“… I came to understand the importance of fatherhood through its absence–both in my life and in the lives of others. I came to understand that the hole a man leaves when he abandons his responsibility to his children is one that no government can fill.”
–President Barack Obama, Father’s Day 2009
A study called “The Meaning of Fatherhood for Men” delivered at the Urban Institute in 1967 reveals that “in the traditional model of fatherhood,” men “played a dominant role in the lives of their children” as well as having “domestic control” in the home. But when the nation’s economy shifted from agrarian to industrial “the paternal control over children began to erode.”
Men were increasingly drawn outside the home to earn a living and the mother’s influence over the children began to increase. The result was a shift in the nature of parenting, as well as the balance of power within the family. The father’s role as a “moral overseer” began to disappear and his emotional bond with the children began to weaken.
Interestingly, with this erosion of the father’s role came a change in “custody practices,” according to the report by Koray Tanfer of Battelle Memorial Institute and Frank Mott of Ohio State University. “Until about the mid-19th century, custody following marital disruption was typically awarded to fathers; (but) by the end of the century children increasingly remained with their mothers, when marriages dissolved.
“Early in the 20th century, the practice of granting custody to mothers was sanctified in the doctrine of ‘the tender years,’ which held that the children’s interests were best served when they were raised by their mothers, whose parenting skills were ordinarily superior to those of their husbands.”
“… It seems likely, however, that the number of these actively involved fathers declined throughout the 19th century … and a more distant and detached style of fatherhood role, restricted largely to fathers as ‘good providers,’ emerged.”
Today, fathers may be one of the scarcest and most underappreciated natural resources in America, and here’s why:
* In neighborhoods where fathers are most scarce, more than half of boys don’t finish high school.
* In a study of Black infants, the more interaction the boy had with the father, the higher his mental competence and psycho-motor functioning by the age of six months.
* Dads tend to encourage children to solve problems on their own. A study of children from infancy to age 3 discovers that this approach increases children’s ability to focus, be attentive and achieve goals.
* The amount of time a father spends with a child is one of the strongest predictors of empathy in adulthood.
Back in the 1950s, when some jurisdictions were ordering that welfare mothers be cut off if a man was present in the home, it is likely that the government did not understand the whirlwind that the nation would reap because of that ruling. The policy denigrated and devalued fatherhood, which consequently had a negative impact on children.
Called the man-in-the-house rule, the regulation “denied poor families welfare payments in the event that a man resided under the same roof with them,” says West’s Encyclopedia of American Law.
“Under the man-in-the-house rule, a child who otherwise qualified for welfare benefits was denied those benefits, if the child’s mother was living with, or having relations with, any single or married able-bodied male. The man was considered a substitute father, even if the man was not supporting the child,” continued the encyclopedia citation.
“Before 1968, administrative agencies in many states created and enforced the man-in-the-house rule. In 1968, the United States. Supreme Court struck down the regulation as being contrary to the legislative goals of the Aid to Families of Dependent Children (AFDC) program.”
In 1994, under President Bill Clinton, a White House Welfare Reform Task Force policy report helped reverse the government’s decision. It stated:
“Under the present system, the needs, concerns and responsibilities of non-custodial parents [fathers] are often ignored. The system needs to focus more attention on this population and send the message that ‘fathers matter.’ We ought to encourage non-custodial parents to remain actively involved in their children’s lives–not drive them further away.
“The well-being of children who live with only one parent would be enhanced, if emotional and financial support were provided by both of their parents. Ultimately, the system’s expectations of mothers and fathers should be parallel. Whatever is expected of the mother should also be expected of the father, and whatever education and training opportunities are provided to custodial parents, similar opportunities should be available to non-custodial parents, who pay their child support and remain involved in the lives of their children. If they can improve their earnings capacity and maintain relationships with their children, they could be a source of both financial and emotional support.
“Much needs to be learned about non-custodial parents, partly because we have focused relatively little attention on this population in the past, and we know less about what types of programs would work.”
* The more the father is involved, the more easily the child makes open, receptive, and trusting contact with new people in its life.
