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STELLPFLUG COLUMN: Who supports the children?
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STELLPFLUG COLUMN: Who supports the children?

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A long time ago, I received an email from a reader who asked if I would please write about deadbeat dads.

It was not a happy email and I was troubled by it. I wished her well – lame—and said I would check into it, since I didn’t know anything about that topic and I had heard enough sad stories to know that sometimes the system doesn’t work.

I knew moms who were raising their children who waited on the front porch while dads never showed up. I also knew men who were totally strapped by child support and lost their houses, cars and pension plans so they could continue child support and alimony. There are definitely many sides to this, but the term “deadbeat dads” most often refers to the men who have fathered the roughly 10 million American children age 18 and younger who do not live with their fathers and who see fathers less than once a week.

Deadbeat dads often refer to those who have abandoned all responsibility before or shortly after the birth of a child and in spite of laws, they get out of paying for the child. Evading court ordered child support is more common than we know with less than half of custodian mothers receiving all the child support they are owed.

This is not just dads, however, who can be lax in support for children. Moms have a similar track record when they are expected to pay the parent support. It’s not just finances that are withheld. Visits, emotional support and building relationships are also in play, or rather, out of play.

I heard about dads who just weren’t interested in forming relationships with biological children they didn’t want in the first place. Some have multiple children with several partners. I heard about moms who didn’t want their children to ever see their dads because of drug use, alcohol abuse and criminal behavior. The research I did wasn’t pretty, and to a person, everyone I talked with said, “It’s complicated.”

There are so many factors. Not all withhold payment to avoid responsibility. Some are poor, don’t have a job or are incarcerated. Avoiding relationships is easier than being cursed at or worse when they do come around, and many have had no role model for parenting to bring to the situation.

All of this is generalization, although I was given specific examples of very complicated situations. The issue at hand is the well being of the children who may feel abandoned, neglected and unwanted.

There is nothing I can say to change the behavior of a negligent biological father. There is nothing upbeat about a deadbeat parent. There is nothing new about pathetic losers and the havoc they cause.

The email I received was in part to voice frustration, in part to ask if I could make others aware of the children who are the ones who pay. It was just a request to remind people that there are children who are ignored or rejected and left financially disadvantaged, because a man who was fine with the act of procreation was not responsible when it came to the life that resulted.

When individuals think nothing of unprotected sex, multiple partners and abandonment of children, all of society is responsible for the actions. That is a tragedy we all pay for, one way or another.

Children are resilient. If the home environment is safe, and there is one or more supportive adults in a child’s life, children can flourish. Children can be supported by their teachers, coaches, grandparents, aunts and uncles. The crossing guard and the bus driver can have a great influence by their constant presence and positive interaction.

Children need role models. They need adults they can count on. It’s better to have a non-parent who is supportive and consistent, than the uncertainty of an intermittent unpredictable parent.

There is a scene in the old movie, “Legally Blonde,” where our heroine, Elle Woods, makes an argument that if “sperm is clearly not seeking an egg…it could be termed reckless abandonment.” The scene is funny—until it’s not.

Kay Stellpflug is an educator and trainer in interpersonal and professional communications. She works and lives in Beaver Dam and can be reached at kaystellpflug@gmail.com.

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Michael Paul Williams — a columnist with the Richmond Times-Dispatch in Richmond, Va. — won the 2021 Pulitzer Prize in Commentary "for penetrating and historically insightful columns that guided Richmond, a former capital of the Confederacy, through the painful and complicated process of dismantling the city's monuments to white supremacy."

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