Steven Stosny, PhD
National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI) Newsletter/2003

Responsible fatherhood is the single most important factor in the prevention of
domestic violence. It is so important that our treatment for domestic violence
offenders, one of the more successful in the world, constantly stresses close
emotional bonds with children. The logic is simple. We know from research that
strong bonds with children increase self-value. And who is more likely to abuse,
the valued self or the devalued self? The more a man values his children, the
less likely he is to hurt their mother. In the vast majority of cases, the safest
partner relationships are those in which the father feels emotionally connected
to his children.

Science has known for a long time that emotional connection inhibits violence
and that disconnection is a cause of violence. Violent criminals usually lack what
sociologists call a stake in the community: job, marriage, positive neighborhood
connections, religious affiliation, and satisfying relationships with children. Serial
killers and terrorists never have close relationships with their children. Historically,
armies wanted soldiers before they married or had children; when they did have
them, they were kept isolated from them. Even in the other social animals, males
connected to the pack are more cooperative and serve as significant protectors
of the pack, while those driven from it become "rogue" predators.

The steep rise in domestic violence since the 1960s directly parallels the
diminishment of fatherhood in America. When fathers are marginalized as
protectors of their families, they are more likely to struggle for power and control
over their wives or girlfriends. They compensate for loss of the capacity to
protect with dominance.

Successful treatment for domestic violence offenders must restore the sense
of father as protector, for the well being of women, children, and society-at-large.
Children do not need fathers to fight and die for them; they need fathers to live
for them, to value them, and to value what they most value ? their mothers. A
father who truly protects his children cannot possibly hurt their mother.

Our experience with nearly 4,000 court-ordered clients suggests that when
fathers are more involved in the lives of their children, they are unlikely to hurt
any woman. While still developing our intervention for domestic violence, we
took a group of young men (mean age 22), all of whom had at least two children
from previous relationships and who were court-ordered for abuse of their
current partners. (At that time, there was only one agency offering domestic
violence services, and they had a long waiting list.) As is too often the case with
young fathers, none of these guys had a relationship with his children. We gave
them a brief course called, Compassionate Parenting, which raised their awareness
of the emotional worlds of their children, particularly their need to have fathers
who cared about them and looked out for them. Without direct intervention for
domestic violence, these young men got more involved in the lives of their
children and completely stopped abuse of their current partners. (The normal
recidivism rate for unmarried men of this age group was over 60 percent, after
domestic violence intervention.) Compassionate Parenting is now a crucial part
of our domestic violence programs.

The instinct to protect children was (and is) necessary to the survival of the
human species. (Our offspring are helpless much longer than those of any
other animal.) The drive to protect is so deeply embedded in our emotional
system that we cannot feel good about ourselves if we fail to protect our
children. But when we protect them, we cannot feel bad about ourselves
in the long run, no matter how we may fail in other areas of life.

Bio: Steven Stosny, Ph.D. is an author and therapist. Having grown up in
a violent home, with little emotional connection to his father, he developed
the Compassion Workshop and Changing Abusers, used all over the world
as interventions for domestic violence. His Love without Hurt is designed
as an add-on to other educational programs. It develops the skills necessary
to prevent abuse and domestic violence, without using those loaded words
that tend to scare off.

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