Nothing tells the story of what fathers are facing more starkly than suicide statistics. American men kill themselves almost four times more than women in regular circumstances. But fathers who have become ensnared in the divorce system kill themselves eight times more. Yes, you read that right. For every child who loses their mother to suicide during or after divorce, eight children lose a father.
re·spond·ent : a person who is called upon to issue a response to a communication made by a petitioner. The term is used in legal contexts and in psychological conditioning.
Masculinity in Modern Society
There is a lot of public commentary on the unrealistic demands placed on modern women, and the “social control” of the so-called patriarchy. Rarely do you hear the other side of the story. Increasingly, normal male behavior is being pathologized and men are considered defective if they talk about their feelings less than women. Those who do express their feelings must keep them within the socially-approved spectrum while those who are emotional in arenas like family court are castigated and pigeonholed.
The laudable original objective of improving upon traditional manhood has warped into an all-out assault on everything masculine. We are seeing a stripping away of empathy for modern boys who are asked to carry a burden every bit as heavy as young women. Views that all men are only capable of hegemonic masculinity and toxic masculinity have become mainstream.
Recalibrating Modern Manhood
We’ve entered an ice age in which empathy for our fellow man is slowly freezing to death as we watch on. On social media, we pander to faux friends and “cancel” people in crowdsourced witch hunts. “Social murder”, and social media shaming, rates are at an all-time high. Redemption is considered a quaint luxury most of us don’t deserve while lives and careers are routinely destroyed for decade-old tweets.
While the sanctity of marriage diminishes daily, we are told social binds like family are dusty ideas of an era best forgotten.
Is it #TimesUp for #MeToo?
A long overdue reckoning came with the #metoo movement. The ascendancy of women as they break through the last of centuries-old barriers to true equality is a beautiful thing to experience. Yet we must look at the other side of the coin which is the necessary and important recalibration of masculinity. When it comes to the dwindling importance of fatherhood, and a legal system that practically promotes family dissolution, something has gone completely haywire.
For so many of us, the relationship between men and women has become strained to the point of breaking. We need to ask ourselves where we are headed in the culture war. We need to ask ourselves whether we are picking the right heroes to speak for us.
I am skeptical of any ideology. #MeToo insists that half the population be quiet and “sit this one out.” To the contrary, I don’t think there has been a moment in my lifetime when it’s more important for both men and women to be participating passionately in the discussion. It’s critical each side is reminding each other that love and family are not a zero-sum game.
Most of us are vaguely familiar with stories of family breakdown as we have a friend or family member who endured a bad break-up. It’s a common trope in our dramatic and comedic entertainment and reliable fodder for TMZ and supermarket tabloids. When it comes to celebrity relationship implosions, if you’re like I was not so long ago, you might have thought where there’s smoke there’s fire. If we all just trust the legal system to do its thing, everything will bend toward justice, right?
But the truth is, at a time when modern fathers are bombarded by messages about the deeply corrosive effects of “toxic masculinity,” we are confronted with a institutions psychologically conditioned now to think masculinity is toxic. Mans kindness is extinct. Chivalry a bygone notion. The family law system is rife with outdated gender ideas every bit as sexist as those faced by women in other arenas, past and present.
Has the pendulum swung too far on feminism?
More Responsible Divorce
The members of the more than 800,000 families that break down each year in America are living through an overcorrection in divorce law. The no-fault divorce laws that swept through most of Western society in the 1970s and ‘80s made divorce much easier, fairer and safer for women. But in our zeal to make things better, we overshot. Many experts now say divorce systems throughout the Western world are gender biased from top to bottom in favor of mothers. This is what makes it possible for some parents to game the system in ways as egregious as the false allegations I am living through.
The American system doesn’t even answer to the Supreme Court and is needlessly adversarial, promoting uncivil war that the unwitting participants are powerless to stop. Family law justice is not blind, courts presiding over divorce and child custody are not neutral, abuses of power shielded by judicial immunity are not often checked, and no one is held accountable.
