Monday, June 19, 2017

Why Fathers Matter

When David Blankenhorn's Fatherless America came out in 1995 it became an instant classic on the importance of men to the well-being of the American family. Blankenhorn said so many things in that book that needed to be said after our society had suffered through two decades of radical feminism with its relentless downplaying of the need for traditional two-parent families, and even though the book came out over two decades ago, what he said in 1995 needs saying as much today as it did then. Recall Gloria Steinem's aphorism that "a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle." It turned out that women and children both need men, at least fathers, as much as a fish needs water.

Yesterday was Father's Day so today might be a good time to remind ourselves of some of the key points Blankenhorn illuminates in Fatherless America.

He tells us, for instance, that men need to be fathers. Fatherhood is society's most important role for men. More than any other activity it helps men become good men. Fathers are more likely to obey the law, to be good citizens, and to care about the needs of others. Men who remain single are more likely than those who marry to die young, or commit crimes, or both (This is a point also made by George Gilder in his equally fine 1986 book Men and Marriage which I heartily recommend).

Children need fathers as protectors. Eighty-four percent of all cases of non-parental child abuse occur in single parent homes and of these cases, 64% of them occur at the hands of mom's boyfriend. Statistically speaking, teenage girls are far safer in the company of their father than in the company of any other man.

Children need fathers as providers. Fatherlessness is the single most powerful determinant of childhood poverty. Regardless of how poverty is measured, single women with children are the poorest of all demographic groups. Children who come from two-parent families are much more likely to inherit wealth from paternal grandparents, much more likely to get financial support at an age when they're going to school, buying a home, or starting their own families than children from single parent homes.

The economic fault line in this country doesn't run between races, it runs between those families in which fathers are present and those in which they are not.

Children need fathers as role models. Boys raised by a traditionally masculine father are much less likely to commit crimes, whereas boys raised without a father are much more likely to do poorly in school and wind up in prison or dead.

Valuing fatherhood has to be instilled in boys from a young age by a masculine father. Commitment to one woman and to their children is not something that comes naturally to men. It's almost impossible, for instance, to find a culture in which women voluntarily abandon their children in large numbers, but to find a culture in which men in large numbers voluntarily abandon their children all one need do is look around.

Boys who grow up without fathers are statistically more likely to become louts, misogynistic, abusive, authoritarian, and violent. Girls who grow up without fathers are more likely to become promiscuous. A society in which a father is little more than a sperm donor is a society of fourteen year-old girls with babies and fourteen year-old boys with guns.

Stepfathers and boyfriends (Blankenhorn calls them "nearby guys") cannot replace the biological father. For stepfathers and boyfriends the main object of desire and commitment, to the extent these exist, is the mother, not the child. For the married father this distinction hardly exists. The married father says "My mate, my child". The stepfather and boyfriend must say "My mate, the other guy's child".

Children are a glue for biological parents that serves to hold them together, but they're a wedge between non-biological parents, tending to be a source of tension which pushes them apart.

Fatherhood means fathers teaching children a way of life, which is the heart of what it is to be a father. More than providing for their material needs, or shielding them from harm, or even caring for them and showing them affection, paternal sponsorship means cultural transmission - endowing children with competence and character by showing them how to live a certain kind of life.

One wishes every man - and woman - would read Blankenhorn's Fatherless America. It's loaded with great insight.