Dads Against the Divorce Industry

DA*DI is devoted to reinstating the societal valuation of Marriage and the traditional, nuclear American Family, with particular emphasis on the essential role of FATHERS.

DA*DI offers contemporary reports and commentary on culture; its aberrations and its heroes.


The Fifty-Years War

We are all aware that we have just witnessed the end of one kind of Fifty-Year war - the Cold War. I'm not as certain that we all realize another kind of war has been taking place during the same time period as the Cold War. I have come to call that war the Gender War. For some this may sound a bit exaggerated. As you read along with me though, I think you will come to understand, as I have, that in the same way the whole is more than the sum of its parts, the Gender War is more than a collection of social skirmishes that just happened to occur along the maturation path of the Baby Boom generation.

You can remember most of the skirmishes that began in the sixties and continue to the present day. Some of those headline events have been: The Women's Movement, bra-burning, sexual liberation, student riots, sexual-harassment events, gay-rights events, single-parenthood-Murphy-Brown-Dan-Quayle events, minority and equal-rights events.

Along the way, we have been less aware of some significant but seemingly peripheral events, such as the fact that the divorce rate has tripled since 1940, and doubled since 1960, so that in 1995 it is has attained the 50% level. More alarmingly though, the percentage of children living apart from their natural fathers has now reached 40%, and that rate has nearly tripled since 1960. In part, that rapid acceleration is due to the increase in children being born to unwed mothers.

This year alone, about one million kids will experience a parental divorce or separation, and about one million kids will be born to unwed mothers. In these trends of the last fifty years, it becomes very clear that there is a pattern of escalating estrangement and conflict between the genders. And although it falls short of the kind of physical violence that characterizes military warfare, it is not unlike the Cold War in its isolated skirmishes, political maneuvering, and sporadic casualties.

In another sense, the gender conflict has become more like some aspects of the Korean War of the fifties. In that conflict, behind the actual physical casualties, we found a second front of psychological warfare, in the Korean's treatment of prisoners. This is the essential, even if only regarded as secondary, aspect of the gender conflict; the psychological violence - the violence of emotions - loss, grief, shame, loneliness, guilt and resentment, but especially the rage that seems to characterize the Gender Wars.

A Search for Answers or Explanations:

Over recent years, because of my clinical background, I have increasingly wondered why, in our collective experience as a nation, we have veered away from the deeply imbedded notion of the family as the precious cornerstone of our strength. As I searched for the historical or contemporary event that seemed tied to this disintegration of the family model in the eighties, seventies and sixties, it became more and more apparent that these decades were only the mid-section of the process. I had a growing conviction, though, that the roots of the vast outgrowth of divorce, single parenthood and its attendant fatherlessness, was not simply emerging within the Baby Boom generation as a result of casual sexual experimentation or as things that just sprang up of their own volition along the road to Boomer adulthood. Given the expanse of the behaviors and ideology, it seemed much more likely that some significant, shared event or trauma was operating to produce a new cultural script.

Old Toons:

Rosie photos from March, 1996
Smithsonian Magazine
Not long ago, on a Saturday morning, I was sitting with my two young daughters, watching cartoons on a cable channel that ran old and new toons twenty-four hours a day. The ones we were watching that morning were obviously vintage issues used to fill the long broadcasting schedule. As we watched and talked, and drank our orange juice, my attention was drawn to a cartoon from the WWII era. It featured "Rosie the Riveter". Rosie was portrayed as a kind of generic all-American girl, made even more anonymous by the full-face welding mask that she wore at all times, along with a sweatshirt and baggy work-pants.

In the World War II era of the forties, Rosie was a familiar caricature in the media, appearing in cartoons, posters, etc.

In this particular cartoon feature, she was preoccupied with "making her contribution to the war effort" and "building the bombers for the boys overseas". But aside from her patriotic pursuits, Rosie was also concerned, because she had been late, or called away from work several times and she was afraid she was going to lose her job.

The problem facing Rosie was that her husband was away at the war and she had a young toddler that needed daycare, which she was having trouble finding. To the rescue came the bumbling, hapless, mush-mouthed Elmer Fudd. From that point on, the cartoon focused on Elmer's fumbling attempts to keep-up with or away-from the toddler from hades. Of course, Elmer was the only choice for the role, because all of the real men were away at war, and the women were working in the war industry.

Suddenly, I knew why I had been so drawn to this particular cartoon, and started scribbling notes in the pad on the night stand. I had realized that the collective event I had been searching for was being presented in this toonish cultural archive. I had long known that in the forties, as the United States entered the war, every able-bodied adult male had been called to military service.

As a young pre-boomer, I had known that my own father was slogging around France and Germany in a "half-track", a semi-tank, semi-4x4, armored patrol vehicle. Later, I would learn that industry positions left vacant by the volunteer and drafted males sent to the European frontlines, were being filled, of national necessity, by the women, wives and girlfriends who had been left to maintain the homefront.

