The big problem I have with The Tennessean's September 24th editorial topic of targeting teenage dads, and of course the guest editorials that embrace yet another social government program, is that we're left with a truly false dichotomy.
That is, teen motherhood is an absolute "right" while teen fatherhood is just a financial "responsibility." I am so sick and tired of hearing this same old song and dance. Teen mother - good. Teen father - bad. She had no choice but to deliver a baby she cannot afford without taxpayers footing the bill. He had all the choices at hand but now must pay financially through the nose. Not to mention, he must accept that everyone but him decide how little parenting time he actually gets. It's a disgrace par excellence.
A lot of ink was spilled on September 24th targeting teenage dads. The Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference shouldn't be in the business of pushing statewide education programs like "What's The Rush?" More smoke and mirrors. Bait and switch. Teen mothers are told of all the programs that are at their disposal, while teenage fathers have it drilled into their head that if they do not pay what can be confiscatory child support, they will lose the very license they need to actually drive to a job!
Gina Lodge, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Human Services, has got it wrong in writing "Most teen mothers must turn to welfare." My question is this: Why don't most teen mothers do the right thing and turn to adoption? Instead, Lodge tells us "between 75 and 80 percent of all teen mothers turn to Families First, the state's welfare program to get the support they need to survive." To survive? Please. Perhaps if the welfare program wasn't in place, there would be more adoptions or father involvement.
I also disagree with Lodge in writing that "only 55 percent of parents pay their court-ordered support on a regular basis." Where does this figure come from? What about the fact that some teenage fathers or adult fathers simply cannot afford to pay what can amount to confiscatory child support? But more importantly, it's a solid fact that when fathers are actually allowed to be, well, fathers, they pay their court-ordered support on time and in full at a rate of about 90 percent.
This being said, teen mothers and government agencies ought to be held criminally accountable when they interfere or withhold parenting time from the father. There's countless programs and philosophies aimed at once again financially targeting fathers to the point of garnishing wages and tax refunds. Not to mention, public ridicule supported by the state. Incredibly, there are virtually no programs in place to really punish mothers and secure a father's time with his children.
Why is this? We respect someone as young as 15 to give birth, and they're emotionally supported. At the same time, we view fathers as ATM machines and dead beat dads. They're emotionally discarded. We need to stop all the word games and draconian laws aimed only at fathers. Believe me, they want to spend more time with their children. It's simple. Just ask them.
Let's start a conversation on not just teen parenting, but what it means to have rights and responsibilities as any parent. Who gets all the financial responsibilities? Who gets all the rights? What are we left with? Why do we automatically assume mothers of any age are more responsible than fathers? Here's the thing. The last time I checked, mothers are the ones in the news who irresponsibly leave their children in hot cars with the windows rolled up.
Tony Zizza is a free-lance writer who lives in Hermitage, TN. He writes frequently about parenting and popular culture. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.