 AM on July 2, 2009 [11 favorites]


By refusing to do everything we can to stem the rising rate of divorce and unwed childbearing...

First - birth control & right to choose?

Second - it seems the issue is less divorce and more about catching up to structuring functional families- which may not look anything like the traditional nuclear family expectation.
posted by yeloson at 9:14 AM on July 2, 2009 [3 favorites]


stem the rising rate of ... unwed childbearing

These "Idiocracy" fans are getting more vocal all the time.
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:15 AM on July 2, 2009


Isn't the statute of limitations up on Murphy Brown yet? That show was on twenty years ago and you're still mad at it Horace?
posted by octothorpe at 9:16 AM on July 2, 2009


But no-fault divorce's broad acceptance as an unquestioned social good helped usher in an era that fundamentally altered the seriousness with which marriage is viewed. It effectively ended marriage as a legal contract since either party can terminate it, with or without cause. This leaves many people struggling to remake their lives after painful divorces that they do not want.

Should marriage be seen as a legal contract, or as a bond between two loving adults? And clearly someone wanted the divorce if it happened. Divorces don't just result because you were the 100th person to enter the courthouse on Tuesday.

Instead of focusing on the end of the marriage, focus on the beginning. Angry at children born out of wedlock? Educate people about options for safe sex. But rallying against divorce is going about it all backwards. And truly, honestly, sometimes people change and it really is best for both people to be apart. Yes, it can suck for the kids, but would it be better for them to be around a loveless or angry couple, or have two sets of parents who can now search for something better?
posted by filthy light thief at 9:16 AM on July 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


Horace has been too long at Pommeroy's, I think.
posted by everichon at 9:17 AM on July 2, 2009


Cntrl+F= "birth contr"

Not Found
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:17 AM on July 2, 2009 [5 favorites]


You know, my husband was a stay at home Dad during our daughter's short life.

It drove me crazy when I read Parents magazine. The magazine is called Parents, right? But it's chock-full of ads for makeup, yoga classes, what Mom's should do, articles like "Be the best MOM in the playgroup," and so forth. It's been a long time since I looked at the magazine, and I do understand demographics and advertising revenue and key audiences, but the magazine totally marginalized fathers. It drove me, and my husband, CRAZY.

And then when we were in the hospital, I was working full-time and my husband was the main day-to-day hospital and childcare person. And the nurses and doctors would all ask "Where's Mom?" as if he could not possibly figure out how to do tummy-time and show up for appointments on time and feed the baby. They were shocked, appalled even when I was not there. But if I came alone, there was never shock that Dad was not there. But what can I say, that was the deep south.

And then I read AskMe answers (example) talking about how Dads are in the way or interfering when they try to care for a child. And I hear people, not necesarily Mefites, talking about how MOM is the one equipped to make decisions on child-rearing and Dad should know better than to cause trouble by proposing to have an opinion. People who feel that Mom's thoughts are LAW on raising the child. Ugh.

Well, this is obviously a RANT, but I do believe strongly that fathers who take a large role in childrearing are marginalized and somewhat the butt of jokes. I do, however, believe that is changing. Fathers play a really important role in childrens', especially daughter's, self-esteem and growing up. A society that focuses on the "sanctity of marriage" only insofar as controlling the gender of people who marry, and who focuses on the "sanctity of life" only up to the moment the child is born, is doing it wrong. My husband was a WAY better parent than I was, and my daughter and I were (are) lucky to have him. I wish all fathers were more encouraged.
posted by bunnycup at 9:17 AM on July 2, 2009 [129 favorites]


It's one thing to rail against no-fault divorce, and it's another thing entirely to look someone in the eye and say 'You have to stay in this awful marriage.'

Everybody's against divorce until they need one.
posted by baltimoretim at 9:18 AM on July 2, 2009 [5 favorites]


Um Horace was obviously joking wake up sheepeople.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:19 AM on July 2, 2009


(Please excuse the somewhat OT, train of consciousness, ridiculousness of my rant. It's a sensitive subject for me, one on which I go off with very little provocation.)
posted by bunnycup at 9:20 AM on July 2, 2009


Shmegegge, octothorpe, I was sarcastically quoting Dan Quayle's speech from 1992 by way of an unflattering comparison between Sears's ideas and Quayle's widely derided attack on Murphy Brown.

This has been Jokes Overexplained. I'm Horace Rumpole. Good night.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 9:21 AM on July 2, 2009 [54 favorites]


Divorce laws are State laws, and Georgia does seem to have a fairly short turn around time for a no-fault divorce compared with my State, which requires a one year separation if children are involved before a divorce is final. If she wants to work on State policy issues, that's her right. The generalizations don't really hold up.
posted by rainbaby at 9:23 AM on July 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


but there's always been this part of me that wonders if the problem is the ease of divorce or the ease of marriage. which is to say, if we make divorce difficult then marriage can be a trap easily entered into. if two people foolishly marry, then the release from that mistake shouldn't be difficult.

I think there's a couple of ways to talk about this. There's the standard liberal reply, which to say something like, "well of course marriage is important, we like families too, blah blah blah even though this guy is a little nuts and we thought 'Murphy Brown' was actually a pretty good show and we're cool with lesbians too..." etc etc etc

Then there's reality, thought about logically: "Marriage" is a ritual and business contract. People who get married have entered into a business contract, so when they no longer wish to live together, they will have to hire some lawyers and do some financial wrangling. That is all. The connection to quality of parenting and "legitimacy" of a child is medieval.
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:23 AM on July 2, 2009 [4 favorites]


bunnycup: Favorited.
posted by ZakDaddy at 9:24 AM on July 2, 2009


I stand by my Pommeroy's crack, mainly because I would like to be too long there, myself.
posted by everichon at 9:26 AM on July 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Exactly how does one engage in an "unintended campaign to diminish the importance of marriage and fatherhood"?

It's either intended, or it's not a campaign.
posted by blucevalo at 9:26 AM on July 2, 2009 [5 favorites]


And of course, his essay implies that if men/fathers are suffering, then we would be justified in making women suffer by not allowing them to get divorces anymore at will.

her essay
posted by pyramid termite at 9:26 AM on July 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Given the basics of the article, the somewhat obvious conclusion on how to reduce divorces without making divorce any harder to get is by reducing the number of marriages. Charge $5,000 for a marriage license. Or make people wait 3 years for one. Or make them attend 120 hours of training first. Same for childbirth.

Alternatively, get use to the fact that life generally sucks.
posted by GuyZero at 9:26 AM on July 2, 2009 [6 favorites]


Horace was quoting Dan Quayle's 1992 remarks at the Commonwealth Club of California.

People have been lamenting the breakdown of the family unit since the family unit began. I don't know what the solutions are, but I know it's not a "new" phenomenon.
posted by amyms at 9:27 AM on July 2, 2009


"Sears and her first husband, Love Collins III, divorced in 1994."

This judge divorced LOVE, people! If that's not a recommendation to take anything they have to say about marriage with a grain of salt, I don't know what is.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:29 AM on July 2, 2009 [5 favorites]


Hey bunnycup; when my husband took our infant son on a flight without me, the stewardesses would try to tell him how to hold the baby (because he was too stupid to know!), and asked a lot of questions as if they thought he'd just stolen the kid somewhere. So I hear you. And Parenting was definitely a crap magazine.

This guy, though, seems to be more upset that fathers no longer have so much unquestioned authority over their wives, those divorcing/out-of-wedlock baby-having sluts. Which is a different thing altogether.
posted by emjaybee at 9:30 AM on July 2, 2009


Ha, I should not have assumed the judge was a "he". Men have no lock on cluelessness.
posted by emjaybee at 9:31 AM on July 2, 2009


What drives me crazy as a father is when I'm out with my son and someone asks me something like, "oh, watching the kid today?" or "giving mom a break, huh?" as if it's utterly alien to spend time with him for reasons besides getting in her good graces.
posted by boo_radley at 9:31 AM on July 2, 2009 [13 favorites]


This guy, though, seems to be more upset that fathers no longer have so much unquestioned authority over their wives, those divorcing/out-of-wedlock baby-having sluts.

emjaybee, a WOMAN wrote that article, and your sexism is showing
posted by pyramid termite at 9:32 AM on July 2, 2009 [6 favorites]


I do not think you are ranting, bunnycup. I happen to agree. My father, well, the less said about him the better, but I have seen some pretty good fathers marginalized because Dad < Mom, by default, even for values of Mom << 1.

And, well, sit down and watch TV. It's full of Idiot Dad Syndrome. I'm hardly a proponent of Father Knows Best (I've lived otherwise), but I think the pendulum has swung a little too far to the other side. I know, "it's just TV," right? That phrase might even be said by people who will earnestly weigh in on what media images do to women. It really does cut both ways.

However, I would not blame the no-fault divorce. It's what happens after the no-fault divorce that is the problem; the concept that we must make a choice, For The Children, between mom and dad. We do not have to make the choice, every time, and we do not necessarily swing the bulk of the parenting instinct to mom.
posted by adipocere at 9:32 AM on July 2, 2009 [3 favorites]


Here's an idea. Instead of making divorce harder to get, how about getting this culture to reduce the insane pressure on every breathing, vaguely sentient human over the age of 18 to get married and have the babies? How about instead of convincing people over and over again that getting married is but a step in your path to being a grown up, followed by the babies, we focus on teaching everyone (old and young) that marriage is a partnership and a Big Deal and having kids is an even BIGGER deal and should not be undertaken lightly.

I've been in two very long term relationships, and in both I was against marriage because I just don't like the idea. In both situations there were huge factors in why we had no business getting married, but did that deter anyone from nagging and pressuring? Nope.
Hell, if I'd gotten married when I was "supposed" to, I'd be twice divorced by now...or trapped in a truly miserable marriage.

And bunnycup, you are so not ranting. It's insane that most of the men I know who are fathers are active and involved in their children's lives, and it's considered amazing. Not normal. And who gets the praise for these men being involved at the level that they actually should be? Their wives. For some how magically tricking these men into being responsible and decent fathers.

Feh. Humans annoy me so sometimes.
posted by teleri025 at 9:35 AM on July 2, 2009 [29 favorites]


by the way, this is what absolutely sucks about discussion on this site these days - people so determined to forward their own points of view at any costs that they'll even make a straw man out of a woman and make up all sorts of motivations and changes for someone else's point of view, including virtual sex change operations

metafilter - talk to the hand furiously typing because the ears aren't listening
posted by pyramid termite at 9:35 AM on July 2, 2009 [3 favorites]


Also, some observations:
As others have noted, the judge is a woman. In fact, I'm not sure I've ever heard of a man named Leah.
She writes about no-fault divorce in brief and says that it's "a response to a very real problem", too, so it's maybe not correct to say she's railing against it.
The piece is more about her brother's particularly sad case, I think, and trying to prevent it from happening to others. Not a bad goal.
posted by boo_radley at 9:40 AM on July 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


This has been Jokes Overexplained. I'm Horace Rumpole. Good night.