This was a distinctive event because, prior to this national emergency, most women had been primarily engaged in the traditional roles of homemaker or pre- homemaker. When women did work, usually in their youth, or as spinsters, the majority held supportive positions as secretaries, bank tellers, receptionists and elementary school teachers. Notably, Rosie characterized the uncommon woman in that she wore pants, in an era when only men wore the pants. To this day I can remember an early fifties sermon in which our pastor was railing on about women appearing in public in pants in the nearby suburban shopping area, as well as the fact that some were seen smoking cigarettes.

What could not have been portrayed in those early Rosie cartoons was that post-war Rosie-the-Riveter was soon going to be asked, by a government grateful to its conquering heroes, to return to the role of homemaker.

A Patriotic Return to Print Housedresses and New Appliances:

In a recent edition of the Detroit Free Press, which celebrated the 50th anniversary of the end of WWII, was a retrospective story of the transition faced by the typical Rosie on the Homefront. This particular young woman had gone to work for the Murray Body Plant "because it was on the busline near her house, and she got hired on the spot. The work required her to trade her wraparound housedresses for pants. She agonized over the blue coveralls, trying them on several times before getting up the nerve to wear them. She grew to love them for their comfort and their freedom and their daring. (She) didn't know the end of the war would mean that she'd be expected to leave her job at the factory. You've done your duty, the government would say, now it's time to do the patriotic thing: Return home so the veterans can have the jobs."

It's a reasonable certainty that most Rosies of the era would not view this development in a negative sense. Many were never prepared to adopt such a radical change of lifestyle, and welcomed a return to the familiar. For most, the war years had been years of anxiety and uncertainty as to whether their husbands, brothers, uncles, cousins, fathers, fiances, or lovers would return home alive and/or physically intact. These were fears based in the reality that over the five years of 1941-46, 1 in 15 soldiers from all branches of the services were either killed (nearly 40% of all casualties) or wounded. Compare this to our contemporary experience of the Viet Nam War, where 1 in 41 were either killed (about 25% of all casualties) or wounded over a nine-year period. Nearly eight times as many men were killed in WWII as in Viet Nam, and there were nearly three times as many casualties, in about half the time.

In stark contrast to the Viet Nam conflict, however, WWII was considered a "popular war" in that we were fighting for world peace, and retaliating for the cowardly attack on Pearl Harbor. Within this context, it's understandable why our Detroit Rosie "...thought of Ray (her soldier husband). Ray was alive. He would be returning...Finally they could have a life together in their own house. How lucky she was." But not all Rosies and Rays were to live happily ever after.

We Knew This Was Going to Happen:

Around the same time the Rosie story was published, I came across even more retrospective support for my developing insight to the post-WWII roots of the loss of the family ethic paralleling the emergent gender wars. In his book Fatherless America, David Blankenhorn similarly reports the antecedent events that I have discovered, but with added dimensions. Blankenhorn reports "the war had created a family phenomenon with no precedent: the prolonged, mass separation of fathers from their families." He goes on to paraphrase the 1948 words of the sociologist Frances Merrill, saying "in brief, fatherlessness was not one social problem caused by the war; to Merrill and others, it was the primary social problem caused by the war." Social scientists agreed that war-induced fatherlessness - one scholar calling it "mass deprivation" - jeopardized the well-being of millions of many as 3 million to 4 million U.S. families." In recounting a chillingly accurate prediction, Blankenhorn recaps expert concerns extending beyond wartime fatherlessness: "Father absence during the war could also threaten marital relationship(s)."

So, Where Does the Rage Come From?

The predictions and findings of the emerging social sciences of the 1940's were not particularly well received, in part because of their relative newness and in part because of the social euphoria of the war's end. Everyone had been subjected to enough doom and gloom after five years of warfare and death, and now was the time for celebration and launching career/family pursuits. But something had changed, and was continuing to change, dramatically, in the family arena. Blankenhorn, in a subdued, almost tongue-in- cheek manner, goes on to recount predictions we all know as reality today.

"Some experts feared that a mother on her own, might overidentify with her child, thus undermining the spousal bond (i.e., mother and child would become so tightly bonded that father would become virtually superfluous to their emotional needs). Or that a single mother might become so reattached to her own parents or other close relatives that the returning husband would be treated as an intruder."

And then, in the predictions, research and concerns of the social scientists mumbling in the background, we find the predicted source and intensity of the anger we see today: "Moreover, the mother's independence as a solo parent and worker might lead to an increase in sex (gender) antagonism following the war." "A Stanford University study of returning fathers found that they had a hard time establishing good relationships with first-born children (those born before or subsequent to their departure). Compared to fathers who did not go to war, these fathers tended to be more critical of the oldest child, to discipline him or her too harshly, and to be more easily annoyed by disruptive behavior. They tended to view their son's behavior as too babyish or girlish." "In many ways, military service had diminished these men in their roles as fathers and family men... They were fathers, but of unknown children whom they had only seen in pictures; they lacked any warm interpersonal relations with these children and were vague and uncertain in the role of father."

