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KIDS NEED BOTH PARENTS: Real Change is Occurring
Celebrate at Waterfront Park!
by James Pierce Whinston
In the last Mentor Page, the Men's Movement was examined. The Mythopoetic Men's Movement, championed by well-known poet Robert Bly, has slowed. However, as was pointed out, this may simply be the natural pause in a movement as significant, real change in a somewhat different form takes institutional effect. Indeed, as someone who has been involved with the Fathers' and Men's Movement can attest, tremendous, real change -- constructive change -- is occurring in American society.

There is an increasing understanding that BOTH parents are necessary for the healthy development of children. Kids need two parents, not one parent and a paycheck. Access and parenting time are very important. And there is a growing recognition that men and women need to cooperate, communicate and work TOGETHER on our social issues -- our HUMAN and humanitarian issues.

In this article, I'd like to share some of my perspectives on this joyous human march toward and celebration of fairness, equality, gender reconciliation, mutual respect, working together, promoting communication, making divorce less adversarial, assuring access and parenting time, and, most important, the children's need for both parents and a system that rewards cooperation. At the same time work to reduce gender double-standards, stereotypes and scapegoating, whichever way they go, as these will otherwise only undermine all of our humanitarian efforts.

I have mentioned above the important theme, "Kids Need Both Parents." In close proximity, I have utilized the word "celebration" and the location "Waterfront Park." And I asserted that a movement was thriving. The reader must be wondering ...

The date of the last celebration was Saturday, April 24, 1999 (another will occur on the last Saturday in June, as this publication goes to press). We were very lucky Oregonians. It was a beautiful spring day, almost 80 degrees. At 10:30 in the morning we unrolled a huge 30-foot banner. It read, "KIDS NEED BOTH PARENTS!" in bold, capital letters that were two feet high. The words were punctuated with beautiful red hearts. We framed the banner with sturdy tubing. We then clamped it atop a handsome red canopy, which was gracing the Ankeny Stage. The banner could probably have been read from a quarter of a mile away, and seen from a whole mile away.

All of this was happening at Tom McCall Waterfront Park, on the Willamette River, one block south of the Burnside Bridge, on the west end. The effect apparently was stunning. No sooner was the banner up in the air than some drivers on Front Avenue began honking their horns in support. It was about time. It is the right approach. For the sake of the children, parents have to figure out some way to share, get along, and work together.

We wondered as we smiled. This event was a celebration of fathers, mothers, parenthood, kids and family. Much as we enjoyed the honking of horns, this was a musical event. There were great bands and performers who were donating their talents in service and furtherance of the theme. So we'd have to take the horns in stride. (Or better yet, make the bands happy and crank up the sound system.)

Thousands passed by that afternoon. Some curious, some intent on support. Some beaming in solidarity. (And some getting carried away, insisting it was an "open mike" and claiming Hollywood-quality, undiscovered musical talents. We'll need more security in the future ...)

What was happening? Why was there a need to publicly state that "Kids Need BOTH Parents" and celebrate accordingly? Thirty-five years ago this was a bedrock family value. Reassuringly obvious. Now, apparently, this time-honored truism needs to be restated, reclaimed, and reaffirmed. (I can envision some grandparents in the crowd evincing subtle smiles that communicated "full circle," as they remembered a world prior to 1965 where there was little need to lock the doors to the house; and when the thought of children not having both parents in their lives evoked a feeling of tragedy.

This country now has a divorce rate of 50 percent and higher. There are many children living in single parent homes. The last thirty years of social science research establishes the strong correlation that children from divorced, broken and single-parent homes are at highest risk for all of our social pathologies. These costly problems including crime, gangs, juvenile delinquency, drugs, psychological problems, high drop-out rates from school, poor educational achievement, teen pregnancy, and high divorce rates, the last two thus completing the vicious circle. None of this has to be.

Yes, it is time to re-state the obvious: kids need both a mom and a dad; men and women need to cooperate and work together. They need to build upon it with the theme of fairness and equality between men and women. There is no limit to the need of children in general for exposure to and contact with all of the competent, responsible, caring, unselfish adults possible. (This is true now, more than ever, as witnessed by the tragic examples of ignored, teased and unpopular high school students acting out and taking revenge in violent ways.)

We don't have to fight over the kids or involve the kids in our emotion-filled fights with the ex-spouse. We don't have to expose the children to those harmful experiences and, by osmosis, have them learn that as a role model for how to behave and how men and women should treat each other. We don't have to have an adversarial divorce system which, by fixating on the choosing of one primary parent and one secondary parent, and thus one winner and one loser, really only benefits the government bureaucracies and the vested interests of the divorce industry.

We can assure access and parenting time during and after divorce. We can start with significant time with the children for both parents. We can encourage mediation and tailor-made co-parenting and shared-parenting arrangements.

We can adopt and carry out the "facilitating parent" approach. This is a system that continuously rewards the parent who facilitates, promotes and encourages the relationship between the child and the OTHER parent. This naturally encourages both parents to move toward cooperation and shared-parenting, while greatly reducing any damaging conflict that the children might be exposed to. This also provides a natural mechanism to fairly resolve ALL problems, with the parents who take the noble and unselfish route rightfully coming out ahead.

And, importantly, the facilitating parent philosophy conversely sanctions a party who interferes with or obstructs the relationship between the child and the other parent (especially if the interfering or obstructing activity comes in the form of controlling, threatening, abusive or violent behavior). We can adopt this win/win approach. We are all in this together. We can reach out to EVERYONE with this positive theme.

Indeed, men and women were placed upon this earth TO GET ALONG, not to fight with each other or wage a counterproductive, resource-depleting gender war! (Some even feel that men and women each have a specific and unique ability to actually HEAL the other gender.)

No wonder we think of all of this as a celebration! No wonder we act accordingly! What better way is there to usher in the 21st century than this championing of mutual respect between the genders!? What finer Community ConneXion can there be!? And all of it nurturingly provides to the children the active role model of instinctive and reflexive gender cooperation that the children so crucially need to develop into loving, balanced, unselfish, productive and emotionally healthy adults. (Not the child-DAMAGING role model of gender-battle rhetoric and boastful, flaunt-it-if-you've-got-it conspicuous consumption!)

See you as we make history! See you as we affirm life, children and marriage. See you as we embrace fair and workable family values. See you as we "bridge" the Willamette River and its two sides. See you as we bridge the two genders. See you at the "Kids Need BOTH Parents" Waterfront Park Concert from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday, September 11, 1999, at the Ankeny Stage!

James Pierce Whinston is the deputy director of The National Center For Men and president of the Oregon Chapter. He runs a weekly support group and welcomes your input. PO Box 6481, Portland, OR 97228-6481. (503) 224-9477.