It was a good joke, Horace. I LOL'ed. Before the explanation, even.
posted by mr_roboto at 9:41 AM on July 2, 2009 [3 favorites]


If she genuinely cares about children as much as she claims, we warmly and thankfully welcome Leah Ward Sears' unreserved and unconditional support (as well as the official support of the Institute for American Values, which she represents) for:

• the full faith and credit clause of the United States Constitution
• the defense of equal protection statutes and already-existing rights to (same-sex) marriage
• the legal protection of adoption rights for gay and lesbian couples
• the legal protection of the children raised in a loving home by gay and lesbian couples (whether original or adopted)

Ms. Sears, if you really care about children, there is a lot you can do to help. The ball is in your court.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:46 AM on July 2, 2009 [8 favorites]


And, well, sit down and watch TV. It's full of Idiot Dad Syndrome. I'm hardly a proponent of Father Knows Best (I've lived otherwise), but I think the pendulum has swung a little too far to the other side. I know, "it's just TV," right? That phrase might even be said by people who will earnestly weigh in on what media images do to women. It really does cut both ways.

I could not agree with you more. In our culture, it is perfectly okay - encouraged, even - to send the message that Men Are Idiots. And that men, to BE men, SHOULD be idiots. That stupid behavior is to be expected because, after all, we are talking about a MAN.

I don't usually come down on the side of "jokes about X are not okay because X is actually serious," but I think sometimes it shows something about what society thinks is normal. See, for example, the recent prison rape discussion - society thinks prison rape is normal. We do not make FGM jokes, because we don't think that is normal. Of course there is more to it than that, but that's my take.

So, far from saying "We should stop people from showing Idiot Dad Syndrome on TV," I say "We should educate people - male and female - against marginalizing fathers." I've noted so many of my female friends who push the father out of the picture by ridiculing his opinions, acting as if he is incapable, refusing to take his advice or assistance, and so forth, and then turn around and COMPLAIN when he gets the message and does not take an active role in parenthood.

And I think a lot of the responsibility for that education, should be in the hands of those groups/individuals who set themselves out as parenting authorities - Parents and Parenting magazines, childbirth and childrearing coaches, and so forth, who, in my opinion, reinforce strenuously the Men Are Idiots theory. Accepting and believing that Men Are Not Idiots is sort of, IMO, a pre-requisite for adjusting the (percieved) notion that men get the short end of the stick in custody, female on male domestic abuse, alimony/child support, Family Medical Leave and other issues.
posted by bunnycup at 9:48 AM on July 2, 2009 [16 favorites]


People have been lamenting the breakdown of the family unit since the family unit began. I don't know what the solutions are, but I know it's not a "new" phenomenon.

The trend is not new. But it is intensifying.
posted by Kwantsar at 9:49 AM on July 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Shmegegge:"but there's always been this part of me that wonders if the problem is the ease of divorce or the ease of marriage."

THIS! We are not suffering from a divorce epidemic, but rather a marriage epidemic. I have been saying this for years. Too many people are getting married for stupid reasons. Young women who keep "marriage books" - images force-fed to young people by the media about how your wedding somehow validates you as an adult - all this is the root of the cancer itself.

I know this is going to offend but I think it needs to be said: more people need premarital counseling before they get hitched and I don't think it's happening. As a pastor, part of my job involves sitting down and talking to people, at length, over several sessions, before they get married. Perhaps I recommend them to a professional therapist (as pastors are usually not licensed marriage counselors.) But at least I get them to make an honest assessment of their scenario before they tie the knot! And one of the most important things that needs to somehow be drilled into the heads of every high school student is this -

That beautiful engagement ring there on your finger? That rock you saved up for? That is not an agreement to get married. It's an agreement to consider getting married. People are terrified to break off their engagements! And they end up in unhappy, disposable marriages.

And, speaking as a token Xian whose friends are almost all atheists - When you ask your aunt Sue or your friendly neighbor Bob or your favorite philosophy professor Hank or some other secular person to perform your marriage - please, for the love of God, go get some pre-marital counseling somewhere. Because one of the things you (typically) get with clergy is a frank assessment of what you're getting yourselves into.

Way, way too many people getting married these days, too young, for the wrong reasons.

sorry for the rant - this is an issue close to my heart - I got married for stupid reasons at the age of 21 and paid almost no attention to the advice that old guy in the collar gave me in that dusty old office... paid a dear, dear price for it.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 9:54 AM on July 2, 2009 [36 favorites]


the thing that separates more fathers from their children and families than anything else is

...bad children. Mommy and Daddy would still be together if it wasn't for you.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 9:54 AM on July 2, 2009 [18 favorites]


I remember talking to a friend in the Phillippines, who was waiting for a divorce - for seven years. She also mentioned that once the seven years were up the judge could reject the divorce. While a seven year waiting period might make some people consider marriage more, it wound up a pretty sad time. She hadn't seen her husband in years and new relationships were somewhat limited.
posted by Deep Dish at 9:55 AM on July 2, 2009



There are problems with single parenthood in America. Chief among them: it is ridiculously easy for a mother to drive a father out of a childs life. Women's abuse groups are far too eager to help in that campaign.

Now, I am going to admit straight up that I am somewhat biased in this regard - my own custody battle has been as brutal and trying as it is long lasting. I've held on because I believed I had a moral imperative to do so, but really the rational thing would have been to cut my losses and move on long ago.

Now, I don't want to come off as some sort of anti-feminist crank. I'm not, and many women's shelters and groups do good work, and not every woman is my ex. Kids need both parents around, and both parents should have the opportunites to have substantial time with their kids.

That said - I've lost jobs, and girlfriends, and spent thousands of dollars because the courts and the womens groups were willing to believe my ex without any evidence whatsoever. While she got lawyers and advocates and contacts, I got harassed and investigated and humiliated, and there was no agency or group to help me. And I cannot believe that I would be an outlier.

And that's just it - the harassment was the point, not the best interests of the child. I was an abuser, no matter what, and no lack of evidence, arrests, police reports, or injuries was going to convince them otherwise. The goal of the women's shelter was to help her eliminate the father from the picture through whatever means necessary. And the harassment is incredibly effective; try to arrange a birthday party for your 3 year old after the sheriff has been by the day care center to investigate a (false) claim of sexual molestation. Try to keep your job after CPS comes by and talks your boss about allegations of substance abuse and child neglect are raised. Soon, your son's friends aren't allowed to come over, because the police talked to the neighbors about the alleged abuses.

And it's an attitude that still pervades - although thing have been changing. In WI, the law and practice make it almost impossible for one parent to have sole custody. Unless there is a substantiated finding of abuse and neglect, the courts allow both parents to have significant access to the child(ren). The crap that I went through in the early years of my son's life would be very difficult for her to achieve now.

Even with those changes, society still clings to these notions that cutting one parent (usually the father) is laudable idea and worthy goal. This needs to change and until it does, this guys complaints about the respect paid to fathers rings terribly, unfortunately, true.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 9:55 AM on July 2, 2009 [32 favorites]


Baby_Balrog, I do not think YOU are ranting either. I agree.
posted by bunnycup at 9:55 AM on July 2, 2009


short answer: there is no solution. Divorce and serial marriage or same marriage and adultery to ease insane relationship. If no fault works for car insurance, why not for marriage?
how manyh people posting comments have been married and then divorced? and then remarried?
posted by Postroad at 9:56 AM on July 2, 2009


To add to Blazecock's list, I'd like to hear self-proclaimed advocates of strengthening marriage and families advocate federally mandated maternal and paternal leave. The silence is deafening and pathetic.

The fundamental problem with this article is that Sears' concern is fundamentally misplaced. She experienced a devastating personal tragedy -- the suicide of her recently divorced brother -- and decided that no-fault divorce laws were too blame for his suffering and death. Her efforts would have been more appropriately directed toward public education about mental health and lobbying for increased funding for counseling and medical coverage.

Sears' approach is heartfelt, but it's a disastrous recipe for sound public policy. She reminds me of the loved ones of people who kill themselves by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge, discussed in this thread, and who blame the bridge.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 9:59 AM on July 2, 2009 [5 favorites]


I wonder how many husbands duck down and say "yes darling" instead of say "no darling" just because they don't want to risk divorce and their kids taken away from them.

Which maybe is the way to mess up the relationship for good.

And I always wondered how most of the guys I meet at work, which are amiable interesting and more-than-decent people, at the end come with the usual refrain "2 kids then divorce". I mean do they turn into wife-beating at-kids-yelling monster once at home ? Or they just said "no darling" once too much ? Or was the wife, that grew 9 heads every night ? we shall not know..

Got to go, I have a string of "yes darling" to say before nightfall.

Waiting for the good advices ....
posted by elcapitano at 10:00 AM on July 2, 2009


Bitch never met my father.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:01 AM on July 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


A divorce is not easy to get unless you are being abused with overwhelming proof or have $3000 (in NJ if it's uncontested and without property or children) lying around. Otherwise you're shit out of luck or you must be willing to lose everything and possibly leave your kids in a horrible situation.

If you are verbally, mentally, or financially abused and live paycheck-to-paycheck or at the mercy of your spouse, you are shit out of luck.
posted by FunkyHelix at 10:03 AM on July 2, 2009 [3 favorites]


Violent Acres has a thing or two to say on this subject and Iceland offers a distinctly different approach to the whole situation.
posted by BeReasonable at 10:06 AM on July 2, 2009 [3 favorites]


I often wonder if there'd be so much pressure to marry if there weren't so many women being raised to think that they're only valuable if they're attractive enough to marry someone to take care of them.

what I mean is that, despite the tremendous strides made for women's rights and their place in the workplace, it still seems like a disproportionate number of women are raised to think that they ultimately must marry someone to take care of them, and that their career options are limited to a number of temporary options until said marriage occurs. so we have medical assistants, hairdressers, secretaries, etc... who have no actual career aspirations because ultimately the goal is to get married and have kids. now, there are plenty of career nurses, hair dressers, etc... whose dreams are to excel in those fields and more power to them. I'm not criticizing the job or its possibility for fulfillment. I'm talking about people who see an otherwise promising career opportunity as a temp job until marriage. My girlfriend, as an anecdotal point, is a hairdresser who wants to one day open her own salon and will probably be incredibly successful at it because she's ridiculously talented with a good head for business. She actually cares about her work. But some of her co-workers at her salon don't because they're just there until they marry. It's an assumption with those particular women that that's the trajectory of their life.

