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?