The Challenges Facing Fathers
These are just some of the most troubling issues men and fathers face in today’s society, according to Dr. Gordon Finley, a professor of psychology at Florida International University who researches fatherhood and divorce. Finley’s work has been featured in more than 100 publications.
He spoke with MensRights.com and DadsDivorce.com editor Matt Allen about how emerging current realities and anticipated future trends will affect the role of fathers in families and children’s lives.
Men’s Rights: What are some of the most troubling issues facing fathers right now?
Gordon Finley: The United States Supreme Court just heard a case about whether fathers who are in child support arrears can be jailed without legal representation. (Read the Men’s Rights article “Supreme Court to Rule on Jailing Fathers Who Owe Child Support“.) That’s a narrow issue. The broader issue is how does child support get determined in the first place and when fathers’ circumstances change, how can child support orders be modified?
For example, in the current recession, 82% of the people who lost their jobs were men. Of those 82%, I’m sure a substantial number had child support orders. How do these fathers get these orders modified so they can be realistically tied to their current income and not some former level of pay?
This is a major issue, and I hope the Supreme Court case begins to open a window of opportunity for fathers to talk about the issue of child support.
What the research shows is that most states’ child support guidelines are overly favorable to mothers. They have a maternal bias to them. In many cases they are set way beyond the father’s ability to pay.
The two issues in my opinion that are important beyond the Supreme Court case are changing the child support guidelines to be more fair toward fathers and second, when a father’s circumstances change we need a mechanism to change those child support orders very quickly at no cost to the father since if the father is unemployed he doesn’t have the funds to hire a lawyer and go through a prolonged court battle.
I hope everyone interested in father’s rights uses this as an opening wedge to get at other issues.
Men’s Rights: Sticking with the family law reform theme, some of your research is on false allegations of abuse in the context of divorce, which the mens divorce attorneys at Cordell & Cordell have said are often used strategically in custody cases. What were some of the major takeaway findings of that research?
Gordon Finley: The key word there is false. Whether it’s a divorce proceeding or the Violence Against Women Act all of the other spinoffs of domestic violence, any time there is something false in there someone is going to get hurt.
Generally speaking, the parties that get hurt are fathers and children. Most of the time when you have false allegations, the mother’s side lodges them. These false allegations are designed to weaken and marginalize the father-child relationship.
This is important to society because what the research shows is that fathers have a much greater impact on reducing harmful, negative, self-destructive behaviors in adolescents and young adults than mothers do. So society has a vested interest in not breaking the father-child relationship.
Unfortunately, family courts, biased state laws and the federal government all seem to be siding on the side of the mother, and it’s really not in their best interest to do that.
Men’s Rights: You’ve also done some research about the ages of fathers, so how does a man’s age affect how he feels about fatherhood?
Gordon Finley: What’s happening is the age of marriage is going up and occurring later in people’s lives. My research shows the optimal time to be a father both from the father’s point of view and the child’s point of view is somewhere in the age range of 30-39.
During their 30s, fathers were happier being fathers and if you measure children’s perceptions of their fathers they were happier with fathers who had them in that 30-39 age range.
Men’s Rights: Your first published work specifically on fatherhood was published about 20 years ago. So could you give us a past, present, and future view of the role fathers play in families and children’s lives? How has this role changed over the past 20 years, where do you see it today, and how will future trends affect the role of fathers 20 years from now?
Gordon Finley: Going back to the 1950s, research showed fathers had an instrumental role in the family and mothers had an expressive role with fathers being the breadwinners and taking the leadership roles in the family and things like that. Generally speaking, in the 1950s and 1960s, men had more education and higher income than woman.
Since that time the education levels have equalized. What’s happening is that today women are getting more and more education, and women are getting higher income levels, and the question is what’s going to happen to the man’s role in the family. This is unchartered terrain.
It is clear and the projections are very dramatic from the U.S. Department of Education that 60% of college degrees will go to women. There have been a number of reports, particularly from urban areas, that women’s income is higher than men’s income.
So if the man is not going to be the breadwinner, what role will the fathers have in families? That’s one major issue.
The second major issue looking to the future has to do with non-marital childbirth. Research shows when there is a child born out of wedlock, the man is much less likely to be a father or parent figure to the child than in marriage.
The important statistic here is in the 1950s about 5% of births were out of wedlock. Today, about 40% of births are non-marital. (Read the DadsDivorce.com article “The Rise of New Families” for more information.)
What this portends for men is that fathers are very unlikely to be fathering these children, and more critically for society, these children are much more likely to go through life without the presence, nurture and involvement of a father in their lives.