It's an old point in feminism that the idea that a woman's place is as a wife and mother is an oppressive ideology. It's one that, to my idea, too many people labor under still. There are certainly people who can and do legitimately want to be wives and mothers as their chief goal in life, and there's nothing wrong with that. Rather, I believe that too many girls are being raised, still, to think that's that's the ONLY option. They're not raised to think of the things they'd like to achieve for themselves, so they don't.

and I believe that this has come around to affecting our views on men, as well. When women see themselves as valued by the men they marry, then the marriageable men become a commodity. They're not people, or fathers, or husbands. They're sources of security and sustenance and material comfort. now, to clarify, this is not my way of saying that women are mercenary or whatever. I know that everybody tries to marry for love, certain exceptions aside. I'm trying to describe, instead, a societal viewpoint. Individual women don't necessarily see men as future supporters, but they ARE raised in a society that implies that that's what men are. And somewhere in the back of every man and woman's mind is that voice, subtly nurtured throughout their lives, that says "he'll be a good provider and therefore desirable" or "you need to seem like a good provider to be desirable."

and while I'm obviously just kind of ruminating, here, and going off on a rant, I can't help but feel like these aren't the foundations of lasting relationships and marriages. If there's a problem with divorce, I wonder if it's that marriages are being based on this idea of being a provider, or being provided for, and that we could most easily combat that by raising more of our women to be self-sufficient and to chase their own dreams rather than attach themselves to a man doing so.

But honestly, I'm just thinking out loud, here. If I'm way off base, let me know.
posted by shmegegge at 10:09 AM on July 2, 2009 [9 favorites]


Exactly how does one engage in an "unintended campaign to diminish the importance of marriage and fatherhood"?

Well, evidently, if you're gay. I guess I have somehow been roped quite unintentionally into the feverish right-wing conspiracy thoery that I'm ostensibly campaigning to diminish the importance of marriage and fatherhood. I probably ruin three marriages every morning before I've had my morning coffee. Heck, I probably even caused Sears' own divorce.

I mean, there are a lot of divorces to precipitate - it's hard work ruining all that nuptial bliss. Between that and recruiting all those youngsters to teh gay, I barely have time to earn a living and pay taxes like everyone else.

Not sure how I became so efficiently nefarious, when all I was doing was arguing for my equality. Call it the Law of Unintended Consequences, maybe.


/ranty
posted by darkstar at 10:09 AM on July 2, 2009 [9 favorites]


In my experience and the experience of most of my friends, the thing that separates more fathers from their children and families than anything else is being shitty fathers and husbands.

Or maybe it's the government's fault somehow. Could go either way.


In the sense that the government can create a condition in which more people would find it impossible to break the traditional bonds, you can have it both ways.

So according to those whose families have been robbed from them by the permissiveness of liberal governments, a government that instead insisted upon the enforcement of tradition would have held them together, despite what they had concocted for each other.

Maybe they're right. I got a lot from public school, but I never would have chosen to endure some of those situations. But then again, it's always the family that signs the nonvoluntary commitment paperwork.
posted by nervousfritz at 10:12 AM on July 2, 2009


Of the people of my generation (late 30s/early 40s, aka Gen X aka 13thGen), of my acquaintance, who have gotten married, very very few have gotten divorced. Those who have, of whom I know the details of the circumstances, I do not think it would have been a good idea to do otherwise. I have a good friend right now who is so unhappy about the idea of divorce that she still beats herself up over getting a divorce from a man who tried to kill her in front of their five-year-old daughter, who stopped him by running off and dialing 9-1-1.

Of course, Gen X notoriously married late and seriously, having been the children of divorce-happy Silent and Boomer parents.

I don't know what you kids are up to now, I don't pay attention to you embryonic twentysomethings. Did you start marrying early and frivolously again?
posted by edheil at 10:12 AM on July 2, 2009 [5 favorites]


As a pastor, part of my job involves sitting down and talking to people, at length, over several sessions, before they get married.

wait, you're a pastor? the guy with the fedora, the frye boots, the blacksmithing story about telling kids coal comes from dinosaurs, the whole thing, and you're a pastor?

man, the world is too varied to NOT be awesome, sometimes.
posted by shmegegge at 10:16 AM on July 2, 2009 [3 favorites]


Actually he's right, in a way. Fatherhood is looked on as a lesser thing than motherhood. But it isn't because we don't value men enough. (FFS, how could that even be?) It's because we value men too much. The reason motherhood is on such a pedestal isn't (just) because of the children, it's because it's a societal pressure on women who "need" to be controlled.

Without a "need" to control men as a group, there's not such a big push to say FATHERHOOD FATHERHOOD FATHERHOOD to young men1. Without that constant drumbeat of importance, we don't value it as much.

1Except for minorities, who do "need" to be controlled.
posted by DU at 10:18 AM on July 2, 2009 [3 favorites]


BTW, re: the "fathers are idiots on TV" thing.

I'm not *sure* it is a symptom of trivializing fatherhood, though I agree that there is massive gender bias regarding parenting, and that all the other examples cited (Parenting magazines, comments on a man out alone with his children) are certainly examples of that.

But the "fathers are idiots on TV" thing might be different....

It might actually be a sign of remaining male chauvinism. You get comedy by inverting expectations, and if the expectation is that men are competent, authoritative, and with-it, then you get comedy by showing an out-of-it, incompetent, blundering male.

Ancient (Greek/Roman) comedy is full of "wise slave, stupid master" stories. That's not because they thought freemen were idiots and slaves were smart, it's because it's an inversion of expectations to put the power and competence in the hands of the slave.
posted by edheil at 10:19 AM on July 2, 2009 [51 favorites]


So he was an advocate for marriage and fatherhood and he chose to leave his children without a father instead? How is that different than some father abandoning his kids to run off somewhere? It's worse, in fact, since parents and kids can go through a period of estrangement and reestablish ties later.

That is an oversimplification of the matter, and I'm not saying that the legal system when it comes to fathers doesn't sometimes need reform, but it seemed like there may have been better ways for him to get and stay involved in his children's lives. And gotten help, of course.

And the author, in turn, is placing blame in the wrong place. Fatherhood isn't diminished; it's just as important as ever. But a marriage certificate doesn't automatically make a good father, nor one who will stay around, and making divorce harder might just lead to a greater number of abandoned in all but name only, children.

There are just too many sides to examine here, and no one factor responsible.
posted by cmgonzalez at 10:19 AM on July 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


how would we do that?

I have no fucking idea.
One suggestion: Make marriage inherently non-permanent. Force people to enter it as a legally-binding, limited-term, renewable (but not automatically renewed) contract.

7 years sounds right: You get married, it's for 7 years. To go past that, you have to legally renew your vows.

This means that people have to always be choosing marriage. It encourages them to understand what they get out of it, because every 7 years they have to think about why they're doing it.

As far as fatherlessness is concerned, i have to believe that having a crappy father is worse than not having a father. No father does NOT mean 'no male role model.' I think we've got a lot of crappy male and female role models, but I don't think it's got a damn thing to do with most of the traditional values Judge Sears cares about. The biggest and most important one that parents can model is RESPONSIBILITY: Sleeping in, or at least changing the linens on, the bed you made. We so rarely do that in this country. That's one of the rare cases where seeing somebody give it a real try, even if they screw it up, is important.
posted by lodurr at 10:24 AM on July 2, 2009 [4 favorites]


I think the pressure to marry and have babies is surely a source of a high divorce rate, but even more efficacious is, I think, the great and shining "myth of true love" that is peddled on every flat surface around us.

The myth usually suggests that (1) there is only one person out there who is perfect for you, (2) your relationship with that person is somehow controlled deterministically by fate or destiny, (3) being in love should be a parade of intense emotions and sweeping passions, and therefore (4) love requires no effort or work on your part, as it is entirely the work of chance and/or destiny.

According to this rationale, any relationship that begins to go sour should be immediately abandoned because the partner is not "the one," and any efforts at growing or working past difficulties are fruitless. Likewise, when the passion inevitably begins to fade, this is taken as a sign that something is wrong and once again, true love has not been achieved, and it is time to start over.

It's also plausible that much of the stalking and obsessive behavior that occurs, especially in adolescents, might be traced back to this myth.
posted by reverend cuttle at 10:29 AM on July 2, 2009 [30 favorites]


He took a job at the State Department, so he could "support his kids". There wasn't another job available anywhere nearby to where they lived, so that he could be involved in their lives directly? He was a lawyer. Would it have been that difficult to find work in the same city?

He went to Iraq, and subsequently killed himself. And that has nothing to do with PTSD or being in a war zone, a horrifying experience for anyone?

No, it was because he was divorced and was away from his children.

If he didn't want to be away from his children, seems to me that maybe he shouldn't have left the country. It doesn't add up.
posted by jokeefe at 10:31 AM on July 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


I don't understand how someone who has been through a divorce (as she has) could describe it as "easy." It's expensive and time-consuming, at the very least.

And she says this, This leaves many people struggling to remake their lives after painful divorces that they do not want.

If one partner wants a divorce but the other doesn't, who on earth would really benefit if the law denied that couple a divorce? What a nightmare, to be trapped in a marriage with someone you don't love, or with someone who would get the hell away from you if only the law allowed it.

And finally, this: When asked to identify something that angered him that could be changed, Tommy wrote, "Re-establishment of equity and balance and sanity within the American family."

I must have missed the golden age when there was equity in the American family.
posted by Mavri at 10:35 AM on July 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


Ancient (Greek/Roman) comedy is full of "wise slave, stupid master" stories. That's not because they thought freemen were idiots and slaves were smart, it's because it's an inversion of expectations to put the power and competence in the hands of the slave.

That is quite possibly the most intelligent, insightful thing I've ever read on MeFi. Seriously. Ever have one of those moments where you look up and go, "Holy shit ... that's how it works?" This is one of those moments.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:35 AM on July 2, 2009 [3 favorites]


I could not agree with you more. In our culture, it is perfectly okay - encouraged, even - to send the message that Men Are Idiots. And that men, to BE men, SHOULD be idiots. That stupid behavior is to be expected because, after all, we are talking about a MAN.

Amen. In fact, this is what I expected the article to be about based on the quote on the front page. And many men have bought into it , sadly. I can't tell you how much it boils my blood to see ads for the CBC show "The Week the Women Went". I haven't seen the show, but based on the ads, they've gone to some little town and talked all the women into going on vacation. So the premise of the show is basically "Look at those idiot men trying to take care of themselves and their children. They're so helpless. Look at those stupid men trying to bathe kids and make lunch and get kids to school on time and get everyone bed...Hurf-durf....everyone knows men don't know how to do anything right." I suspect there's a small side of "But look at this one heroic figure! He can make a sandwich, put it in a paper bag and tell his kids to take it to school! He knows how to burp the baby! He's soothing the sick child! WOOOWW! That's amazing! Woo-Hoo! Can you believe a man can do that?"

