Articles

The Forgotten Fathers

Many social workers say it’s time society gave help, not hate, to the decent unmarried father

SIDNEY KATZ May 1 1949
Articles

The Forgotten Fathers

Many social workers say it’s time society gave help, not hate, to the decent unmarried father

SIDNEY KATZ May 1 1949

The Forgotten Fathers

SIDNEY KATZ

Many social workers say it’s time society gave help, not hate, to the decent unmarried father

THIS year more than 14,000 children will be born out of wedlock in Canada. This estimate is based on the official figures for 1947, when 14,538 cases were recorded. The 1947 figures represented an all-time high.

Since then much attention has been focused on the unmarried mother and her problems, her background, her personality, her feelings, and plans for the care of her child. Whenever family social workers get together she is usually the subject of spirited discussion.

What about the unmarried father? He is the forgotten man in the problem of birth outside of marriage. He has no legal rights to the childonly the job of supporting it financially. To the general public he is a low scoundrel with no sense of responsibility toward either the unfortunate woman or the hapless infant.

Many Canadian social workers take a more sympathetic view. They say the unmarried father is not, as a rule, a “professional wolf” or a criminal type. Chances are that he is a normal, personable youth extremely worried by the difficulty in which he finds himself.

This comment of a social agency official who handles close to 900 cases of illegitimacy each year is typical: “The unmarried father has

almost as many problems as the unmarried mother. He, too, is a person in trouble who needs help.”

A Trust Fund for Education

DESPITE popular legend, the unmarried male who packs his bags and runs when he learns that he is to father a child is not typical. When approached fairly, large numbers go to considerable trouble and expense to see that the woman and child are properly cared for. Consider the following cases:

While visiting a large Ontario town, Arthur B., 49, married, met a woman 15 years younger. Three months later she wrote that she was

pregnant and named him as the father. He immediately offered to adopt the child, concealing its real identity from his wife. The social agency handling the case refused sanction. Instead, it placed the child for adoption with a young couple whose background they had carefully investigated. The putative father—as the unmarried father is legally called— provided liberally for the mother during her confinement and after.

During the six years since the child was born, Arthur B. frequently has asked the agency about the child’s progress. At present he is working out the details of a trust fund which will help the foster parents provide the child with a good education.

James D. was attending a western university when he found out that the girl was “in trouble.” He took her to the local Children’s Aid Society and arranged for her confinement. Later, against the advice of friends, he quit school, got a job, married the girl and set up a home.

Edward R. became involved with a girl from another city. Because she was frequently in the company of other men there was doubt about his paternity. It would have been possible for him to absolve himself of all responsibility, but he didn’t choose to. “I can’t marry the girl,” he said, “but I’ll help lier in any way I can.”

He did—by co-operating with the agency which took charge of the child. He helped the mother decide that adoption would be wisest. When

it came to choosing foster parents he showed as much interest in their suitability and background as the couple did in the child’s.

Tracing the “Unknowns”

MANY cases similar to these;

where the father acted honestly and generously, could be listed but it should be clearly stated that many unmarried fathers appear to merit the popularly accepted belief that, as a group, they are evasive and conscienceless. Their conduct is rightly a matter of serious concern to the entire community.

The files of every child welfare agency provide cases of men who take deliberate advantage of the fact that paternity is often difficult to prove and manage to escape scotfree. Others, whose guilt has been definitely established, simply disappear by moving to another town. The truly cautious cross provincial borders where they are safe from laws which can compel them to help the woman and child.

The most recently published report of one Toronto agency shows that in 837 cases of illegitimacy I 10 fathers are “unknown.”

Not. all the “unknowns” are deliberate escapees. Comments a welfare official: “Often the father remains

unknown simply because the woman cannot identify him. In a surprisingly large number of cases he is a casual acquaintance whom she knows only as ‘AÍ’ or ‘füll’ or ‘Smitty,’ or ‘a tall guy with red hair’ that she met at a dance, or on the beach.”

Sometimes the man may leave town to take another job and leave no forwarding address.

Even more common are cases where the woman refuses to name the man because it may spoil tier chances of marrying him later. In one study in Cleveland, ()., of 380 unmarried mothers, in 50% of the cases where paternity was not established it was for this reason.

What kind of person is the average unmarried Continued on page 72

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The Forgotten Fathers

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father? How closely does he mirror the villainous character of fiction and gossip?

