Giving fathers their due

June 16, 1995|By Joe Otterbein

NEWS REPORTS are filled with politicians and others who lament that we have become a fatherless society. A recent report from the Council on Families in America, a group that aims to help the family, warned us about the dangers of single parenthood and offered the sage advice that we should "re-create" our cultural values.

Many people are demanding that the government crack down on the so-called deadbeat dads -- men who don't pay child support.

It is ironic that while society bemoans fatherless children and complains about deadbeat dads, many people favor denying some biological fathers access to their children. In fact, when some of these fathers try to gain access to their children -- with plans to offer financial and emotional support -- some people accuse them of "interfering" in their children's lives.

Otakar Kirchner knows about this incongruity first hand. The Chicago father has been vilified for wanting to be a part of his child's life.

Last month, Mr. Kirchner was awarded custody of his 4-year-old son after a long battle that began after he learned that he had a biological son who had been adopted by strangers.

Mr. Kirchner had been told by the boy's mother that the child was born dead. Two months later, Mr. Kirchner discovered the truth and immediately tried to assume his rightful role by filing for custody. He desperately wanted to raise his son.

But his fatherly intentions were put on hold as his case lingered in the courts for four years before he won custody of Baby Richard and went to claim him from "the only mother he had ever known," according to the media. A neighbor of the couple yelled, "Monster!" as he retrieved the child. This heartbreaking, nationally televised scene occurred only after the Illinois State Supreme Court ruled that Baby Richard had been adopted illegally.

Those who support these adoptive parents are ignoring that it is wrong to keep a father from his son. If a person is allowed custody of a child that was adopted illegally, then the legitimacy of all adoptive parenthood is undermined. No one likes to see a child torn from the only parents he has ever known, but just as biology alone does not make a parent, neither does the fact that someone has had "custody" of a child for a period of time.

Mr. Kirchner's plight is similar to that of many other non-custodial fathers. These guys are depicted as unreasonable and selfish by the media, furthering the message that our society places little value on a father's love and attention.

There are thousands of men who are not allowed contact with their babies for years. They usually are kept away by mothers who use legal maneuvers to buy time -- time to bond with the child in its formative years, denying the non-custodial father that privilege. Meanwhile, many of these dads miss their children's first smiles, steps and words.

Then these mothers, Baby Richard's adoptive parents and their supporters contend that time spent raising a child is what makes someone a legitimate parent.

If we want fathers to support and care for their children, we should make every attempt to restore some credibility and value the concept of fatherhood. We are being absurdly counterproductive when we deny loving fathers like Mr. Kirchner the opportunity to care and provide for their children.

Joe Otterbein writes from Shrewsbury Borough, Pa.

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