Disgusting!

If we want to stop marginalizing fatherhood maybe we can start by assuming that men can do it, rather than either giving them a free pass because they couldn't possibly do it right, giving condescending advice on the assumption that they must not know what they're doing, or acting like they've done something extra-ordinary and near-impossible when they do it well.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 10:38 AM on July 2, 2009 [5 favorites]


Here's my impractically idealized, fantastical, and goes-too-far-by-half solution to all of our societal woes in these areas:

1) The medical capability may not be here yet (and this is the most controversial part of this modest proposal), but when it is, initiate a public program requiring all male and female children approaching puberty to undergo a mandatory, reversible chemical birth control procedure that effectively gives them immunity against accidentally getting themselves or a sexual partner pregnant.

2) After a person reaches age 18, give them the option to have their immunity against unintended pregnancy reversed at any time. No questions asked. No parental fitness tests, not other requirements, just age. The extra effort required to get the birth-control procedure reversed will be enough of a barrier to discourage significant numbers of those who aren't really serious about taking on the role of parent from having children.

3) Make marriage harder. To get a driver's license, you have to take a test, right? Same should go for marriage. And a blood test isn't enough. You should at least be required to demonstrate you understand the full legal implications of getting married in your state.

4) Watch all of society's ills gradually disappear, and a new age of peace and prosperity come to pass. (Ha! Nah, seriously, there'd just be wild orgies everywhere except in the heavily fortified and sanitized communities into which we parent types would retreat.)
posted by saulgoodman at 10:41 AM on July 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


But the "fathers are idiots on TV" thing might be different....

It might actually be a sign of remaining male chauvinism.


I always thought it was a sign that adult men simply don't watch as much tv as women. Or at least, not the family centric sit com. (Not that I have statistics on my side, only the small samplings of friends and relatives. Hard numbers welcome.)

Show content aside, it might be interesting in a silly way to check out the smart woman/smart kid/stupid man ratios on commericials for different types of shows (the View vs Bassmasters, say).
posted by IndigoJones at 10:42 AM on July 2, 2009


Why is everyone claiming that she blames no-fault divorce for all of these problems? She clearly states that she does not want to get rid of no-fault divorce. She's talking about the perception of no-fault divorce and what it has done to the perception of marriage. Which is actually what several of you seeming to be trying to argue for whilst arguing agaist her. Perhaps metafilter is having trouble with this because she does not actually propose a solution only tosses out several threads along which she thinks answers may be developed? Or latched on to what [i]her brother[/i] railed against and assumed that she agreed with him 100%?

Here is what I thought she was saying let me know if I'm wrong here.
A) fathers are important to children too (which is more along the lines of we shouldn't always jump to the mother's side imo, but that could be me reading into it)
B) the perception of no-fault divorce as a universal good has diminished the seriousness of marriage
C) my brother killed himself and it has really affected me, I don't understand it, but I think it shows that there are still problems with the way marriage/divorce/child visitation is percieved and handled, and maybe there is something that can be done in the system to help it but maybe not
D) I'm going to go try to influence this problem upon which I place an increased importance because of my brother's influence
posted by Feantari at 10:44 AM on July 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh, and Nth-ing all the comments about the short shrift Dad's usually get. I'm always blown away by the number of children's books I read my son that don't even depict a father; I can't count the number of times my son has stopped me to ask "But where's his daddy?
posted by saulgoodman at 10:44 AM on July 2, 2009


initiate a public program requiring all male and female children approaching puberty to undergo a mandatory, reversible chemical birth control procedure that effectively gives them immunity against accidentally getting themselves or a sexual partner pregnant.

Unwanted pregnancy was a pretty good reason young girls being pressured into having sex could trot out to not have sex. Pity to take it away from them.
posted by IndigoJones at 10:45 AM on July 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


One suggestion: Make marriage inherently non-permanent. Force people to enter it as a legally-binding, limited-term, renewable (but not automatically renewed) contract.

Strangely enough, Huckabee's idea of Contract Marriage could open the door for this kind of (promising) idea, and also Gay Marriage. It is a legal contract, after all. I don't think he or his opponents on the issue have fully thought this wrinkle through, and it interests me.
posted by rainbaby at 10:46 AM on July 2, 2009


Oh, and Nth-ing all the comments about the short shrift Dad's usually get. I'm always blown away by the number of children's books I read my son that don't even depict a father; I can't count the number of times my son has stopped me to ask "But where's his daddy?

It balances out all the Disney films with dead mothers. [/mostly joking here]
posted by jokeefe at 10:54 AM on July 2, 2009 [3 favorites]


If you look at the numbers, it would appear that people in the U.S. do get married somewhat younger than other Western countries (particularly Canada...hmmm....). Divorce rates are a little harder to track (since divorce per thousand doesn't take into account relative number of marriages), but most numbers seem to indicate that the U.S. is pretty high up there in number of divorces.

It would certainly seem that lots of people in the U.S. are rushing into marriage. But why? Lots of reasons, many cited above. I think one of the big ones, however, is the sheer behemoth power of the almighty wedding machine. It is absolutely staggering how important the concept of a wedding has become. Ridiculous really. People get so caught up in the wedding that I think they kind of forget about the actual person they're marrying sometimes.

Maybe this is partly why divorce rates are so high, but there's lots of other reasons why the role of father has become diminished. People above have already done a good job of exploring that. As a woman lucky enough to be in a partnership with a wonderful, hands-on, all around fantastic father to our child, I wish there was a way to change that.
posted by Go Banana at 10:55 AM on July 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Fixing what's wrong with American families by reverting to 18th Century divorce laws makes about as much sense as compensating buggy whip manufacturers for auto sales. Change marches on, and we're at the tail end of a two-generation experiment in employing women. In the 60's, something like 40% of women were employed outside the home - now, it's more like 75%. No matter how much Sears (and her brother and the nice folks at the Center for Marriage and Families) wish otherwise, women aren't likely to choose to slip back into their old "equitable and balanced and sane" roles. Even if women wanted to, they couldn't afford to - much of our economic growth over the past 40 years can attributed to two-income households.

Blazecock and Foxy_Hedgehog are right in that our policies haven't kept pace with how we live now. Nothing's free, and if Sears wants marriage to succeed, she ought to be worried about how we're going to collectively pay for our newfound productivity. Paid sick leave, flexible working hours, child care, elder care and a host of other services would fill the gaps Moms might have (maybe thanklessly) filled a few decades ago.
posted by johnwilcox at 10:56 AM on July 2, 2009


I actually agree that our society unfairly diminishes fatherhood, but I don't really agree that the answer is in keeping unhappy families together. Part of the problem is societal attitudes -- like the fact that a dad who's at a playground with his kids will be looked at askance because OH NO! A MAN AT THE PLAYGROUND?! HE MUST BE A CHILD MOLESTER! But I also think the current system of divorce where the mom gets the kids and the dad gets a monthly invoice -- and maybe a few days visitation a month -- is completely unacceptable. I think custody arrangements used to be worse in this regard, but they also used to be less diligent about tracking down deadbeat dads. Anyway, the way the whole thing is structured now makes marriage & children completely unattractive -- your wife gets sick of you, cheats on you, and gets a divorce, she gets the kids and you get a large slice of your income taken away. Even worse if alimony is involved -- something that I also think is kind of a ridiculous throwback. Really, the way things are, I really wonder why anybody does it at all. I guess if nothing else, it means that you need to be more careful than ever who you marry.

Anyway, I appreciate what this guy is saying, because it does seem like heresy to voice any opinion other than "if you don't want to deal with divorce, loss of custody, and loss of income, then keep it in your pants or get a vasectomy!" It's also refreshing to hear someone talk about how fathers are useful and necessary, instead of the usual, "You go, girl! You go it alone! You don't need no man!"

Articles like this don't help. It's kind of a typical shitty trend piece where she takes a lot of anecdotes and uses a lot of weasel words and tries to build a trend out of it. Pay close attention to what she's doing here. She takes a perfectly worthwhile statistic (the number of unmarried pregnancies is increasing), skips a perfectly worthwhile point she could be making (being a single mother is no longer seen as shameful, and this is a good thing), and instead makes a much more dubious point that single motherhood by choice is "what everybody's doing" and bases this on a choice that 47,000 women are making (out of the 1.5 million some US births in the same year). If you read the article, watch for the anecdotes and weasel words. Stuff like this is kinda awful. (actually, a lot of Bazelon's stuff is like that. don't get me started.)

I dunno, maybe it's just the websites I read and the people I wind up hanging around with, but it does seem somewhat heretical to ascribe any importance to fathers and fatherhood at all. It's certainly one of those issues that I feel sets me apart from people who I'm otherwise aligned with politically and idealogically.
posted by Afroblanco at 10:57 AM on July 2, 2009


Well, this is obviously a RANT, but I do believe strongly that fathers who take a large role in childrearing are marginalized and somewhat the butt of jokes.

This. This. This. I can't favorite this comment enough, thank you bunnycup.

I can't stand this trend. Why should it be so hard for people to believe that a guy might be capable of taking care of his own kids?

One night I took my 5 month old son to the supermarket after midnight because he was wide awake and disturbing his sister's sleep schedule. At that point he was up for a feeding every three hours anyway, so I thought "What the heck. Let's take him for a ride." Let my wife sleep.

I got lectured by a nosy young woman who told me I was a "horrible parent", and abusing him for having him out past his bedtime.

To my dismay, this sort of thing has happened a few times over the last year.

Perhaps I convey an impression that I'm overwhelmed? I don't know. (Sleep deprived, perhaps!) My wife certainly doesn't receive comments from random strangers. But women of all ages seem to think I'm incapable of changing a diaper on my own, putting in a barrette by myself, or feeding my own kids because I'm male. Not only that, but they feel the need to open their mouths and tell me so. Oddly enough, this happens more frequently when I only have one of my kids with me, not both. It's as if my being present with the twins together automatically conveys a sense of competence. "Well, he's got two at a time there, so he must be okay."

I do, however, believe that is changing. Fathers play a really important role in childrens', especially daughter's, self-esteem and growing up. A society that focuses on the "sanctity of marriage" only insofar as controlling the gender of people who marry, and who focuses on the "sanctity of life" only up to the moment the child is born, is doing it wrong.

Hell, yes.
posted by zarq at 10:58 AM on July 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


So I am a Catholic, and we are encouraged/forced/whatever to go through counseling called "pre-Cana" before marriage. Depending on how your pre-Cana is done, you may discuss children, money, work, faith, etc.

