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Fathering after Domestic Violence?

Jack Kammer 78x100

This is a guest blog from NFI Program Support Consultant Jack Kammer, MSW. In 2012 Jack was named Outstanding Recent Graduate at the University of Maryland School of Social Work.

A powerful idea in domestic violence circles is that a man, but not a woman, who has been abusive is disqualified as a loving parent. The mere allegation, to say nothing of the actual abuse (no matter how minor,) can prevent a father from having a role in his children’s lives. But there is reason to believe that idea may be fading.

On August 22, 2012, National Public Radio carried a report about efforts in New Haven, Connecticut to engage fathers in the lives of Head Start children. Predictably, the specter of male abusiveness came up. But this time NPR quoted Fernando Mederos, Ed.D., Director of Fatherhood Engagement in the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families. He said, “What we owe [abused] women is to say to them, ‘What are your concerns about him and is there any way of having him involved with your kids in a safe way, even in a helpful way?’”

NFI understands that domestic violence is an important topic that deserves serious attention. But we sometimes get a bit weary of having domestic violence be the first thing that comes to people’s minds when we mention fathers in families. NFI works to make sure that men have the skills, confidence and support they need to be strong, confident, loving fathers, and we wish to highlight the sexism that paints fathers far too broadly and far too indelibly with the family violence brush.

The scientific evidence about domestic violence makes quite clear that it is a two-way street between women and men. We can argue whether the balance is 50-50, 60-40 or 35-65, but women as well as men can feel the unhealthy impulse toward power and control, the factors that contribute to domestic violence. And the evidence also calls into serious question the ready notion that when women are physically violent towards men it is only in self-defense; in fact, significant science suggests that women initiate more domestic violence than men do. (The annotated bibliography maintained by Martin Fiebert at the University of California, Long Beach, is a good place to start your own investigation of the science around domestic violence.)

Now, having said that, NFI readily acknowledges that when domestic violence involves serious injury, women are somewhere between three and seven times more likely than men to be the victims. And having said that, it is important to point out that most domestic violence – especially under the very broad and vague definitions propounded by some DV activists – does not involve serious injury. Furthermore, most men are not involved in domestic violence at all.

So, back to the initial question: Can a man who has been abusive be a loving parent? NFI is firmly committed to the idea that for most fathers, the answer can be a resounding yes, to the benefit of children, mothers, fathers, your agency and entire communities alike. NFI products such as our 24/7 Dad  and InsideOut Dad curricula and our Understanding Domestic Violence FatherTopics Workshop all help to provide fathers with the skills they need to understand and be understood by their partners through healthy, compassionate, nonviolent communication.

What do you think?

Does Chris Brown Need A Father Figure?

R&B singer Chris Brown burst onto the scene in the fall of 2005, and like the rest of America, I enjoyed his energetic dance moves and singing. Just 16 at the time, he was a fresh face poised for stardom. I knew some people personally at his label, and I rooted for his success.

His first two albums were full of puppy love talk, ballads, and up-tempo songs that captured his talent. In February 2009, however, my perception of Brown’s music and personality changed after the violent domestic dispute between he and ex-girlfriend Rihanna. Then 19, Brown assaulted the beloved pop singer after attending a party together earlier that evening. Naturally, Brown caught the wrath of both the media and his fans. The images of Rihanna’s swollen face still haunt me.

At the time, Chris Brown’s biological father, Clinton, defended his son, saying his son was remorseful. Chris didn’t grow up with his biological dad as his parents split when he was young. His mother, Joyce, remarried and Donelle Hawkins became his stepfather. In 2007, Chris revealed that his stepdad would beat his mother and that the situation filled him with rage, saying he even plotted to harm him. Although Hawkins denied striking Brown’s mother, he did confirm that it was a tense relationship.

It’s no stretch to see that Chris Brown modeled behavior he grew up seeing. He wasn’t given an opportunity to witness a man treat his wife with respect and honor. His violent reaction to Rihanna was reportedly sparked by an accusation of Chris sneaking around with other women, leading to the fight. It was nearly the same pattern of events he would have to endure between his mother and stepfather. Instead of learning to resolve conflicts sensibly, Brown’s propensity to fly off the handle continues to this day.

Brown has since gone into the gutter with his lyrical content. Moonlighting as a foul-mouthed rapper and morphing into a sex-crazed singer, he has lost all of the innocence in his music that once defined him. Another evolution of Brown’s character is his caustic online persona. Gone is the man who was subdued and reflective after his appearance on the Larry King show months after the 2009 incident. On his popular Twitter account, Brown is often profane and pushed into rage easily once anyone mentions his violent past.

Rihanna and Chris Brown are reportedly together again; with some saying they never split officially. Disappointing fans and opponents of domestic violence, they have also recorded new music together that’s unfit for young ears. Rihanna herself lived with an abusive father in her native Barbados, who she has since forgiven. To his credit Brown has tried to address the issue but while he begins with his heart in the right place, he is easily moved to anger. Even entertainers on Twitter have pushed Brown to the edge and even challenging him to fights.

Had Chris Brown been closer to his dad, a corrections officer, would he have received better guidance? Is it possible that Brown still needs a father figure or a mentor that can steer him away from this downward spiral? In other words, Chris Brown has a lot of growing up to do and may need a guiding hand along the way.

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