When Divorce Kills: How Gender Bias Pushes Some Men Over the Edge
By Jeffery M. Leving | Apr 28, 2009
Chicago, IL – (April 9, 2009) – In the past two weeks, the nation has been shocked by three cases of domestic violence ending in the deaths of innocent children. Two weeks ago, two Illinois boys and their father, Michael Connolly, were found dead in an apparent case of murder-suicide. Last week, James Harrison, a father in Washington, allegedly shot to death his five children before killing himself. On Monday, an Alabama man, Kevin Garner, allegedly killed his estranged wife, their daughter and two other relatives before committing suicide. A common factor in these three cases is divorce: a father in distress probably because he was losing all that he held dear.
I lament these terrible tragedies; as a parent myself, I can imagine the agony the death of a child must bring to a family. As a fathers’ rights attorney, I regret that these high-profile cases are reinforcing the malicious stereotype of the brutal father, a stereotype that sabotages the efforts of many good fathers who love their children.
The fact is that most fathers do not harm their children. Domestic violence is not gender specific, as some mothers have also committed similar unnatural acts. For example, I am currently representing a soldier, formerly deployed in Iraq, who is now struggling to rescue his daughter from the alleged abuse of her mother in Chicago.
Divorce is often regarded as one of the most stressful events in an adult’s life. However, it is especially painful for men in our society due to blatant gender bias in our system. Most divorced men lose custody of their children, and have to pay substantial and sometimes onerous child support. This bias is evident when examining the raw numbers of custody rulings from jurisdictions across the United States. Mothers win 85 percent of all such disputes. According to the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, divorced and separated men are two and a half times more likely to commit suicide than married men. By contrast, the incidence of suicide among divorced women is no greater than that for married women.
The notion that divorced or otherwise estranged fathers don’t want or need continuing involvement with their children is insensitive and false. Fathers suffer very real pain and an overpowering sense of loss when excluded from their children’s lives. In my book “Fathers’ Rights,” I warned of the agony suffered by fathers affected by the gender bias, pointing out that “fathers from all walks of life find separation from their children to be a torturous, devastating experience.”
While most divorced men are able to cope with the unfair treatment by our system, some individuals collapse under the pressure of their emotions, destroying their family and themselves. Sometimes all these fathers need is someone who understands; someone to share their problems with. This and more can be provided by the not-for-profit organization which I founded in Illinois, the Fatherhood Educational Institute (fatherhood-edu.org), as well as the government agency that I chair, The Illinois Council for Responsible Fatherhood (responsiblefatherhood.com). Similar organizations are needed everywhere. Both organizations offer resources to educate fathers to deal with their emotions, and to assist them in times of crisis.
The stress of divorce is well-known. However, it is manageable and should not lead to killings. Instead of focusing on those three men who allegedly committed unforgivable crimes, we should look at our society and our attitudes towards the role of fathers after separation and divorce and correct these unhealthy stereotypes.
Jeffery M. Leving is the author of two ground-breaking books, Fathers’ Rights and Divorce Wars. He co-authored the Illinois Joint Custody Law and has made frequent appearances as an expert legal analyst and commentator on CNN, CNBC, MSNBC, FOX National News, and ABC News. He is the Chairman of the Illinois Council on Responsible Fatherhood, President Emeritus of the Fatherhood Educational Institute and Publisher of LevingsDivorceMagazine.com.
For more information, visit dadsrights.com.