In divorce, men suffer too

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Every now and then I sneak a peek at the growing number of men's Web sites. You know, the hundreds that blame women for everything from lost jobs to lost masculinity.

Then again, whenever I feel the urge to contact one of these groups, I picture guys sitting around the garage together in torn T-shirts, trading fictional tales of female conquest, and generally despising women. The visual notwithstanding, I empathize with the male-versus-female sentiment floating around cyberspace, the feeling that they - we - are an abused lot, and none more so than those who have stared down the barrel-end of a divorce.

My turn arrived 10 years ago. The telephone rang. My wife informed me that after a decade of marriage, a new life awaited her - a life of intensive psychotherapy, a return to school to cast a new career and, most important, an absence of me.

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Just like that, my life as I knew it was over. Moreover, the fact that no friends on either side of the fence could tell me why this happened and why it was so irreconcilable, made this watershed moment that much more tragic.

My wife, I learned later, dispensed culpability equally among the usual suspects - her loving but suddenly abusive parents, wicked teachers, treacherous friends. Much of the rhetoric was a collection of misperception with traces of truth at the edges. But the punishment was to be mine: a destroyed marriage, a life apart from my children, and a whole new level of financial obligation.

Wives, of course, have every right to discard husbands. But divorce courts do not have the right - at least in the court of humanity - to cast a blanket over all men. During our marriage, I stayed home to raise my children and, at the same time, built a lucrative business to support my family. Nevertheless, in the eyes of family law, I wasn't worth a moment of the court's consideration when it came to custody.

Judges every day cast orders that devastate thousands upon thousands of husbands and loving fathers on grounds that are flimsy at best. They banish fathers from their homes and their children. They thrash them further with often unfair, if not outrageous, support and alimony orders for little more than the sin of being male.

Don't misunderstand me. Divorce can ravage women's lives, too. Many are forced to work low-paying jobs while raising the kids. Child support can be a hit-or-miss proposition. Absentee fathers are epidemic -they are the heartless buffoons who paint men as divorce's evil stereotype.

But good men suffer in divorce, too. They are one of the most silent of classes - men who deeply love and miss their kids, who are neglected in their roles as fathers, often becoming little more than glorified babysitters with a bankbook who did little to deserve their fate.

The cavalry is at the ready, however, for divorcing women. Mountains of sage advice on turning divorce to their advantage line bookstore shelves and dot the cyber landscape. Go online. Do a search for articles on divorce from the husband's perspective. Keep searching.

Where is the fairness when a man is twisted into a cash cow, paying enormous child support - plus alimony, medical and life insurance, unreimbursed medical expenses, college costs, summer camp, and more - to an "ex" who decides, with no input from the father, how much to spend or not to spend on the children?

Where is the fairness when a man's own children are prevented from seeing him more than four days a month by an obsolescent legal system that denies men their children - and denies children their dads - simply due to gender, not parenting skill and capacity to love?

Divorce can be agony on both sides. Can we at least open our eyes to the millions of men who are the forgotten losers in this battle of the sexes? The legal system has done much to make amends on behalf of divorced women's financial and emotional well-being. It's time for men to receive some tender loving care and justice, too.

*Ed Cheney is a freelance writer living in New York.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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