* An Israeli study found that the more frequently a father visited the hospital of an infant who is born prematurely, the more rapidly the infant gained weight and the more quickly the infant was able to leave the hospital.
* Boys who live with their fathers after divorce tend to be warmer, have a higher degree of self-esteem, be more mature, and more independent than boys who do not.
* The most important factor by far in preventing drug use is a close relationship with dad.
In 2009, the White House commissioned Warren Farrell, Ph.D., to submit a proposal for a White House Council on Boys to Men. Farrell, in turn, created a blue ribbon commission containing 28 others to assist him. They were authors, educators, researchers and practitioners. The commission first identified five major components of the crisis of males in the nation:
1. The education of our sons
2. The emotional health of our sons
3. Children without dads; dads without children
4. The crisis of boys’ and men’s physical health
5. The future of work, and of boys and men at work
What they found about the nation’s troubled young men codified what many had already seen, but the breadth of the problem was even more shocking. Among many other problems, the commission found that “Boys increasingly face problems in reading and writing, motivation to be in school, motivation to do homework after school, grades, standardized test scores, violence, and criminal activity,” said the proposal. “More boys are dropouts, are in special education, or expelled, despite being more medicated to mitigate those problems. Perhaps as a result of all of the above, female college students and female college graduates now far outnumber their male counterparts–a trend that shows no sign of leveling off.”
This article deals only with component No. 3, “Children Without Dads; Dads Without Children,” and all the statistical points (above and below) in this writing were taken from that section of the commission’s findings.
Farrell, author of “Why Men Are the Way Are” and “The Myth of Male Power,” in his writings believes that men, whether boys, adults or husbands and fathers, throughout history have been considered disposable.
“I think it’s the understanding that in the past every society that survived did so based on disposability of our sons in war, in the workplace–coal mines, oil rigs and ‘Deadliest Catches,’” he said. “It’s all in the way that we make men heroes by putting them at risk. In the past, what was functional for a healthy society was unhealthy for our sons. In the future, we want to balance our needs for a healthy society with having sons who are also healthy. That means we have to really examine every single message we are sending to our sons,” said Farrell.
“We re-enforce that at every high school in America. The cheerleaders cheer for the football players [who are putting their bodies at risk]. Boys learn to associate being loved with being abused. This is not just the love of women, but of their parents and other men.
“On the other hand,” Farrell continued, “we don’t want to throw away the strength and the ability to compartmentalize. There’s value to that, and there’s value to the extraordinary problem-solving capability that men develop. We still need our firefighters and our soldiers. But the solution is in recognizing that in the past we told men they had no option but to be the soldier and sacrifice their lives. In the future, we need to give them the upside and the downside. We were manipulating our sons and bribing our sons, calling them heroes to make them feel loved and respected, that if they sacrificed themselves, we could live longer. At the age of 19, our sons are required to register for the draft; daughters have to register for nothing. That’s unfair. It violates the 14th Amendment–equal protection under the law.
“If historically speaking we were able to dispose of our men, we implicitly … [had to be willing to] lose our men as fathers. That’s the historical, unconscious basis of our willingness to dispose of our fathers. The next step is what’s happening today. The single biggest disaster today is fatherlessness. If you want to solve more of the nation’s problems with one solution, it would be working on incorporating our fathers both in married families and keeping them involved after divorce. That process would begin with a nationwide effort to discourage out-of-wedlock childbirth, because in out-of-wedlock childbirth very few fathers remain in a child’s life.”
Some final points:
* When fathers are not involved, girls show signs of being hyperactive, headstrong and antisocial. Both boys and girls showed signs of overdependency on the mother.
* Living in homes without dads is more correlated with suicide among children and teenagers than any other factor–for both boys and girls.
* In two-parent families, fathers’ involvement … is associated with an increased likelihood that children in the first through fifth grades get mostly A’s. A father’s impact remains significant through the 12th grade.
* Most gang members comes from homes without dads.
* Among African American children, nearly two in three (64 percent) live in father-absent homes.