I also expose this state-sanctioned Armageddon for children.
Today, an estimated one in three American kids live without their biological father in the home. These children are at a greater risk of having more difficult lives according to just about every measurable metric. For example: they are more likely to misuse drugs, experience abuse, or go to prison, they are twice as likely to drop out of high school and live in poverty, and they are seven times more likely to become pregnant as a teen. The impacts on mental health are a concern.
The story isn’t much better for the parents of divorce, and the effect on fathers is the most dramatic. My family breakdown brought me to the brink, and I’m not alone. Today in family law, tools built as shields for women are too easily fashioned into bullets that are literally killing men. Nothing tells the story of what fathers are facing more starkly than suicide statistics. American men kill themselves almost four times more than women in regular circumstances. But fathers who have become ensnared in the divorce system kill themselves eight times more. Yes, you read that right. For every child who loses their mother to suicide during or after divorce, eight children lose a father. With this book, I present an honest account of the conditions driving such despair.
The Respondent will also offer an overview of solutions many are working tirelessly on, so that our sons and daughters won’t have to endure such a ruthless system.
The bedrock of a marriage, or any relationship, is trust. Trust—as precious as it is fragile, a basic biological necessity that can only be built slowly with consistency over time. We cannot act effectively without the comfort of being able to trust how others will respond. When trust breaks down in a relationship, our partner can suddenly and shockingly become our adversary, fear grips the nervous system and takes control of the mind. Petty disagreements grow into violent communication, the fight or flight mechanism kicks into gear, and reason buries its head in the sand.
When onto this backdrop arrives the tragedy of a family dissolution, a perfect storm can develop for men; a Catch-22 circling like a hurricane. Men who can’t express vulnerability suddenly find themselves in a court showdown at high noon, back to back with their ex-partner in a society in which victimhood has become a powerful currency, and within an unforgiving legal system where the one willing to communicate their victimhood quickest and loudest gains a massive and sustaining advantage. The soon-to-be ex-couple walk their paces, and the one to draw on their victimhood first becomes the almighty Petitioner (the legal term for the initiator of a formal legal action). For reasons I will explore, women are simply a faster draw and the man/father almost always winds up eating dust as the Respondent (the legal term of the one called upon to issue a response).
The cruel irony is that this system, the stated purpose of which is to resolve conflict, has become diseased and more often perpetuates the fight now. Pitting two desperate people against each other and kicking any sense of responsibility or mental health impacts down the road. When victimhood is rewarded, responsibility will never follow.
The Respondent is a cautionary tale, covering this and many other aspects of modern masculinity. It’s also a mystery that explores the conditions, both internal and external, that bring people to such a desperate place in such a dysfunctional institutional system. And it’s also a scathing critique of ideologies eating away at the foundations of modern manhood. My mission with this book is to provide some solace for forsaken fathers, forgotten husbands, and fallen men of the courts. And, also, to document the pride before the fall, and the shame and inescapable psychological terror of becoming The Respondent.
I want to help others in their disconsolate quest for enlightenment and redemption as they try to exorcise the unrelenting demons of grief that come with missed milestones, lost childhoods, stolen moments, broken promises, disillusioned unions, all the skeletal remains of bygone days.
I also aim to provide a practical psychological roadmap to those who haven’t yet visited dystopia, so that they might unravel their own mysteries, navigate the bumpy roads of modern relationships more successfully, and better respond to the challenges facing them and the love offered them. Snaking through this commentary is my own harrowing odyssey as I battle for my children in the dungeons of family court and head ever closer to an outcome still coming into focus, even as I write.
The Respondent is a pleading for all of us to take the necessary steps toward becoming more humane. It is a reminder that we are all children in need of protection, and maybe even rescue. The Respondent is my petition to the lost child in me and my own lost children.
One of the core themes of my upcoming project The Respondent is family, and more specifically how and why our familial tapestries seem to have become so torn. As a father with two young sons I became increasingly concerned about the effects the system is having on them.
We are all born with little monkey toes.