Here's someone's experience: http://www.weddingbee.com/2009/04/01/pre-cana-2/

Some people have had so much fun dating, or are so caught up in the whirl of wedding planning, that they really may not have ever discussed any of this stuff out loud. After all, these are "difficult" topics, and lots of people of Marrying Age probably find it easier to avoid talking about them.

Obviously pre-Cana isn't perfect, but it's certainly helpful. At the start of our rather large session (at Boston College), the Jesuit host announced very matter-of-factly that there were couples who wouldn't finish the course [Friday PM, all day Saturday, and half of Sunday]. He was right, too. :7)

My brother and his wife do one-on-one pre-Cana in their parish. I haven't asked yet, but I am curious whether any of "their" couples didn't evetually tie the knot.
posted by wenestvedt at 11:02 AM on July 2, 2009


But the "fathers are idiots on TV" thing might be different....

It might actually be a sign of remaining male chauvinism.


It's pretty easy to see how the "dumb father" reinforces traditional gender roles. After all, it's not as if all television shows portray men as stupid. Men on TV can be really good lawyers, cops, doctors, businessmen, etc. But they sure can't cook, clean, or take care of children, no sir! Guess mom will have to do it.

It actually never occurred to me that the dumb father was anything other than offensive to women and feminist ideals precisely b/c it insidiously reinforces the idea that only women can cook, clean, or parent. It was only through reading some thread here on MeFi that I was able to see the other side of it--that it hurt men who are good and capable fathers and husbands.
posted by Mavri at 11:02 AM on July 2, 2009 [6 favorites]


"how would we do that?"
"I have no fucking idea."


Wasn't this formerly accomplished by means of those old family-managed courting rituals?
posted by klarck at 11:05 AM on July 2, 2009


if we could, however, encourage forethought in marriage, and in some way impress the actual weight of committing yourself to someone for life on people, that seems to me to be the better solution to the problem of frequent divorce. how would we do that?

One thing I'd like to do would be to do away with all of the reality shows like The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, Flavor of Love, Who Wants To Marry A Multimillionaire, or Married by America or the like. It strikes me as the height of cluelessness to wonder why we are living in a culture that "trivializes" marriage when we have shows that offer marriage as a god-damned PRIZE ON A GAME SHOW.

What's the parting gift if you don't win, a one-night stand instead of a lifetime supply of Turtle Wax?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:06 AM on July 2, 2009 [13 favorites]


If he didn't want to be away from his children, seems to me that maybe he shouldn't have left the country. It doesn't add up.

I dunno. I think that there's really massive cultural conditioning that men go through even today about how being a good father is inextricably tied up in being a good provider. That sort of conditioning, and the shame it creates when you don't measure up, is really hard--maybe even impossible--to fully shake off. We've come a really long way in recognizing the harm (though not yet combatting effectively) of the conditioning women go through about what it means to be a "good mother," but there's not a lot of recognition about how limiting our cultural messages about "good fathers" are.

Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote a really beautiful meditation on it here:

There needs to be some understanding of how men process the inability to provide for their families. I spent a solid eight years like that. I can't imagine how I would have felt had we been truly broke down and unable to provide for Samori.... There is deep-seated depression, a kind of emasculation in not being able to do, what feels like, your most elemental job--protect your family. My Dad didn't walk obviously, but always helps to understand the other side--even as you offer a rebuke. Condemnation has its place. Condemnation, with no deep sense of what its condemning, is vanity.


I watch my father struggle with his shame about not being to provide me and my brothers--all of us grown, in our 20s and 30s--with more in the way of financial help. This, despite the fact that he was able to support us while we were growing up well enough to provide us all with more opportunities than probably 95% of other kids had. All of us have (more or less) stable jobs with good benefits today, and don't have much in the way of real needs.

And yet the pain in his voice when he talks about how his father gave him seed money to start his own business in his 20s, and how with *this new venture* he'll be making enough to do the same for me and my brothers... it breaks my heart. I hate watching him struggle and beat himself up when one business venture after another fails, and I hate when he tells me about all the wonderful things we'll all do when the next one finally pans out. I want him to be able to sit back on his laurels at this point, to recognize that he did a great job being a really involved father to his kids (ironically, much more involved after the divorce, as he was parenting full-time during his weeks of custody), and that we all turned out pretty well. What we all need from him at this point has nothing to do with money, and on some level he knows that, but that knowledge is pretty insufficient against a lifetime of belief about providing for us as well as his father did for him.

Nobody will probably ever know the reasons why Leah Ward Sears' brother committed suicide, what percentage can be attributed to the stress of being in a war zone, what percentage to a painful and unwanted divorce. I don't for a second underestimate, however, the effect of believing that the only way you could provide for your kids--the only way to be a good father--was leave them behind in order to fly halfway across the world and work a job in a dangerous and brutal place.
posted by iminurmefi at 11:14 AM on July 2, 2009 [8 favorites]


Unwanted pregnancy was a pretty good reason young girls being pressured into having sex could trot out to not have sex. Pity to take it away from them.

Huh????
posted by LordSludge at 11:17 AM on July 2, 2009 [4 favorites]


Well, I'm a father, and I'm kind of an idiot.

But it's nice to come home from a hard day's work and be able to turn on the TV and relate to that clueless fat guy with the hot wife. You know the one.
posted by Shohn at 11:32 AM on July 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


...and now to compound the entire issue with job loss and economic uncertainty.
why do we have marriage? Has raising families always been done the way it has been done in recent years? What was divorce like or having a mistress like before Doris Day and Rock Hudson (still in the closet) taught us about love and romance and marriage? What are the economics of marriage? Single parenting? What has biological insights offered us to expand our views on these matters? A lot to swallow,I know. But here is one tip from a professional marriage counselor friend, who asked me not to tell people: By the time a couple comes for counseling, it is usually too late.
Have I learned anything over the years I had been and now am married? One sure thing: no one should be allowed to remarry till some 3 years of time has passed after a divorce. Many many 2nd marriages end in divorce.
posted by Postroad at 11:33 AM on July 2, 2009


Having eschewed marriage and fatherhood, coffee and television, driving a car and reading newspapers, I revel in the horror I cause Leah Ward Sears.
posted by telstar at 11:42 AM on July 2, 2009


that clueless fat guy with the hot wife. You know the one.

Home Simpson really is an everyman.
posted by exogenous at 11:56 AM on July 2, 2009


...bad children. Mommy and Daddy would still be together if it wasn't for you.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 9:54 AM on July 2 [12 favorites +] [!]


Dad? Is that you?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:12 PM on July 2, 2009


It actually never occurred to me that the dumb father was anything other than offensive to women and feminist ideals precisely b/c it insidiously reinforces the idea that only women can cook, clean, or parent.

Jebus, my family reunions (in the Deep South) are a case study in reinforcing these ideas. Take cooking, for example.

I'm 42 years old, but the women in my family refuse to allow me to bring a dish to the family reunion. I don't just mean look askance at it, but absolutely refuse to allow me to contribute this way. They actively berate me for wanting to bring food.

It's a prejudice I've experienced to a lesser degree many times as a single male, where I'm assumed to be pretty much incompetent in the kitchen, so I can "just bring yourself" or "just bring some soft drinks". You know, so I don't have to get into all of that cooking, which would surely strain my male brain and usurp their role as masters of the kitchen or something.

Married men are allowed to bring dishes, of course, but it has to fit within a specific narrow framework. Grilled meat (burgers, dogs and ribs) is allowed, because the grill is strangely the sole purview of males in my family. Long-time family recipes handed down to the guy and served over many years to his family are allowed, because the tradition associated with the dish trumps the tradition that only the women cook. But if I wanted to whip up a chicken casserole or whatever, it'd be as welcome as a platter of Ebola.

Of course, then my female relatives spend the next week kvetching about how "this generation doesn't participate" in these reunions like theirs does, and how few people brought food to the reunion. I want to tear my hair out.

The parenting roles are extraordinarily sharply defined, there, as well. Though I grew up there, I now only go back there once a year, and it's always an interesting dip back into a very different culture to the one I'm used to nowadays.
posted by darkstar at 12:18 PM on July 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


As interesting as it would have made my childhood, I think it was best for everyone invovled that my Mom raised me alone. In another state. Across the country.
posted by The Whelk at 12:20 PM on July 2, 2009


Long-time family recipes handed down to the guy and served over many years to his family are allowed, because the tradition associated with the dish trumps the tradition that only the women cook. But if I wanted to whip up a chicken casserole or whatever, it'd be as welcome as a platter of Ebola.

My long-time family Ebola recipe is so spicy, it'll make your eyes bleed.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:29 PM on July 2, 2009 [6 favorites]


because the grill is strangely the sole purview of males in my family.

I will not girlfriend go near my grill. I am cooking meat goddamnit.
posted by gagglezoomer at 12:45 PM on July 2, 2009


I will not let
posted by gagglezoomer at 12:45 PM on July 2, 2009


You know, it's funny: I was unmarried until I was 42, single most of that time, and I never once had teh experience of my potluck contributions being unwelcome. And for the women I've been interested in, ability to actually cook was almost universally regarded as a minimal qualification for dateability in a man.

I'm not saying it's not there; I do suspect that it exists in a cultural context. For example, other than my family, I don't hang with culturally conservative people -- and my family already knows I can cook. (Besides, my father was conditioned from a young age to believe that boys ought to be able to cook for themselves, and he made sure to condition us the same way.)

As far as the specific types of food -- grilled meat, stuff cooked with fire, no breads or cakes -- roasting, but no baking -- that's Structural Anthro 101. True more or less everywhere (or so the story goes), and where not true, worthy of notice and extensive commentary. Where you find men doing things like baking, you more or less invariably find things like baking elevated to higher levels of status than where you find women doing it. So while you'll meet lots of italian men who praise their gramma's baking, you'd be hard put to find an italian bakery actually run by gramma.
posted by lodurr at 12:51 PM on July 2, 2009


Well, evidently, if you're gay. I guess I have somehow been roped quite unintentionally into the feverish right-wing conspiracy thoery that I'm ostensibly campaigning to diminish the importance of marriage and fatherhood. I probably ruin three marriages every morning before I've had my morning coffee. Heck, I probably even caused Sears' own divorce.

Yes, but the underlying argument from that angle (not saying this is Sears' argument; I don't know her position on homosexuality and same-sex marriage) is that it's not unintended. Somehow, whether we're consciously aware of it or not, we're still intending to and acting to destroy traditional marriage and family structures, because we're overrun by sin and we're just going to cause calamities and catastrophes no matter what we do, like a boar running amok in a china shop.
posted by blucevalo at 12:54 PM on July 2, 2009


Let me think for a minute, would the average woman prefer to have had children by me, or by Baryshnikov, Muhammad Ali, Leonard Cohen, Usain Bolt, Albert Einstein, John Coltrane, Brad Pitt, etc.?

