A little over 3 decades ago, Holmes and Rahe
published the Social Readjustment Rating Scale which ranked
life events as to their stress factor on a scale of 1-100. The
number 1 rank was "death of a spouse" (death of a child might be
presumed as very nearly equivalent) at 100, followed in 2nd place by
Divorce (73) 3rd place, Marital Separation (65) then; Changes in
financial state (38) Change in Living Conditions (25) Change in
residence (20). Compare these event ratings with: Christmas (12);
Minor violations of law (11).
For a divorced dad, that's a stress value of 221 points (plus the
loss of the children) out of the starting gate. Over time, those
events may be compounded and reiterated with each court trip and/or
visitation sabotage. All too frequently, we must also factor in the
devastating effect of false allegations of abuse.
Other research findings from the Holmes and Rahe scale:
The more life events one experiences, the more likely they are
to get sick.
Individuals who have heart attacks had more significant life
events in the six months prior to the attack.
Individals who became depressed had a larger number of life
events, particularly losses, than those who did not.
The gradual chipping away at an individual by stresses that
wear him or her down leads to susceptibility & precipitates
dramatic jumps in illness.
What distinguishes hospitalized groups from the
non-hospitalized is the number of "uncontrollable" life events in
the preceeding year - "helplessness-inducing" life events.
This is the key variable - "uncontrollable". To the degree
that a dad is involved in an adversarial divorce, the number and
frequency of the accompanying stressful life-events and the impact
of the repeated experience of helplessness is virtually inestimable
in terms of describing what may be an exponential experience of
That some men are virtually or partially immobilized by emotional
pain that is bound up in a closed system, comes as no foreign notion
to me, both as a function of my research experience and of that
experience outlined in the comments that follow.
But there is more to the Divorced Dads issue than emotional
distress, as Maggie Gallagher has so aptly articulated in the
linked column. I would point particularly to the stats that indicate
that an average of 56% of white males, whether divorced or single,
make less than $18,000 per year - or about $8.00 per hour. The post-divorce schedule
posted elsewhere on the DA*DI pages demonstrates how vulnerable
these men are to the potential for becoming "deadbeat dads" when the
court follows the "standard" award for child support.
In my experience working with more than 8000 divorced Fathers,
and in some cases their second families, through the DA*DI network,
I originally outlined what I then called the Defeated Father
Syndrome. In listening to their personal experiences and emotional
responses to the experience of divorce and the attendant loss of
their child or children, these Fathers almost universally shared a
symptom cluster that bridged those symptoms associated with both
Depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
depression derived from loss of positive reinforcers, a sense of
helplessness, and a growing negative world view. Their PTSD derived
from the battleground of the adversarial family court system in
which they repeatedly found themselves on the losing end of a losing
proposition - attempting to maintain their roles as Fathers. It is
not hyperbole to associate this experience with the battleground. A
1995 headline in the Detroit News blared: "Declaring War on
America's Deadbeat Dads". The war is real, as are its casualties -
children and fathers, but the "deadbeat dad" is largely
Recently, Dr. Sanford Braver published the results
of his exhaustive 8-year study of divorce. And in that account, he
not only "shatters" the many myths surrounding America's divorced
dads, but he also explores the notion of the disenfranchised
dad. In a glaring refutation of cultural perception, Dr. Braver
found that "men have more trouble recovering emotionally" from
divorce. He notes that "most often the man - feels utterly powerless
because he can do nothing to prevent the breakup of the marriage."
This is entirely consistent with my experience in dealing with the
DA*DI dads. Hence, I attached the label Defeated. But this is
an outcome-based label. It fails to encompass the whole of the
divorced, battle weary father experience and what precipitates that
sense of defeat.
Dr. Braver more adequately captures the
precipitating event in using the label Disenfranchised. He
reports, "Fathers are often obsessed with what they perceive as the
profound bias against them displayed by the courts and the legal
system." And the fact is that such a bias does exist, including the
presumption that all divorced dads are or will become deadbeat dads.