In a contemporary study of middle-aged adults who had been children during WWII, Blankenhorn quotes the author (William A. Tuttle) as concluding "for fathers coming home after prolonged absence in a military environment in which they either gave orders or promptly obeyed them, there seemed little doubt that their sons and daughters should respond to them as buck privates had to first sergeants... A militaristic approach to family life provoked resentment and sometimes rebellion among children, in turn leading some fathers to crack down even harder. One woman remembers a fighter-pilot father, a man she never really knew, disturbing the secure nest she and her mother had made with her paternal grandparents: 'suddenly, I was no longer a princessly half-orphan but a spoiled brat! He scolded, I cried, Mom and Grandma stood up for me,... Many years later, Mom told me what a rocky time it was for all concerned.'"

In the parental homefront aftermath of WWII, these kinds of conflicts - on a wide-ranging scale of intensity - were played out in millions of American homes, affecting the lives of millions of baby-boom boys and girls who have become today's mothers, fathers, and single parents. Many post-war mothers resented being summarily moved back into the homemaker role, displaced from the work place by men who had previously been friends, family and lovers, who now, in many cases seemed to be strangers. Fathers, returning home from the close-contact horrors of a distant war, many still in shock, were groping to move into their new, instant roles, as fathers and providers. Many would remain in shock, to varying degrees, for the rest of their lives.

As Leo Priebe, A WWII veteran poignantly wrote in the Des Moines Register in 1995, "war either makes you a Christian or a savage. I saw them both." Mr. Priebe goes on to recount the lingering, buried effects of the war experience which suddenly came to the surface when he returned to Frankfurt on vacation: "One evening some thirty years later, as I stood on the balcony of our hotel overlooking that beautiful city, the words came back to me - 'we leveled Frankfurt last night' - and the tears came."

The Aftermath - Gender Wars in America:

A few years ago, a movie called "War of the Roses" portrayed the escalating anger and violence that took place between a divorcing couple that had, in their years together, grown apart, and were now fighting over who would live in the house that they had spent those years grooming and furnishing. The title of that movie, and it's ironic appropriateness in today's world, derives from a historic event of the 1400's. It was a quarrel between the families of York and Lancaster over the right to occupy the English throne, and brought on a series of cruel civil wars in England in the years 1455 to 1485. The emblem of the Yorkists was a white rose and that of the Lancastrians a red rose. This was literally an immense, 30 year power-struggle, and in both cases, with closely drawn parallels, the combatants became their own victims, while lawlessness and violence wracked the country.

Myself, friends, and colleagues, male and female, view with fear and loathing today's Wars of the Roses Divorces; Militant, Gender Feminism that goes far beyond demands for equal treatment to portray all men as potential, if not actual, batterers, rapists and pedophiles - agents of the evil patriarchy; the devaluation of the fatherhood role; despondent and disenfranchised fathers, paralyzed by their sudden displacement from home and family; bitter or fearful women who choose single parenthood; and, the millions of children being raised in fatherless homes.

Where does the rage come from? I believe that our look at post-war America provides a clear answer. We are, have become, our parent's children, acting out the conflicts that were unsatisfactorily resolved in their post-war lives. The largely unseen, or ignored, legacy of World War II is its profound post-war cultural impact - being played out for the past thirty years or more by the largely unknowing students/ victims of its misguided lessons. Perhaps our society's subset of "victims" have their roots there as well. But it is entirely reasonable to conclude that the children of the WWII veteran generation who found themselves at the more intensely conflicted end of the spectrum, are now the single and divorced parents, the disenfranchised dads, and the militant gender warriors.

Now What?

If knowledge is truly power; if knowledge of history does mitigate its recurrence, then maybe, just maybe, we can exploit this information to forgive our parents, and move toward shared parenting, mutual respect, and the re-valuation of the Fatherhood Role.

Gerald L. Rowles, Ph.D.

Post Script: The following comment comes from the widely known Professor Camille Paglia, in her Salon column, dated 2/7/2001:

Young feminists have been sold a bill of goods about American feminism. The enormous changes in women over the past 40 years are constantly and falsely attributed to the organized women's movement of the late 1960s and '70s. But that movement was merely a symptom or corollary of a profound transformation in American society after World War II. My generation of bossy, confident, baby-boom women were something brand new in history. Our energy and assertiveness weren't created by Betty Friedan, unknown before her 1963 book, or by Gloria Steinem, whose political activism, as even the Lifetime profile admitted, did not begin until 1969.

I want to thank her for her indirect validation of the Rosie thesis, seven short years later.
- GLR, Ph.D.

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