In the absence of all forms of coercion, such as moral stigmata, legal prohibitions, religious prohibitions, financial necessity, implied and actual violence and so on, I imagine many women would have chosen the most attractive men-- not necessarily only one man, either-- they could get to have sex with them to father their children rather than the men who actually did.

The institution of marriage embodies all these forms of coercion-- among many other things-- so I think I would have to agree with the judge: insofar as Western democracies are giving women true freedom to choose, they are diminishing the importance of marriage and fatherhood in the sense of direct participation of fathers in the lives of their children, and that is high up among the most significant and salutary things they could be doing, here in the 21st century.
posted by jamjam at 12:58 PM on July 2, 2009


When I was your age, I always damaged America for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes, I’ve ruined six stable heterosexual marriages before breakfast.
posted by The Whelk at 12:58 PM on July 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


I myself occassionally girlfriend, if I'm lonely or bored.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:03 PM on July 2, 2009 [3 favorites]


In the absence of all forms of coercion, such as moral stigmata, legal prohibitions, religious prohibitions, financial necessity, implied and actual violence and so on, I imagine many women would have chosen the most attractive men-- not necessarily only one man, either-- they could get to have sex with them to father their children rather than the men who actually did.

Is this where progressivism goes so far out there that it swings back around and sounds like fundie mormons talking about polygamy being more natural because that's what lions and chickens do?
posted by Space Coyote at 1:04 PM on July 2, 2009 [3 favorites]


Ancient (Greek/Roman) comedy is full of "wise slave, stupid master" stories. That's not because they thought freemen were idiots and slaves were smart, it's because it's an inversion of expectations to put the power and competence in the hands of the slave.

Are you sure about what they thought? You might be right, but your reasoning seems like a stretch. Modern comedy is full of "wise employee, stupid boss" stories, but I'm pretty sure people who laugh at Dilbert or The Office aren't doing so because it's wholly unexpected to see intelligent engineers and salesmen being given orders by incompetent managers...
posted by roystgnr at 1:05 PM on July 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


Why, sometimes, I’ve ruined six stable heterosexual marriages before breakfast.

I try to pace myself. It's a marathon, not a race.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:16 PM on July 2, 2009


Baby_Balrog : Way, way too many people getting married these days, too young, for the wrong reasons.

Exactly. My wife and I dated for something like five years before we bought a house and then we lived together in sin for at least another two before we finally found a reason important enough for us to explore that most sacred of institutions known as marriage;

Health insurance.
posted by quin at 1:25 PM on July 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


Y'know, this is one of those things where the core premise is sound but the person spins off into completely specious and bizarre reasoning.
Yeah, fatherhood is underestimated, perhaps that's changing, but it's true now. And yeah, marriage should be more important and more of a commitment than it is, sure.
But the conclusion to make divorce harder? WTF?

Libertarians running for office seem to run this schtick the most "We need to maximize individual liberty and stop forcible interference by the state"
- Yeah, I'm with you!
"That's why we must all wear lederhosen all the time"
-Ye...uh, what?

Times have changed enough though such that it seems to be primarily practical concerns that inflict the most damage on marriage, not ethical or religious considerations.
Back in the day, say the 50s, people would be scandalized if two people lived together before marriage. Hell, you couldn't have Lucy and Desi or other married couples in the same bed on t.v.
Today, once they're old enough, I'd tell my kids they'd be better off living with someone in a committed relationship before they get married.
But there's a lot of conflict between the real and the ideal. In many iterations.
That extremely bulky topic aside - there doesn't seem to be a lot of social support - in the form of interaction - for families, much less communities, in many places.
Guy down the street from me has a pool. Couple other folks do too. As well as playsets, etc. Why I don't know. I suppose I could put one in as well. But we're not too far from a park district pool and several public playgrounds. Hell, I live where I do because of all the nifty social stuff (great library, etc).
All sorts of folks seem to be just digging in to this self-imposed isolation, I don't get it.
So if you do have a problem, in your marriage, with your kids, you don't just bop next door or down the street and ask your buddy about it because he's got kids, wife, same demographics as you - it stays in your house.
And that goes back to community planning, etc. and what we value culturally. Or what we're pushed to value.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:48 PM on July 2, 2009


jamjam: If the "average woman" thought you were a good person, good to be around, and had known you for some time, then she might be happy to have your child. She might even prefer monogamy. If she's poly, and you're poly, that's great. I've noticed that poly relationships often have a central pairing. One thing I've learned from living in co-ops and other "anything goes" social circles is that, absent prohibitions and stigmata, some people will pair monogamously and others will pair polyamorously. Please don't apply simplistic Darwinian/Dworkinian thought to the behavior of real people in the real world. Yes, evolutionary selection pressures affect mate selection, although not the way you seem to think. Yes, there's a ton of bad history in the institution of marriage. What's your point? No one is bound by the past, and individual humans aren't as tightly bound by evolutionary pressure as some people like to think.

The SO and I are likely to get married. We really like each other. Outside partners are also an option, although not one either of us has expressed any real interest in. I know/know of a lot of people like this. Kinda breaks your simple model.
posted by Derive the Hamiltonian of... at 2:10 PM on July 2, 2009


Way, way too many people getting married these days, too young, for the wrong reasons.

My folks were married IN high school, and I was born 8 months later. It is widely assumed in the family that my folks HAD to get married, and a few years later, post Roe v Wade, I just wouldn't be here, and who knows if/when my folks would have gotten married. If my mom had queried AskMe, the general consensus would likely have been that 17 is too young to be pregnant, and getting married would just make things worse.

Instead, they've been together 40 years now, and raised me and my 2 siblings. I'm no mind-reader, but they seem glad to still be together, despite many hard times along the way.

I don't think my parents started out "better" at being married than any other loving couple today. They were under intense social pressure from two religious families (one catholic, one baptist) that looked down on divorce, and they belonged to a church with an extensive support system for newly weds. They are still together because it's something they worked hard for. It's hard for me to listen to some of the reasons some people give up on their marriage over; compared to shit that went down when my parents were still just kids themselves. It all seems trivial and a sort of lazy arrogance, that true love won't require any effort on the part of both sides to a relationship.

Then I watch a lifetime movie about spousal abuse and think divorce should be available by text message.

It's almost like the real world is some sort of complicated place where one solution does not fit all problems. Sheer madness.
posted by nomisxid at 2:31 PM on July 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Is this where progressivism goes so far out there that it swings back around and sounds like fundie mormons talking about polygamy being more natural because that's what lions and chickens do?

Except for the apparent fact that you are incapable of grasping either, they have nothing in common-- but I'd bet they share that single common feature with a whole lot of things.
posted by jamjam at 2:55 PM on July 2, 2009


7 years sounds right: You get married, it's for 7 years. To go past that, you have to legally renew your vows.

Look, I already struggle to get my taxes filed on time, and to renew my car tags every year. Do not give me another damn administrative thing I have to keep up with. Unless I get to buy another wedding dress every 7 years. Then I'll consider it. Cause my normal wardrobe is kinda boring and I like pretty dresses.

Make marriage harder. To get a driver's license, you have to take a test, right? Same should go for marriage. And a blood test isn't enough. You should at least be required to demonstrate you understand the full legal implications of getting married in your state.

I have flunked the driver's test oh so many times. I see that I will be terribly inconvenience in this brave new world of marriage.
posted by jeoc at 3:21 PM on July 2, 2009


DU: Without a "need" to control men as a group, there's not such a big push to say FATHERHOOD FATHERHOOD FATHERHOOD to young men. Without that constant drumbeat of importance, we don't value it as much.

Feminism got us to a point where many women are taught they can be good at parenting and good at a career simultaneously. We never spread the corresponding message that men can be good at a career and good at (or even play a significant role in) parenting. Basic biology suggests most men will be fathers, all things being equal. Even if it is "controlling" - in the sense that we're telling men to be morally virtuous in caring for their children - it's liberating in the same way that feminism is. It lets men be good at whatever they put their minds to.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 4:27 PM on July 2, 2009



Huh????

Oh come on, Milud, I wasn't that opaque

But, okay, to you I was, so let's try it again.

The comment I was responding to suggested that mandatory birth control be given to adolescents. No pregnancy, no problem, seemed to be the idea. (Who would be in charge of making this rather draconian mandate was left unsaid, but let's leave that's for another rant)

Except of course that sex, particularly among adolescents, is fraught with all kinds of other issues- emotional, physical, social, and so forth. Plenty of good reasons besides pregnancy to keep it at least to a dull roar.

Problem is, sixteen year old boys tend not to want to hear No for an answer. And oddly (to them), fifteen year old girls frequently do not really want to have sex with the pushier of sixteen year old boys. And, believe it or not, not all fifteen year old girls are as tough minded as television would have us believe. The gentle of spirit may want to reason with the boy- which is, of course, a joke. Just Say No doesn't always cause a climb down. So jack up the fear factor. She could be to say she has herpes. Of course, the next day the entire school would know about it, true or not. What else? What I said - remind the guy that he might become a father before his time. (Not that this will work on all hormone crazed sixteen year old boy, but not having it as an option, well, that would be unfortunate for her).

Got it now?

Yes, I know, I am being hopelessly naive and totally unrealistic and all the womenfolk in the blue had no problems whatsoever with sex at that age and all of us expect our daughters to be equally untouched by those old fashioned hang-ups of simpler stupider times. Thank goodness we live in such an enlightened age.

(PS- This is actually becoming something of an issue in Massachusetts where some powers that be want to jab all girls age twelve and up with Gardasil, or so my Massachusetts friends tell me. The drug is only effective for five years. Some parents think this might be sending a wrong message.)
posted by IndigoJones at 4:45 PM on July 2, 2009


IndigoJones, you call it draconian? I would call it a burden off the shoulders of some kids.

You're underestimating the impact a pregnancy would have on an adolescent's life.
posted by kldickson at 5:07 PM on July 2, 2009


Which would probably be significantly more than finding a way to muster up the gonads to punch the fucking shit out of the kid who doesn't take no for an answer.
posted by kldickson at 5:07 PM on July 2, 2009


I'm finding I understand marriage less and less. How is a human being supposed to know, for certain, that they will romantically love and be sexually attracted to another human being for the rest of their lives?

I can only know that I love a person with all my heart at that point in time; that's all anyone can possibly know. Marriage vows are nothing more than educated and hopeful guesses. People change. So much. I am such a different person from who I was two years ago. More so from five years ago. Me ten years ago would never be able to even imagine the person I am now.

