Fatherhood and family should be valued, not just a talking point
It’s been said – or perhaps not, until now – that you’ll never go broke pointing out Republican hypocrisy, particularly when it comes to family values.
Lately, though, highlighting the disconnect between what GOP men say about families and children and what they actually do has become a growth industry.
That ranges from their male-dominated leadership’s mean-spirited policies that hurt children (the slash-and-burn strategy on food stamps, for example) to some members’ more colorful personal interpretations of valuing a family (shout out here to former Republican congressman Joe Walsh, deadbeat dad extraordinaire).
Take, for example, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s FAMILY Act, a bill that would make it easier for working dads as well as moms to take time off for a newborn child. It’s a serious problem, as pro baseball player Daniel Murphy can attest; statistics show a paltry five percent of American firms offer paid leave for employees whose families have just added children.
But Gillibrand’s struggled to get “pro-family” Republicans in Congress to sign on to the bill since introducing it earlier this year.
Not surprising, since leading men on the right include the likes of Rep. Pete Sessions, Dallas Republican and former longtime chair of the National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee. In 2009, Sessions fought hard against a law giving federal employees four weeks of paid medical leave.
“Maybe we just ought to let federal employees take 16 years off,” Sessions, who has two children, argued on the House floor.
Two years later, Sessions divorced his wife of 27 years to marry a much younger woman.
That kind of double-dip hypocrisy is typical of the “male, pale and stale” leadership of the so-called family values party, says Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization Of Women.
Conservatives like Sessions, she says, are wedded to an outdated family model – one which ignores single-parent households, two-parent wage-earners, or same-sex households struggling to get by in a new economy. In their minds, Ward Cleaver still exists; his job is to bring home the bacon so June can cook it and feed it to the kids she’s raising.
Never mind that, if Ward is a Republican officeholder, he might have a girlfriend on the side – or help pass laws that made it harder for June to be June, especially if she has to take a paying job to help the family make ends meet. By defending those “traditional” notions of fatherhood, however, ol’ Ward is actually representing the opposite of the family values he’s constantly preaching on the campaign trail.
“It’s corrosive,” O’Neill told me last week. “You can’t be a good father if you’re not a good partner and model good relationships for your children.”
Republicans like Sessions, she said, “have made it not manly for men to do that.”
Then there’s Rep. Vance McAllister, a 40-year-old Republican backbencher and father of five who won a special election last year, in part on the right’s standard hyper-Christian family-values platform. His moment of greatness so far: inviting the rustic, homophobic Louisiana millionaires from Duck Dynasty to sit with him at this year’s State of the Union address.
But McAllister made fresh news when the local paper in his Monroe-area Louisiana district got its hands on surveillance-camera footage showing the Congressman sharing a passionate kiss with a woman who isn’t his wife. Though both are clothed, McAllister’s dress shirt is untucked; after the smooch, the two – standing in what looks like the interior of an apartment or hotel room – open a door and walk out together into the sunlight.
Surprisingly, McAllister, a businessman, cut his losses and ‘fessed up to some shenanigans, but only copped to “falling short” of expectations. He apologized to his wife, his kids and his constituents, and announced he wouldn’t seek election to a full term this fall.
No word on whether his decision involves spending more time with his family.
When it comes to fatherhood hypocrisy, though, the granddaddy of them all – literally and figuratively – could be the late Rep. Bill Young, a Tampa-area Republican.
A four-decade office-holder first elected in 1970, Young’s career followed a familiar pattern among GOP men: in 1982, he ditched his wife of 36 years – his high-school sweetheart, the woman who sewed suits for him by hand when he was too broke to afford new ones during his first election campaign. He had their divorce records sealed in exchange for paying her $2,000 a month in alimony.
Then Young, 52, quietly married his new 26-year-old mistress, his secretary. The wedding happened not long after she gave birth to his son; she got pregnant before his divorce.
As Young gained more power, eventually presiding over the powerful House Ways and Means committee, he all but cut the ties to his other children. Holidays, birthdays and special events went unrecognized; the family he started with his first wife faded from his official narrative.
But at his funeral in January, attended by the likes of House Speaker John Boehner, Young’s “first family” – his three kids, five grandkids and seven great-grandkids – was publicly recognized by a friend of the late congressman.
Young’s children then told their story to the Tampa Tribune, including their narrative of an ambitious man who became an invisible father.
“If you read the news about his life you would think that he moved to Florida … then married [his mistress] and had three children,” according to a family history his oldest children wrote and released to the newspaper. “We believe the 36 years [Young had] with Marian were the richest and most productive part of his life.”
Given how Young and other shameless Republican fathers exempt themselves from the real meaning of family values, it’s not surprising he was too morally bankrupt to see it.