- The Washington Times - Friday, June 13, 2008


The public may not know it, but 2008 marks the 100th anniversary of the modern celebration of Father´s Day in the United States. It may sound like a truism that fathers should be respected for their role as providers, as laborers, as soldiers and the sacrifices they make for their family and country. As preoccupied as the father´s rights movement is with false allegations of abuse, as a practicing family law attorney, I can tell the number one reason by far that men lose custody of their children in divorce courts is because they are soldiers and laborers. They have committed the unpardonable sin of being breadwinners. They are punished for their sacrifices that are a concomitant of defending our country and providing for their families. While unions have mired themselves in issues barely related to the labor movement, they are completely silent on the blatant discrimination their members face when they walk in an American family court simply for being laborers. It is indeed a great irony that this reason fathers lose custody of their children in our nation´s courts; their status as laborers was the very impetus of the first Father´s Day.

The first modern Father´s Day celebration in the United States took place on Sunday, July 5, 1908 in Fairmont, West Virginia at a memorial service at the Williams Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church. Grace Clayton, the founder of the first Father´s Day in the United States, was inspired by the mining disaster that occurred a few months earlier nearby in Monongah, West Virginia on December 6, 1907 at the mines of the Consolidated Coal Company (now Consol Energy). It is widely regarded as the worst mining accident in United States history. It is believed that at least 363 men and boys were killed during the mining explosion, although some claim the number is even higher. Rev. Everett Francis Briggs (1908-2006), a Catholic priest, Fitzburg native, and advocate for miners believed the number was closer to around 1,000. The Fairmont Times of September 23, 1979 has this quote by Mrs. Clayton: “It was partly the explosion that got me to thinking how important and loved most fathers are. All those lonely children and those heart-broken wives and mothers, made orphans and widows in a matter of a few minutes. Oh, how sad and frightening to have no father, no husband, to turn to at such an awful time.”

While there has been an explosion of women in the work force since 1908, almost all workplace related fatalities are suffered by men. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, women now make up 46 percent of the work force but account for only 8 percent of on-the-job fatalities. During March of 2008, the number of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq reached 4,000 — women only account for approximately 1 percent of these deaths. Men take on the jobs that make them far more likely to die, get maimed or otherwise seriously injured. Fathers are our soldiers, our construction workers, our industrial workers, and our miners.

Men and fathers have become disposable. They were disposable in 1908 in Monongah, West Virginia. They are disposable today in Afghanistan and Iraq. They still die or are seriously injured in our coal mines, our construction sites, and our factories. They drive tractor trailers in ridiculously perilous sleep-deprived conditions and drive taxi-cabs into dangerous neighborhoods late at night. They are our cannon-fodder to die in the battlefield, and our beasts of burden to die on worksites. And at the end of the day, we thank them by taking their children from them in family courts for being the primary breadwinner.

When former New York Governor, Mario Cuomo described his father he said, “I watched a small man with thick callouses on both hands work fifteen hours a day. I saw him once literally bleed from the bottom of his feet, a man who came here uneducated, unable to speak the language, who taught me all I needed to know about faith and hard work by the simple eloquence of his example.” You might believe this man is a hero. But our family courts find him an unsuitable candidate for joint custody because he was not the “primary caretaker.”

The beauty of the first Father´s Day is that it proved the ultimate nexus between fatherhood and labor. Only an unjust society punishes the sacrifices of the laborer in family court by the extreme penalty of taking his children from him. Only those that know nothing of parenthood would deprive children of such “simple but eloquent examples” that their laboring fathers represent.

In America today, there are boys and girls who yearn to see their father come home from work, maybe with coal on their face, maybe with oil on their hands, or maybe tired from the long truck haul. Dad is their hero. But it is not a mining disaster, a construction mishap, or an industrial accident that stops dad from coming in the front door at night. It is an order of the court that faulted them for being a laborer.

Rinaldo Del Gallo III, a family law attorney, is spokesman for the Berkshire Fatherhood Coalition.

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