And we have longer life-spans now. So I don't understand this taking-for-granted of marriage as the way to be that just makes sense. It makes no sense to me. There's so much fear that the increasing number of divorces is caused by some major decline and breakdown in society - but why can't it be that it's marriage that was wrong all along, and we are just gaining more and more freedom to release ourselves from it?

And this is no disrespect to anyone who is married. I am a romantic person, and I am always happy for couples in long-lasting happy and loving relationships. But I am coming to believe that even if your marriage is good and you're blissfully happy together, it still doesn't vindicate the institution of marriage - it just means you got lucky with your educated guess, when you chose a person and made your vows. That's not taking away from the work that needs to go into maintaining a good relationship - but, and I guess that's the romantic in me, I always find it hard to understand when people talk about how marriage needs "work". Because to me, when you love someone that much, it's not work. It's compromises and sacrifices and communication even when it's so hard to, sure - but those things are not "work" when you love someone.

I understand the value of some kind of commitment, so a person has at least one companion into his or her old age. (I imagine a kind of friendship commitment, where you promise that even if you hate each other, you would always look out for each other and never let the person be alone and without support). I understand the value of a commitment to parenting for the mother and father, a commitment to always stay around and be available for your child no matter what - but then I remember that not having a parent can be so much more preferable and healthier than having a parent who doesn't want to be there. But I can no longer see the value of the traditional marriage. If you love someone enough, you don't need marriage to make you go to counselling. You don't need marriage to make you want to "work" at it. You just do. If you find that you don't feel that urge, it may be that you need some time apart, before you miss the other person enough to remember that you love them and you want to work at it. Or it may be that you're just not compatible anymore.

It occurred to me while reading through this thread that the so-called "breakdown" of family reminds me of the credit crunch. We're feeling some pain now, but that's because we're seeing a great unwinding as we as a society are gradually released from the social stigma of not fitting the mould of the traditional family. It was something that was unrealistic and unsuitable for so many, but we built it up as an ideal and as the only way to be, and forced each other to suffer behind closed doors. Now many of us are trying out and testing, and able to try out and test, many other more flexible living arrangements that allow the people involved, children and parents and family, to be happier. But the traditional structure and belief in that structure is so strong and so deeply ingrained that society continues to punish those who dare to try something different. I've always wondered why it doesn't seem to occur to the people who love to talk about how divorce damages children that a large part of the damage is society telling them there's something wrong with their family.

I'm really sorry for what happened to Ms. Sears's brother. But he was mistaken about marriage and divorce as she is mistaken, and I hope she will see that in time. That fathers not being around for their children has nothing to do with our culture of "casual divorce". As others have pointed out, if you've ever been through divorce, you know there's nothing casual about it, even when you're very lucky and it's amicable. That if she cares about the impact divorce has on children, perhaps she should speak to more people who were children of divorce, many of whom would tell her - as is seen in Askmetafilter every time this comes up - that many children would much rather their parents divorce and be happy, than for them to have to live with parents who can't stand each other. That unwed childbearing is not the problem - because a good father, a father who loves his child, would be there regardless, and not because he signed a contract. That this:

"The coupling and uncoupling we've become accustomed to undermines our democracy, destroys our families and devastates the lives of our children, who are not as resilient as we may wish to think. The one-parent norm, which is necessary and successful in many cases, nevertheless often creates a host of other problems, from poverty to crime, teen pregnancy and drug abuse.

is crazy. Divorce does not undermine our democracy. It does not even destroy families and the lives of children - there are many happy divorced families and children of single parents who would object to that assumption. Single-parenthood does not create poverty and crime, teen pregnancy and drug abuse - there was poverty and crime and teenage pregnancy and drug abuse in the Golden Ages, whenever they were, of traditional households and values - Sarah Palin's family is another obvious example that immediately springs to mind. What about government investment in education, economic policy, sex education, the War on Drugs, just to name a few of the many such factors that have a much greater impact on the problems she lists here?

I understand she is grieving, and looking for a reason for her brother's death - but as others have pointed out, much of her reasoning unfortunately does not make sense here. I hope she will see clearer in time, when she's had time to heal. She was right however in raising the issue of how society and the courts see and treat fathers - others in this thread have written some great comments on that issue - but it's a shame it got all mixed up with her view of divorce and family.

One of my favourite comments on Metafilter is this - Flip this around: By creating a fear of men, isn't this enforcing the parenting role on women? When I read it, I just smacked my head and thought, Of course. Can't believe I never saw it before. And it's the same, with the "men are from mars, women are from venus", men-do-things-like-this, women-do-things-like-this banter that is intended to be good fun but continues to reinforce rigid gender roles. Same with the "idiot dads" on tv; the suspicion towards men in public with children; the automatic assumption that women are better parents and carers - it's all towards maintaining and reinforcing the patriarchy. Women may get an easier time in the courts with divorce and custody, but with that they will continue to be assumed to be the better childcarers and expected to fulfill that role, juggling their full-time jobs and professional development with their childcare responsibilities. Many women may find they can't juggle both, and so they fall back into their traditional roles, perhaps only managing part-time work and sacrificing professional development, with consequently less earning power and less power to be equal. And so it continues; the system hurts men, and it hurts women.

But I'm optimistic; the great unwinding will continue. I wish we could recognise the pain that people will go through during this for what it is, and as a society help and support them through it as they choose the lifestyle and family arrangement that suits them the best. It may not happen in my lifetime, and people with Ms. Sears's view (many of whom like Ms. Sears I'm sure have good hearts and believe they're doing the right thing) may slow it down at times, but I do believe they will find themselves on the wrong side of history - that we will look back on many of these issues as shackles we unwittingly placed on ourselves, that just got in the way of our search for happiness, well-being and love.
posted by catchingsignals at 5:48 PM on July 2, 2009


"f you look at the numbers, it would appear that people in the U.S. do get married somewhat younger than other Western countries (particularly Canada...hmmm....)."

Holy crap, Canada has the second highest marrying age on that list after Chile and wildly higher than the US. I wonder how the age of women when they give birth to their first child compares.

I can't seem to find a chart including the USA and Canada but for 2006 and 2003 these sites give 25.2 and 28.0 respectively.
posted by Mitheral at 6:00 PM on July 2, 2009


My wife certainly doesn't receive comments from random strangers.

Have you never read a mommy blog? Women receive "bad mommy" complaints from strangers all the time-- it's not just men by any means.

Further: I think this entire discussion and the whole focus on the breakdown of the nuclear family completely misses the point. Children need a network to thrive-- typically, that has been the extended family. That way, if a marriage doesn't work out, the kids still have loads of familiar people in their lives-- and, to keep the marriages working, there are lots of aunts and cousins and grandparents to step in when parenting gets too hard.

Parenting is not just too much for one person, it's too much for two people: it does take a village and our refusal to acknowledge this fact leads us to parent-blame and put waaayy to much pressure on romantic relationships.

In places like Iceland, couples break up all the time and people have kids to multiple partners, but it just isn't seen as a crisis the way it is here. At least before the crash, they had the highest happiness, lowest economic inequality and lowest crime and were at or near the top on most measures of quality of life. Yet their divorce rate is high, they have kids young and they have lots of single parents.

They are also a small country where everyone is at least distantly related to each other and if people break up, their families are around to help and they seem to get along with their exes and deal with the kids in a much more mature manner than we do. They also can't be that far away if they don't leave the country.

I don't think it's coincidental that they also have national healthcare and cheap daycare and the highest percentage of women working in the world.

Point being, the problem isn't divorce, it's not single parents, it's not nuclear family breakdown-- it's community and extended family breakdown and the absence of alternative systems to help us care for each other and help us not be insanely stressed by lack of social support.
posted by Maias at 6:36 PM on July 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


"But I can no longer see the value of the traditional marriage. If you love someone enough, you don't need marriage to make you go to counselling. You don't need marriage to make you want to 'work' at it. You just do."

Speaking just for myself (and happily married so not totally applicable) I can see the need for a stick to help couples over the occasional rough patch. And it creates perceived stability for children. Kids are smart and observant while not always getting the nuances of adult perspectives. There was an episode of of Dharma and Greg ( I know it's tv but the thought applies) where Dharma talks about how it was great for her parents that they weren't married and could dissolve their relationship at any time but as a child it scared her whenever they had even the tiniest of disagreements. I can totally see that in occurring in real life.

In a similar vein I think the idea of a contract marriage is flawed for the same reasons we ban police entrapment. Leaving aside edge cases like what happens when one spouse is incapacitated on the due date or people just plain forget to renew it will encourage a short time disease. Some people, perfectly content in their marriage, will look around as they near the renewal date for new partners and a fraction will find them. I don't see how society benefits from this when it already has no-fault divorce that doesn't have this encouragement built in. I discount the idea that people change so how can they possibly be expected to make such a long commitment. Few would think we shouldn't let people have kids because 18 years is too much of a commitment and people change.

"Single-parenthood does not create poverty"

I'm going to strongly disagree here. Single parents, even if created with out the drama of divorce, are at a severe economic disadvantage that often results in a slide down the standard of living ladder. No cite but I'd bet it wouldn't be hard to show a causal link. I carry life insurance as a hedge against that for my daughter.
posted by Mitheral at 6:38 PM on July 2, 2009



I'm going to strongly disagree here. Single parents, even if created with out the drama of divorce, are at a severe economic disadvantage that often results in a slide down the standard of living ladder. No cite but I'd bet it wouldn't be hard to show a causal link. I carry life insurance as a hedge against that for my daughter.


This is certainly not true amongst the older, wealthy, highly educated single women with kids and good support networks whom I know. Why would it be?
posted by Maias at 7:00 PM on July 2, 2009


And it creates perceived stability for children. Kids are smart and observant while not always getting the nuances of adult perspectives.

Which is why even if fighting parents try their best to keep their bad feelings to themselves, kids pick it up sooner or later - and they don't get that stability you're talking about either. I don't think marriage is the only way to provide children with stability - single parents and divorced families can still (and do) provide that stability for their children. What kids need to know is that their parents love them, and will always be there for them. I would argue that in the case of a couple who can see no future with each other, it would be better for them if divorce were easier - or if there were no marriage to divorce in the first place - so that they can more quickly and with less stress and pain separate and build the new bases from which they can provide their child(ren) with stability again. And if the parents find good new partners, the child now has two stable families to draw from.

I discount the idea that people change so how can they possibly be expected to make such a long commitment. Few would think we shouldn't let people have kids because 18 years is too much of a commitment and people change.

I guess the difference would be why you would say "there's plenty more fish in the sea" when someone's lost a partner, but not when a child's lost a parent. An adult doesn't have the same need or reliance on their partner as a child does on his or her parent. A child needs that commitment.

