Christmas is for families, right? Well, maybe intact families of the traditional kind. But for many a divided family, the traditions become sour indeed. Especially for the absent father, for whom this society reserves little respect and harbors much suspicion.
Note this Linthicum man's letter:
''I was very touched by the song I heard recently by the St. Clair School of Essex, ''Santa Can You Bring My Daddy Home.'' This is a very good example of the importance of a Daddy in a child's life. Some mothers think daddies are not important in a child's life, but they are so wrong. Daddies are very important.
''My personal situation comes to mind. My girlfriend and I had a beautiful baby girl three years ago. We loved our baby dearly. Our relationship fell apart and we separated. Now her way of ''getting back'' at me is by not allowing me nor my family to see my little girl. She knows I love my little girl and my little girl loves me. Why does she have to be so mean and selfish? Mothers, please don't use the children to hurt the fathers, you also hurt the children.
''I only have one item on my Christmas list this year, I only want to see my little Jill-Bean.''
Fathers United for Equal Rights of Maryland tried to get this letter published last year. To dramatize the issue now, Fathers United has joined groups from Philadelphia to Los Angeles in scheduling a nation-wide candlelight vigil. Fathers United's is set for tonight in the Towson Court House yard from 8 p.m. to midnight. Flyers read, ''We remember our children. We love our children. We are warmed by their smiles. Many children will not see their fathers on Christmas. Many children will be unhappy without their fathers' smiles.''
That's not the picture usually painted of divorced, separated or never-married fathers, but their concerns are nonetheless real. An anonymous response to an earlier column asked ''Who Cares?'':
''* That a legal system and massive bureaucracy have been established to function as indiscriminate punishers of males who choose to become fathers.
''* That some fathers who are seeking the assistance of the legal system in providing adequate and appropriate levels of child support are perceived and demeaned as criminals who are attempting to evade their responsibilities.
''* That some fathers are seeking . . . protection for children and from mothers who have committed grievous acts against their children and the fathers, as well as felonies against the social-service agencies created to protect mothers and children. Who dares to suspect or question 'motherhood'? Mothers are GOOD, fathers are BAD.
''* That the indiscriminate application of [child-support] 'guidelines' by the courts severely limits, in some cases destroys, the income potential of fathers, as well as career development aspirations, for a lifetime. Some fathers can barely afford . . . rent, food or transportation to their jobs. Yet these fathers are held criminally liable for meeting conditions set and imposed by a legal system which assumed, initially, all fathers are criminals. Who would dare develop 'guidelines' which take into account basic finances required for a father to survive?
''* [That] mothers are not accountable or responsible for financial obligations or the disposition of assets and income. These matters are settled through the use of children as hostages. After all, 'What kind of a father are you?' ''
Bitter? It is a clear reflection of the treatment of too many men. Fathers United has mounted a lobbying campaign to persuade the Maryland legislature to pay attention to the father's side of the equation in family dissolution. Rachmiel Tobesman, vice president, recently wrote Sen. Barbara Mikulski raising similar complaints about congressional moves against fathers while Congress has ignored well documented complaints of the one-sided way courts resolve child-visitation and custody issues.
On a related front, Jack Kammer of the Greater Baltimore Commission for Men has been pushing for more equal representation on the Baltimore City Commission for Children and Youth, instead of its present heavily female composition. And not getting much more than polite acknowledgments.
Mr. Kammer also has written to the city's Office for Children, Youth and Families, commending its survey of female prison inmates to learn of family-related problems. When, he asked, would the agency begin such a survey of males?
Good question. The bottom line here is that such good questions about the treatment of fathers as child-rearers and nurturers have been ignored too long. The rapid mobility of the modern life and the growth of second families is bringing things to a head despite the wishes of those who would continue sweeping absent fathers under society's rug. It is time for better answers and for more realistic assessments of the emotional as well as TC financial needs of children.