Expanding on Dr. Braver's findings, Parke and Brott in Throwaway Dads takes us another step closer to
understanding the degree to which the contemporary myth of the
unfeeling, macho, uninvolved, "deadbeat", if not "dangerous" dad
belies the frequent, tragic-reality of the post-divorce,
disenfranchised, "visiting father." To their credit, Parke and Brott
take note of the fact that "hammering men over the head" with their
"wildly exaggerated ... shortcomings only fills them with feelings
of shame that serve to drive them further from their families" ...
and developing a sense of "being worthless and powerless."
The definition of disenfranchised is "to deprive of
political rights", "to enslave", "to deprive of a franchise, of a
legal right, or of some privilege or immunity". Such is the process
of becoming a divorced dad - a disenfranchised parent. These
definitions are becoming even more relevant as the Child Support
Enforcement statutes become more egregious - e.g., depriving Fathers
of their licenses to drive or practice their professions.
following stressors are common in Fathers who have been exposed to
divorce and the deeply painful loss of marital attachment and daily
involvement in their child(ren)'s life:
the psychological shock of discovering that one's spouse has
filed for divorce.
the initial exposure to the prospect of divorce, and the
attendant losses including financial and lifestyle stability.
the extreme trauma of being compelled to psychologically
separate from the marital relationship while simultaneously
maintaining the parenting role.
the perceptual transition of the object of one's affection to
the perception of betrayal.
the emotional trauma of establishing a new home and alternate
the added economic hardship of legal proceedings and separate
the associated and unrelenting punitive experience of the
family court system when attempting to maintain some form of
parental involvement in an adversarial divorce.
the shame and indignation surrounding false allegations of
the immediate separation from their children.
the extended separation from their children.
repeated defeats in legal actions.
repeated accusations and investigations of alleged abuse.
repeated denial of court-ordered parenting time.
sabotage of the Father-child nurturance relationship by the
the perceived or real ineffectiveness of legal representation.
the increasing perception of distance in shared emotional and
life experiences with one's child(ren) - a growing sense of
an increasingly punitive association between the attachment to
their child(ren) and the hostility or indifference of an
emotional and physical exhaustion from frustrated attempts to
sustain a Father role.
the increasing realization that a Father has no legal rights
in the family court system.
Most Fathers who become non-custodial parents struggle on
valiantly for several years after the epoch event, attempting to
maintain some kind of normalcy in their relationship with their
offspring. But they gradually, and realistically, come to realize
that what is lost is greater than what is preserved. They
increasingly feel helpless to have a prominent influence in their
child(ren)'s lives. Consequently, in many cases the motivation for
career success is significantly diminished.
To the degree
that the non-custodial Father was involved in his child(ren)'s daily
activities, and played an active and nurturant parenting role, the
levels of stress will be concommitantly exacerbated.
immediately, however, the stressors listed above begin to form
symptom clusters that are most often associated with the following
clinical syndromes. Because of the singular and shared association
with the trauma of divorce and the loss of the Fatherhood role, as
well as the frequency of occurrence, a separate diagnostic entity is
warranted - the Disenfranchised Father Syndrome:
- Significant Appetite and/or Weight Change.
- Sleep Change: Too Little or Too Much.
- Agitation or Lethargy.
- Loss of Interest or Pleasure in Usual Activities.
- Decrease in Sexual Drive.
- Loss of Energy; Fatigue.
- Feelings of Worthlessness or Inappropriate Guilt.
- Slowed Thinking; Indecisiveness; Poor Concentration.
- Recurrent Thoughts of Death, Suicide, Wishes to be
- diagnosis of either disorder requires the presence
of only four symptoms.
|P.T.S.D. (Post Traumatic Stress
- Presence of a Significant Stress Event.
- Recurrent, Intrusive Recollection of the Event.
- Recurrent dreams of the Event.
- Sudden Feelings that the Event is Recurring.
- Numbing of Involvement with the External World.
- Markedly Diminished Interest in Significant Activities.
- Feelings of Detachment/Estrangement from Others.
- Exaggerated Startle Response; Hyperalertness.
- Sleep Disturbance.
- Irrational Guilt.
- Memory/Concentration Impairment.
- Avoidance of Activities that Arouse Memories of the
- Intensification of the Above Signs by Exposure to Events
that Symbolize the Traumatic Event.