I'm going to strongly disagree here. Single parents, even if created with out the drama of divorce, are at a severe economic disadvantage that often results in a slide down the standard of living ladder. No cite but I'd bet it wouldn't be hard to show a causal link. I carry life insurance as a hedge against that for my daughter.

I understand what you mean, and I have a dear friend who is going through this right now. But I would argue that this is where society needs to step in. And of course a society that encourages more community and support networks, as Maias mentioned, would help - and here's where I believe that the more variations there are to family arrangement and the more flexible that is, the more people can feel free to find new ways and gain experience in supporting each other (say for example, two single moms living together to support each other, or a house of friends).
posted by catchingsignals at 7:30 PM on July 2, 2009


The key in that description is wealthy. Regardless of other factors the wealthy are in the best position to weather the storm of reduced income or increased child minding duties or both that say the sudden death of spouse creates. Plus they are probably more likely to have sufficient or even excess life insurance compared to lower economic classes.
posted by Mitheral at 7:30 PM on July 2, 2009


I can think of good ways to make it harder to get divorced. Require the couple to get counseling in areas that often lead to problems such as communications or personal finance before the divorce can proceed.

But abandoning no-fault divorce? That is really the wrong way to go. It is much, much worse for children to have to experience parents going through an at-fault divorce. If a person wants out of a marriage bad enough, no at-fault law is going to stop him or her or the lawyer. All kinds of dirty laundry will be aired. Lots of unsubstantiated accusations will be flung. The children are bound to pick up on this. And the resulting fury will eliminate any chance of the divorced parents working together for the children's benefit. The courts, which once had to deal with this madness, know better, so there's fortunately little chance of at-fault divorce being resurrected in those states that have wisely abandoned it.
posted by eye of newt at 10:36 PM on July 2, 2009


In places like Iceland, couples break up all the time and people have kids to multiple partners, but it just isn't seen as a crisis the way it is here.

I read the same article that you did. I also recall that shared custody is the norm in Iceland for divorced couples. I'd imagine that this leads to happier, more equitable family arrangements than in the US, where it's still the norm for the mother to get custody and for the father to get thrown a few scraps in the form of visitation rights -- if he's lucky.
posted by Afroblanco at 11:35 PM on July 2, 2009


Total derail:
(PS- This is actually becoming something of an issue in Massachusetts where some powers that be want to jab all girls age twelve and up with Gardasil, or so my Massachusetts friends tell me. The drug is only effective for five years. Some parents think this might be sending a wrong message.)

Please don't spread misinformation about something so easily looked up. Gardasil is a vaccine that protects against 4 types of HPV, the cause of most cervical cancers, as well as penile and anal cancer. All studies so far show that the protection is for life, not time limited to a few years as you have erroneously stated. The reason it's recommended to be given to young girls is that one can get HPV from a single sexual encounter.

It is far better to receive the vaccine quite early and seriously reduce a woman's chances of dying of cervical cancer. Do you really know parents who are worried that if their daughter doesn't risk cervical cancer she might have sex?

In general, your whole comment seems to suggest that only teenage boys are horny and teenage girls only have sex because they are pressured into it, do not desire sex, and receive no pleasure from it. I think a lot of former teenagers on this site disagree with that.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:34 AM on July 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


This may sound like heresy....
Or like every other comment on the modern state of familial relationships since, like, the 1960s.
posted by adoarns at 4:56 AM on July 3, 2009


In places like Iceland, couples break up all the time and people have kids to multiple partners, but it just isn't seen as a crisis the way it is here.

I read the same article that you did. I also recall that shared custody is the norm in Iceland for divorced couples. I'd imagine that this leads to happier, more equitable family arrangements than in the US, where it's still the norm for the mother to get custody and for the father to get thrown a few scraps in the form of visitation rights -- if he's lucky.

But that's my point: divorce itself isn't the problem. (And I did more than read the article, I visited, talked to people and did additional research). The problem is our intense focus on all problems as individual ones.
posted by Maias at 5:36 AM on July 3, 2009


I wonder how much of the connectedness in Iceland is attributable to geography.
posted by Mitheral at 7:41 AM on July 3, 2009


Great thread, everyone, thanks for your thoughts.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:01 AM on July 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Maias, your friends are not the norm. And even among your friends, I am sure that they have less money than they would in a two-income household, or a household without children. A child can mean the difference between making ends meet and being completely broke. That is why we have social programs for poor children.
posted by domo at 11:25 AM on July 3, 2009


And of course, his essay implies that if men/fathers are suffering, then we would be justified in making women suffer by not allowing them to get divorces anymore at will.

Her essay implies no such thing. While she points out how some men lose from divorce and even more so from a culture that does not place a high premium on fatherhood, it does not follow that an increase in family stability would, on the whole, bring more pain down upon womankind

------

There are certainly people who can and do legitimately want to be wives and mothers as their chief goal in life, and there's nothing wrong with that. Rather, I believe that too many girls are being raised, still, to think that's that's the ONLY option. They're not raised to think of the things they'd like to achieve for themselves, so they don't.

and I believe that this has come around to affecting our views on men, as well.


How can this be true in a world where more women go to college than men? Girls have plenty of ambition. This is certainly not some sort of underlying problem. And if had "come around to affecting our views on men", it would have done so a few thousand years ago. But it is also claimed that "these [views] aren't the foundations of lasting relationships and marriages". Well, no. Women may have collectively considered men as providers for eons, but the breakdown in the family unit is a matter of decades.

------

It might actually be a sign of remaining male chauvinism. You get comedy by inverting expectations, and if the expectation is that men are competent, authoritative, and with-it, then you get comedy by showing an out-of-it, incompetent, blundering male.

Ancient (Greek/Roman) comedy is full of "wise slave, stupid master" stories. That's not because they thought freemen were idiots and slaves were smart, it's because it's an inversion of expectations to put the power and competence in the hands of the slave.


Sounds good if you say it fast enough, I guess. Criticisms of TV's portrayal of fathers are made in the context of observing how it has changed over the last 40-50 years. Compare the current batch to: Leave it to Beaver, Father Knows Best, My Three Sons, and The Andy Griffith Show. Still see evidence of chauvinism? One also makes comedy by playing down to expectations. Haven't there been many portrayals that were less than "racially sensitive" and also, comic?

-----

Parenting is not just too much for one person, it's too much for two people: it does take a village and our refusal to acknowledge this fact leads us to parent-blame and put waaayy to much pressure on romantic relationships.

Every society requires a critical mass of families that fit the traditional ideal, both to meet the needs of most children and to serve as a model for other adults who are raising children in difficult settings. We are at risk of losing that critical mass in America today."

Hillary R. Clinton, It Takes a Village to Raise A Child, p. 50

-----

There hasn't been much said on how no-fault divorce could be modified. The assumption appears to be that we would jump back to a totally fault based divorce system. There are more reasonable suggestions out there than that. For instance, if a couple had children, both partners would need to agree to a no-fault divorce or one partner would need to show fault.

The statistics showing the impact of divorce do matter. Whatever the case may be in other countries is not relevant. We don't have their culture, we have our culture (ahem, U.S. for you international readers). And the statistics on the effects of divorce, and children being born out of wedlock, are damning.
posted by BigSky at 12:41 PM on July 3, 2009


"Ancient (Greek/Roman) comedy is full of "wise slave, stupid master" stories. That's not because they thought freemen were idiots and slaves were smart, it's because it's an inversion of expectations to put the power and competence in the hands of the slave."

If the ancient Greeks and Romans were so smart, how come they're dead?

"Point being, the problem isn't divorce, it's not single parents, it's not nuclear family breakdown-- it's community and extended family breakdown and the absence of alternative systems to help us care for each other and help us not be insanely stressed by lack of social support."

I agree, with an exception on the word 'alternative.' I'd say overlapping and non-discrete systems to care for kids and raise them.
And of course, from the 'Father Knows Best' era - that worked in the sense that when one person (yeah, ok, mom) was staying home - they could devote their time to raising children. Certainly not easy. But you had a coherent and importantly contiguous arrangement of care - that is - one person the kids knew was going to be there all the time.
As it is, we're just not making allowances for that anymore. Most families mom and dad both work. And the environment is such that it isn't a 'statement' the way it was in the 60s for a woman to work, nor is is a luxury or for extras as it might have been in the 70s. Now it's mostly necessity.
That takes for granted certain goals and the availability of certain resources - but for the most part those are the moves most folks have to make if they care for their kids.
And sometimes that's not achievable. I spent a lot of time with my brothers, friends, etc, getting into trouble because my mom had to work and there was pretty much no one home.
And rough as it was, really, I got off easy. A lot of kids they go to the fridge and it's empty. So not only are their higher needs not being met, they're not even getting the basics.
Is that dad's fault because he split? Mom's because she's unskilled and has to oscillate between working a number of jobs and taking food stamps (whichever provides the best benefit)?
Or is it a systemic problem because people have been put in a hole?
I gotta go with the latter.
And many people get divorced over money. So that's got to be a big contributor.

As for romantic love, I dunno, I have a happy relationship so it seems naive to me to say 'how do you know this is the person for you forever'?
I mean, I've got friends I've had since grade school. How did I know they would still be my friend? As it is I have lots of sex and fun with my best friend and it's well beyond mere physical attraction (helps that it's there of course).
Seems to me most folks get in trouble by leading with their gonads in the first place and not being friends and having a real relationship to begin with. Once that's there it's effortless. Or at least requires only as much maintainance as a close friendship requires. And there too - the big magilla is the sharing of resources, money among them, and I've seen money destroy friendships.
Buddy of mine buys cars like they're penny candy. Offered to loan me some money, set me up in business, etc. I love the guy, but he does have his flaws, among them, he's a little pushy. And really, making the kind of money he has, one would have to be fairly aggressive that way.
And I knew that would eventually piss me off and I'd probably put him through a wall, so I declined the loan. Which sort of freaked him out (because...it's money!) but making money isn't a big priority to me (which he looks at me like a confused cat). But I said I'd rather remain friends. And he got that.
So all relationships require work. And all relationships are vulnerable to those kinds of forces. Mine tend to be tight because I've seen my friends' dirty laundry, slept near their stink-ass and shared everything, in some cases blood. So I got marriage before I got married.
But society can tear that stuff up. How you're forced to share time, money, etc. is huge.
And yeah, no amount of moralizing is going to fix that.
posted by Smedleyman at 5:07 PM on July 3, 2009


Kids in schools carry a 10 lb. sack of flour to demonstrate that being a parent sucks. I've carried a baby and I've carried a 10 lb. sack of flour. The baby is way more fun, though the flour makes better pancakes. Being an accidental parent sucks, but the anti-baby teaching really concerns me.
posted by theora55 at 10:00 AM on July 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


« Older Just released: Saddam Hussein Talks to the FBI. FB...  |  Upgrade Complete... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments