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Marilyn York's TEDx Speech on Men's and Fathers' Rights -- Millions of Views


Marilyn York on
Dad Talk Today
She starts at 1:57 minutes


I’m six years old and all I can think about is getting the pink Barbie corvette. I need five more dollars. Luckily for me, it’s Easter and I know that my dad always hides a coveted five dollar egg. I also know that the best egg is the hardest to find. This year I’m ready! It doesn’t take long before I spot it. Right in the middle of my sweet seventies swing set pole. You know, the one that runs all along the entire top of the set. I scramble to get the ladder and wooden yardstick and duct tape it to a broom handle. I fish it into the pipe and give that egg a good shove. It flies out the other side and by the time it hits the ground I’m waiting above it like an expectant father. The egg cracks open and inside is the very opposite of my grand prize, instead a perfectly formed dog turd rolls out. In that moment, I burst into loud hysterics at the same time my father explodes with laughter. I run as fast as I can to my room but he’s not far behind. It’s time for one of his talks. “Honey it was clear that you already learned the important life lesson: the harder you work, the better the payoff; so it was time you learn another valuable lesson: sometimes no matter how hard you work, you just end up with shit.” And who better to teach just this sort of hard hitting, direct and painful life lesson to six year old me, but my father?

I’m a family law attorney. I’ve been practicing for twenty years. I began in LA, but have owned my firm in Nevada since 2001. But my firm has a particular sub-specialty, men’s rights. My ten female employees and I specifically represent fathers in divorce and custody battles for children born out of wedlock. And guess who helps me run the business end of my law firm – my very own father. In my practice, we have represented over 2000 men, 450 of whom are fathers.

My expertise not only comes from my career of representing fathers, but just as much from my personal life and strife. I’m a mother. My children are 23, 15, 12 and barely 3. They come from two different mothers and three different fathers. Don’t fret, I won’t make you work this riddle out alone. I helped my ex husband raise our son whom I didn’t birth, from age five. I share custody of my 15 year old daughter, with her father. My 12 year old son lost his father to suicide when he was just 7. And my three year old is being raised at home with his father and me. I literally live my work everyday.

So what has twenty years of representing men in custody battles, while living my own reality show, taught me about fatherhood?

First, that men parent differently than women and their influence is crucial in the development of their children. Do you know any mom in the world who would put dog shit in an Easter egg? Okay, maybe that’s a good thing. Let me better demonstrate this point from my legal experience. When getting my father clients ready for Court I prepare them for this kind of interrogation: Who is your children’s doctor or dentist? What is the name of their school principal or even their teacher? What grades did they get on their last report card? What grades are your children currently in? Nine times out of ten they miss the majority of these questions. Truly. Does that mean they don’t care, or that they don’t love their children as much? Surely it makes you wonder. But please hold your judgment.

Here are the questions my father clients can easily answer: What makes your daughter laugh? If your son could be a super hero, what would his power be? What kind of monsters do your kids fear? How high does your daughter feel comfortable flying in a swing? What makes your son feel defeated? Yet, in my experience cross-examining hundreds of mothers in Court, these are the harder questions for them.

Most of us know that motherhood brings with it a sixth sense and unspoken bond to our children, but what about fathers? Even fathers feel insecure about this reality. After representing 450 fathers, I can count on one hand the number of fathers who felt secure in their instinctive role and significance to their children in the context of divorce. What’s interesting, however, is that my antidotal legal experience suggests otherwise. In 20 years of practice, I have had well over a hundred men take a paternity test, in most instances while the child was still in infancy. Do you know how many were wrong in predicting their biological relation to the child? Two. This shocked me and clearly indicated that men too have a genetic bond and instinct about their children, from infancy.

Forget my talk for a moment and instead I’d like to ask you to feel. Everyone please close your eyes. Think about your childhood. Picture your father. His smiling eyes, his strong hands, hear his deep voice. What did you love about your dad? Did he throw you high into the air, teach you to ride a bike, carry you home when you skinned your knees, hug you tight when you cried? What did your holidays look like. Father’s Day? Your birthday? What did it feel like to have a daddy? Secure, safe, fun?… Now, go back in your memories and erase your father, from every scene. This is what the other 40% of people in America’s childhoods looked like. Just under half of the people listening to me, including my 12 year old son, felt sad or angry during the peek of your joy while playing along.

Nearly 2 of every 5 children in America do not live with their fathers, US News and World Report 1995. According to the 2016 Census, there are over 17 million children growing up in America without their fathers. Other sources estimate this figure to be as high as 30 million.

In 2011 I joined the board for a local charity called Nevada Youth Empowerment Project or NYEP. NYEP is a housing program for homeless girls ages 18-24. As the board president of this small charity I have been closely involved and gotten to know the girls and their traumatic stories over the years. We house up to 15 girls at a time. Hundreds of otherwise homeless girls have come through our program. Their backgrounds and what they have endured would haunt your dreams. Do you know the one thing all these girls have in common? They all come from fatherless homes.

Sadly, these girls are not the exception, they are the rule. According to the Center for Disease Control: Children from fatherless homes account for 90% of all homeless and runaway children; 71% of high school dropouts (National Principals Associate Report on the State of High Schools); and 63% of youth suicides (USDHHS Bureau of the Census). While you listen to me speak, you are likely asking “why are fathers so crucial?” The answer is complex and better explored by a psychologist. What I can tell you is that the data unequivocally confirms that fathers are vital and yet laws and society undervalue their importance and often make it harder for them to be present in their children’s lives. While the fight for father’s rights defines my career, this essential paternal need threatens my own children. Remember, I’m a mother raising my son entirely without his father and my daughter in a different home from hers. Of course I am doing all that I can to see that my children defy the odds, but I can’t deny that they are disadvantaged.

Nearly 30 years ago, leading child psychologist Michael Lamb reminded us that fathers are the “forgotten contributors to child development.” Researchers have found that children with involved fathers have stronger cognitive and motor skills, elevated physical and mental health, become better problem-solvers, and are more confident, curious, and empathetic. They also show greater moral sensitivity and self-control. * 2018 Report by the US Department of Health and Human Services. Sadly, while we have had this data for thirty years, the instance of fatherlessness continues to increase.

The main contributors to fatherlessness are divorce and out of wedlock births. Every 13 seconds, someone in America gets divorced. That equates to almost 2.5 million divorces a year. Currently more than 40% or 1.5 million babies are born out of wedlock in the US each year, Yale Global 2017.

Family Court is one of the critical places where fathers are disadvantaged and sadly that reality hurts children. The legal origin of the maternal preference comes from the “Tender Years Doctrine”. Essentially, this doctrine mandated that custody of children under four be awarded to mothers as it was believed that “the tender age” children primarily need their mothers. This doctrine was in use until the 80’s, when the laws began to change and it was no longer mandated. As the laws progressed, things slowly improved for fathers but it took many years until the custody laws were finally gender equal. In fact, it wasn’t until 2017 when the custody laws in Nevada finally changed to include a presumption for joint physical custody. When I began my practice and until only ten years ago, the best my father clients could expect was every other weekend visitation and maybe a dinner on the off week. While positive legal changes are happening, the true bias of such long standing laws persists through the interpretation and enforcement of custody orders.

All the while, the number of children growing up without their fathers is still rising. Between 1960-2016, the percentage of children living with just their mothers nearly tripled, from 8 to 23 percent. 2016 census.

There is one area that desperately needs legal change, protection of the 40% of children born out of wedlock each year. Right now, once custody has been ordered, it’s illegal to take a child from their father, usually a felony. But, it is perfectly legal in all fifty states for a woman to conceal her pregnancy, leave the father’s name off the birth certificate and never tell him he has a child – ever. How is this not kidnaping? Just as horrible, a woman can knowingly list the wrong father on the child’s birth certificate and in many states, a short while later, the wrong man becomes that child’s legal father forever. He is obligated to a child that isn’t his and the child just lost his real father with little to no recourse. This is a betrayal of the worst kind and the laws not only allow it, but they create the opportunity.  

This is what we know: children need their fathers and every bit of data we have supports this fact; the law and it’s application and society at large disfavor fathers; the law is improving but the statistics are not. So, what can you do?

We are the change makers. All of us. If you are a Father, make the effort, do all that you can to be present in your children’s daily lives. If you are a Mother, facilitate and encourage the relationship between your children and their father whenever possible. If you are a child, make an effort to spend time with your father, ask him to do something with you, seek his advice and guidance. If you are an employer, grant the fathers you employ the ability to be at their children’s performances, to help in their schools and take sick days to care for their kids. If you are a lawyer, judge, legislator or political figure, help us progress, change the laws and ensure that they are enforced fairly to protect fathers and their children. The importance of this pursuit cannot be overstated. The fate of almost half of America depends on it.

I would like to close by asking all of you to do one final thing. Please stand (or raise your hand if you can’t easily stand) if you grew up without a father; if you raised or are raising a child without a father; or if you are a father who has been separated from your child. Now look around and see the staggering number of people affected by fatherlessness. Really look. Those of you standing and raising your hands aren’t numbers. You are real living and feeling humans. You are the children scarred by fatherlessness. You know who can’t stand with you? But let me tell you who can’t stand with you:  1,000 fatherless children who were murdered last year; the 3,200 fatherless children who committed suicide; the 3,000 fatherless children who died from drugs; and the 14,000 fatherless children who are incarcerated.

Please stand for them and do everything you can to help the remaining 17,000 million fatherless children avoid these fates.

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