To hear the media and politicians talk about fatherlessness, you might assume the topic is solely about derelict dads. It isn't. Father absence is primarily about a culture that has little regard for fathers and the role they play in children's lives. Consider the following:
In 2010, at a press conference to promote the film "The Switch," actress Jennifer Aniston said women are realizing "that you don't have to settle, you don't have to fiddle with a man to have that child."
In a 2010 article in the Atlantic titled "Are Fathers Necessary?" New York Times editor Pamela Paul wrote, "The bad news for Dad is that despite common perception, there's nothing objectively essential about his contribution."
In a CNN interview with Maureen Dowd about her book, Are Men Necessary?, Dowd says, "Now that women don't need men to reproduce and refinance, the question is, will we keep you around? And the answer is, 'You know, we need you in the way we need ice cream — you'll be more ornamental.'"
Such statements would never have been made 30 years ago. Since then, the United States has demoted fathers from respected and vital members of society to superfluous buffoons. Turn on any sitcom and Dad is depicted as childish, lazy or incompetent.
Mom, meanwhile, is so utterly capable Dad might as well live someplace else.
Sadly, this attitude toward fathers isn't just evident in our culture. It is also evident in our family courts. When it comes to child custody, mothers are the default parent.
That may have made sense when mothers were home. But in a culture of dual-income families and hands-on fathers, the rules must change.
Women can't have it both ways. They cannot choose full-time work over mothering and insist on sharing child care "equally" with Dad, and then pull rank in a divorce. Yet that's what's happening.
In a typical divorce, dads are relegated to the role a divorced dad was back in the day: He becomes something akin to a visiting uncle. That's the equivalent of yanking a toddler's favorite teddy bear away and then letting him or her have it back once a week for a few hours.
In a divorce, the physical custodial arrangements determine whether the bond between a child and one of his parents will flourish or die. And nine times out of 10, the bond that is severed is the one between father and child. The most recent figures from Pew Research found that only 22 percent of dads who don't live with their kids see them more than once a week.
Indeed, father absence is a national epidemic affecting millions of children. Almost every major social pathology has been linked to father absence: violent crime, drug and alcohol abuse, unwed pregnancy, suicide and psychological disorders.
One way to lessen this devastation is to institute a presumption of shared parenting in divorces for which there is no evidence of abuse or neglect (which is most divorces). Five states (South Dakota, Arizona, Utah, Missouri and Wisconsin) have currently moved in that direction, no doubt because of reams of research demonstrating shared parenting is best for kids.
Fathers like Brad Pitt know this and want to do what's right for their kids. Sadly, they're up against ex-wives who use their children and manipulate the system to their advantage. But if shared parenting were the fallback assumption, this wouldn't happen.
"It is one thing [for family courts] to recognize young children need their mother; it is another altogether to say they need her to have the arbitrary power to keep away their father. Yet current judicial practice allows her to do precisely that," writes Stephen Baskerville, Ph.D., an authority on divorce and child custody.
Republicans now control all three branches of government in 25 states. Given the overwhelming research in favor of shared parenting, they should enact such legislation and address court-created fatherlessness.
Divorce is tragic enough for children. A subsequent forced separation from their father simply drives the nail in the coffin.
Establishing a presumption of shared parenting would extricate that nail.
Suzanne Venker is an author, Fox News contributor, and trustee of Leading Women for Shared Parenting. Thinking of submitting an op-ed to the Washington Examiner? Be sure to read our guidelines on submissions.