How do we defend Fathers against the relentless societal
juggernaut that drives them into becoming portrayed as psuedo-felons
and fictitious-deadbeats? We must first accept the fact that the
historic male caricature of the strong, unfeeling and impervious
patriarch is a myth in today's society. Many divorced Fathers are
the battle-weary casualties of a culture that no longer finds value
in Fatherhood, and a court system that is engaged in the
self-fulfilling prophecy that they will become deadbeats.
must acknowledge that men can be weakened, and that they frequently
become disabled by the same emotional bonds that they have been
enculturated to develop with their children - before becoming
divorced and disenfranchised.
Mental Illness, such as PTSD
and/or Depression is disabling, displaying a continuum of severity
that substantially limits one or more of a Disenfranchised Father's
major life activities.
As the nationally
syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker has so
"The solution to deadbeat dads isn't criminalizing
fathers, but allowing them to be part of their children's lives.
Tonight, in a nation where fatherlessness is recognized as one of
our most serious social problems, 42 percent of all children will
sleep in a house where their biological father does NOT live. ...
The wonder isn't that we have deadbeat dads, but that we don't
have more." It is likely that today's Disenfranchised
Father is in many, if not most cases, exhibiting an emotional
disability deriving from the divorce experience that substantially
limits one or more of his major life activities. Direct evidence of
that disability, other than psychological tests for disordered mood,
often comes from a sketchy work history, and/or the inability to
function at optimal employment capacity.
It is highly likely
that Fathers who have been imprisoned for failure to meet egregious
support provisions, are in fact being imprisoned for emotional
disability - the Disenfranchised Father Syndrome - a self-fulfilling
by-product of a profoundly biased legal system. Where is the
Americans With Disabilities Act then? In the medical and psychiatric
professions, when the administered treatment inadvertently produces
a negative impact on the patient's well-being, it is known as an
In the case of Divorced Dads, I
don't believe that there is anything inadvertent about this
sometimes profoundly disabling iatrogenic outcome. Rather, it
is a deliberate and biased, jackbooted application of the full power
of the State.
We must continue the struggle to restore
equity, and the Fatherhood franchise - for the health of our Dads,
for the health of our Kids, and for the future health of our
Culture. But we must also be ready to recognize the symptoms of DFS
in our brotherhood, and reach out to those deliberately damaged Dads
that desperately need our support.
Finally, it is important
to remember that a man's grief, unlike a woman's, is more likely to
be expressed as rage than tears. And all too often, that rage is
turned against themselves, in the form of suicide. Even then, in the
irrational reaction of guilt and the uncontrollable reaction of
grief, they are ironically engaged in protecting others from their
fear of their own rage.
Inspirational quotes from English poet and playwright, John
Deserted, at his utmost need,
those his former bounty fed;
On the bare earth exposed he
With not a friend to close his eyes.
- Alexander's Feast (st. 4)
Whom Fortune wishes to destroy she first makes mad.
A man is to be cheated into passion,
be reasoned into truth.
- unsourced but attributed to
The gates of Hell are open night and
Smooth the descent, and easy is the way:
But, to return,
and view the cheerful skies;
In this, the task and mighty labour
to Aeneas, in his quest to find his father.
- Aeneid, bk. 6, l. 126-9, trans. by
Forgiveness to the injured does
But they ne’er pardon who have done the wrong.
- The Conquest of
Granada. Part ii. Act i. Sc. 2.
Either be wholly
slaves or wholly free.
- The Hind and the Panther, pt. 2,
l. 285 (1687)
Happy the man, and happy he
He who can call to-day his own;
He who, secure within,
To-morrow, do thy worst, for I have liv’d to-day.
- Imitation of
Horace. Book iii. Ode 29, Line 65.
The brave man
seeks not popular applause,
Nor, overpower'd with arms, deserts
Unsham'd, though foil'd, he does the best he
Force is of brutes, but honor is of man.
- Palamon and Arcite (bk. III, l.
Self-defence is Nature’s eldest law.
- Absalom and Achitophel,
pt. 1, l. 458 (1681).
Must I at length the sword of
Oh curst effects of necessary law!
How ill my
fear they by my mercy scan,
Beware the fury of a patient
Absalom and Achitophel (pt. I, l. 1005)
reprised from the original, 6/21/2000)
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