He belongs to no one personality type. He may vary in age between 16 and 60—sometimes even older. As a rule he is considerably older than the woman. A survey of 215 births out of wedlock made in Hamilton, Ont., by sociologist W. Vernon Trott recorded the average age of the man to be 25, the woman 20.

Trott found that Hamilton’s 215 unmarried fathers worked in 56 occupations. The list included farmers,

laborers, factory workers, mechanics, truck drivers and salesmen, with a sprinkling of investment brokers, musicians, policemen, accountants and manufacturers. Some were unemployed.

Marguerite Marsh, executive secretary of the Youth Consultation Service, New York, places all unmarried fathers in four broad groups:

1. Youths who become involved with a woman because of a lack of knowledge in sex matters.

2. Youths in love but not able to marry because of lack of funds.

3. Men in their late 20’s unable to marry because of educational plans.

4. Emotionally immature adults in-

capable of accepting family life and marriage.

The average man is deeply shocked when he first hears he is to become the father of an illegitimate child. He doesn’t want a child. After the initial sense of shock wears off he is overwhelmed by shame and guilt. He asks himself: Will I be forced to marry the girl? Will I be burdened with a crushing debt? Will my reputation be ruined? Will I be fired? Will I be forced to leave town? Will the mother give the child up for adoption or flaunt it in front of me for years? Will my wife find out (if he is married) and divorce me?

Forced Marriages Fail

When the unmarried father is emotionally unstable, paternity can bring tragedy. More than one has committed suicide, or killed the prospective mother. Others have turned to embezzlement, theft, or robbery to pay for abortions or hospital bills to “do right” by the woman.

One man was so concerned about the welfare of the woman that, at the risk of wrecking his marriage, he insisted his wife take her into his home and care for her. He died of heart failure before the child was born.

One executive was so disturbed that he lost bis powers of concentration. He drifted from job to job, each time falling lower in earning power. Another took to drinking and ended up as a chronic alcoholic.

Often the man will offer to marry the girl, prompted by the feeling that he should accept marriage as punishment for the damage he has done: “I don’t love the girl, but I’ll marry her anyway to give the child a name.”

Social workers frown on such alliances. They know from experience that a high proportion are doomed. The man will keep feeling he has been trapped, while the woman will think, “He only married me because he had to.”

The most important consideration, in the opinion of social workers, is that such marriages may be detrimental to the child’s welfare. “An unwanted child,” they say, “is a potentially neglected child.”

Lois N., 19, after the birth of her baby brought a man many years older than herself to court on a charge of seduction. It was dismissed because of lack of evidence. She later succeeded in getting the man to marry her —a step vigorously opposed by her friends.

Three months later she showed up at the offices of the local Children’s Aid Society, bruised and ill, clutching her child. “I can’t live with him any longer,” she sobbed. “He beats me and hates the child.” She left her husband and went to work.

There are many cases, however, where social workers feel justified in encouraging the parents to marry. This is particularly true when the couple are young and have been forced to postpone marriage.

Rufus J. was secretly engaged to Irene R. for two years. Because the girl’s parents objected to Rufus they were forced to meet secretly . . . Charlie L. was going to get married as soon as he found an apartment; a whole year of searching was futile . . . Hector K., an engineering student, and his girl planned to wait the 2}4 years until his graduation to get married . . .

An unexpected pregnancy can endanger even a fairly close relationship. Sometimes, out of fear or anger, cruel, harsh things will be said. Or family or friends may, deliberately or otherwise, stir up resentment. The unmarried mother reports to the social worker,

“My boy friend and I have had a fight. Everything is finished now.”

The unmarried father who has a wife and children of his own is in a particularly unenviable position. Marriage is out of the question. Should he tell his wife about his indiscretion? What if he keeps it secret and then she finds out about it? Often the man has little choice but to confess everything. Most provincial laws require him to contribute a weekly sum for the child’s maintenance, for 16 years if necessary. For the moderate earner it would be difficult to explain where the missing money was going every week.

Occasionally the father will confess everything to his wife and suggest that they adopt the child. This has been known to work out.

One man, with a four-year-old daughter of his own, took into his home a three-month-old boy born out of wedlock. After supervising the adoption carefully for two years social workers recorded: “This adoption has been highly successful. The little boy has been completely accepted as a member of the family by both the parents and the daughter.”

The financial obligations of the father are clearly defined in the various provincial child welfare acts. Typical is the Unmarried Parents’ Act of Ontario which requires the father to pay “the reasonable expenses,” medical and otherwise, related to the birth of the child. In the average case if the child is then placed out for adoption the responsibility of the father ends.

