In the past several decades, the United States has achieved the dubious distinction of becoming the world leader in fatherless families. Currently, 34% of American children live without their biological father. When did this trend start, and what does it bode for our kids?
The rise of father-absence can be traced back 50 years. In 1965, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then working in the Johnson administration, looked into the problems of under-class America. The Moynihan Report issued this solemn warning:
“From the wild Irish slums of the 19th century eastern seaboard, to the riot-torn suburbs of Los Angeles, there is one unmistakable lesson in American history: A community that allows a large number of young men to grow up in broken families, dominated by women, never acquiring any stable relationship to male authority, never acquiring any rational expectations about the future that community asks for and gets chaos.”
The heralded Report offered Americans a unique opportunity to alter the trajectory of history, to thwart the impending plunge into the abyss.
But rather than heed the prescient warning, warm-hearted liberals denounced Moynihan's conclusion as "blaming the victim." And feminists reviled the report as promoting the "hetero-patriarchal" agenda.
But it wasn't enough to just ignore Moynihan's analysis.
Architects of the Great Society program went ahead and implemented eligibility requirements that cut off welfare benefits if the father resided with the mother — the so-called "man-in-the-house" rule. Now, low-income fathers found themselves pitted against government largesse to compete for the loyalty of poor mothers. A tragic mismatch, indeed.
As a result, the number of children who lived in fatherless homes mushroomed from 5.1 million in 1960 to 16.5 million in 1995. These policies were so devastating in their impact that involved, caring fathers all but disappeared from low-income, Black neighborhoods.
So while liberals comforted themselves with the knowledge that they had avoided "blaming the victim," millions of little boys and girls had to console themselves with the elusive hope that someday, society would stop shoving daddy out the back door.
Once poor fathers had been run out of their homes, the fem-liberals broadened their focus. They launched an attack on the whole notion of fatherhood itself.
Five years ago this month the American Psychological Association used the occasion of Father's Day to publish an article with the awful title, "Deconstructing the Essential Father." The partisan article triggered a firestorm of protest, including a rebuke from 18 members of Congress.
Despite what the American Psychological Association might say, most persons agree that dads are worth keeping around.
First, a father's breadwinning instinct keeps the family out of the clutches of poverty. Indeed, while father-present households saw an increase in income from 1960 to 1990, father-absent families saw a financial decline.
But fathers are more than income producers. Fathers undergird the very order and structure of the family.
Scores of research studies have documented the positive effects of involved fathers. Here's just a sampling of the benefits:
- The National Center for Educational Statistics reported that when fathers are involved in their children's education, the kids were more likely to get As, enjoy school, and participate in extracurricular activities.
- Kyle Pruett concluded that kids with engaged fathers demonstrate "a greater ability to take initiative and evidence self-control."
- When these boys grew up, they were more likely to be good dads themselves.
But when fathers are disenfranchised by misguided government programs, here's the result:
- Their children have a higher rate of asthma, headaches, anxiety, depression, and behavioral problems.
- Teenagers are at greater risk of alcohol, tobacco, and illicit drug use, and suicide.
- Adolescent girls are 3 times more likely to engage in sexual relations by the time they turn 15, and 5 times more likely to become a teen mother.
Amazing, isn't it?
Thank you, dad, for being there. You were more than essential. You were a beacon of truthfulness, common sense, kindness, and silent courage.
June 17, 2004