The Law Needs Proof

If the child is not adopted the father is expected to contribute a weekly sum for the child’s maintenance until the child is 16. In actual practice he pays anything from $5 to $15 a week. Often the contribution is as low as $2 or $3.

An alternative method is the “lump settlement.” This may vary from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. Many authorities strongly favor cash settlements.

One of the unmarried mother’s knottiest problems is to provide legally acceptable evidence that the man she has named is actually the father of her child. Canada’s present laws require that the mother corroborate her charge with material evidence. She may have a letter written by the man which plainly indicates the nature of their relationship; or a witness who will swear that he saw the couple enter a hotel or cabin where they spent the night together.

Sometimes the man named will retaliate by showing up with two or three of his friends, claiming that they too have had relations with the girl. If he lives in any province but Nova Scotia the charge against him is tossed out and the woman is left to care for the child alone. Only the legislation of Nova Scotia contains a “dual paternity” clause, which says in effect that all men who have had relations with the woman must share the financial costs of the child. The same practice is rigidly followed in the Soviet Union.

In cases of disputed paternity blood tests can be of some value; they have been used in Saskatchewan and probably in other provinces as well. While the blood test cannot conclusively establish who is the father it can sometimes prove who is not the father.

In Sweden these tests are required by law. Reports the Royal Social Board of Stockholm: “In one year

(1935) blood tests for proof of paternity numbered 764. In 99 of these cases (14.3%) it was possible to free the putative father from the allegation of paternity.”

For the fugitive father the law is

ready—providing he «taya within provincial boundary linea -with the threat of a three-month jail sentence.

Outside his own province, or country, the fugitive is a free man. No law exists which can compel him to return home across a provincial border to accept his responsibility. Such laws have often been discussed by provincial authorities, but no definite action has been taken.

The runaway father is well advised to stay away. The unmarried mother generally takes out a court order which makes him liable to the full penalty the moment he returns.

Milton Y. of Toronto was named as the father of her child by an unmarried 20-year-old domestic. He crossed the border to Detroit and got a job as seaman aboard a Great Lakes freighter. Three years later, when the boat docked in Toronto harbor, he visited some old friends.

The girl learned of his presence and set the long-waiting legal machinery in

action. The next day authorities boarded the ship and took the sailor to court. Before he left that night ho had made a lump settlement amounting to several hundred dollars.

Social agencies everywhere co-operate in locating unmarried fathers who arrive in their community. It is not unusual for a Halifax agency to conduct an interview on behalf of Vancouver, or for Montreal to act for Winnipeg. Sometimes Canadian welfare officials find themselves actively interested in the problems of an unmarried mother who may be living in California, England, New Zealand or Australia.

In studies made by mental hygiene authorities the importance of the unmarried father’s early life is constantly emphasized. The attitudes of the child toward women, sex, marriage and family, they say, are principally molded by the home. The child will develop normally in an atmosphere where mother and father are fond of each

other; where the child feels loved and secure.

If the parents provide a bad example by constantly being at each others’ throats, if the child is misunderstood, mistreated or ignored, his behavior as an adult in all his relations, including sex and marriage, may be seriously influenced.

Fred S., 20, became involved with the daughter of a prominent industrial family. He left little doubt about one of the main causes for his conduct. All during his adolescence his father had badgered him for being a sissy and a weakling. “I’ll show him,” said the young man.

Left fatherless at three years of age, John K. developed an unusually close attachment for his mother. At 25 he was named as a father by a young woman who was attractive, intelligent and talented. Friends thought that they were well suited, but he was indignant. “I’ll never marry such a low, wild type of woman,” he said.

(He had never stopped “being in love” with his mother, all relationship with another woman leading to a successful marriage was practically impossible for him.)

Many Canadian welfare authorities feel that the unmarried father should not be stigmatized too harshly. They agree with Maud Morlock, of the U. S. Children’s Bureau, who says that “the less a man is antagonized the more he will co-operate in protecting the child and contributing to its support. We need to remember that birth out of wedlock— much as it may be regretted by society—is not a crime but only behavior that must be approached with objectivity and understanding.”

They believe the father should be given every opportunity to explain his side of the story and then helped to work out solutions for the problems that have arisen as a result of the birth.

Only by this approach, they say, can the interests of the unmarried mother and her child best be served, iç