Re-Creating Fatherhood: Society is on Decline when Dads Absent

David Blankenhorn, The News Tribune, 6/18/1995

Fatherlessness is the most harmful social trend of our generation. It is damaging the well-being of millions of our children. It is also the engine driving our worst social problems, from crime to teen pregnancy to child sexual abuse to domestic violence against women... Consequently, the most urgent domestic challenge facing the United States at the close of the 20th century is the re-creation of fatherhood as a vital social role for men. At stake is nothing less than the success of the American experiment. For unless we reverse the trend of fatherlessness, no other set of accomplishments - not economic growth or prison construction or welfare reform or better schools - will succeed in arresting the decline of child well-being and the spread of male violence. To tolerate the trend of fatherlessness is to accept the inevitability of continued societal recession.

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Subjects: Family, Fatherhood

More by: David Blankenhorn

The United States is becoming an increasingly fatherless society. Tonight, about 40 percent of American children will go to sleep in homes where their fathers do not live. Before they reach the age of 18, more than half of our nation's children will spend at least a significant portion of their childhoods living apart from their fathers.

Never before in our nation's history have so many children grown up without knowing what it means to have a father.

Fatherlessness is the most harmful social trend of our generation. It is damaging the well-being of millions of our children. It is also the engine driving our worst social problems, from crime to teen pregnancy to child sexual abuse to domestic violence against women.

A society with fewer and fewer fathers means a society with more and more prison cells, orphanages, social workers, truancy officers, court-appointed child psychologists, and child support enforcement officers. In short, a society that is losing fathers is a society in decline.

Consequently, the most urgent domestic challenge facing the United States at the close of the 20th century is the re-creation of fatherhood as a vital social role for men. At stake is nothing less than the success of the American experiment. For unless we reverse the trend of fatherlessness, no other set of accomplishments - not economic growth or prison construction or welfare reform or better schools - will succeed in arresting the decline of child well-being and the spread of male violence. To tolerate the trend of fatherlessness is to accept the inevitability of continued societal recession.

What can be done? Clearly, the first and most important thing to change is our minds. The core question is simple: Does every child deserve a father? Increasingly, our society's answer is "no" or at least "not necessarily."

We have come to view fatherlessness as normal - regrettable perhaps, but acceptable. As a result, we are losing not simply fathers, but also our idea of fatherhood, our belief that fathers are necessary. Our main challenge, then, is to raise our standards and shift our attitudes away from the acceptance of fatherlessness. If you want a slogan for a fatherhood movement, here it is: A father for every child.

There is some good news. Today, both opinion leaders and the general public are increasingly aware that there is an elephant in the room called fatherlessness. And although the state of fatherhood in America is bad and getting worse, the state of efforts to restore fatherhood is encouraging and getting better. Indeed, we may already be witnessing the emergence of a genuine social movement to strengthen fatherhood - a diverse, far-flung group of leaders, organizations and grass-roots initiatives, cutting across political and ideological lines, all aimed at reconnecting men to their children.

In Irvine, Calif., a Boot Camp for New Dads teaches new fathers how to be good fathers. In Detroit, the Fathers Education Network reaches out to young African-American fathers. In Seattle, the Washington Family Council recruits sports stars to appear in public-service ads promoting responsible fatherhood. Across the country, thousands of men are joining the Promise Keepers, a rapidly growing movement aimed at spiritual renewal, racial reconciliation, and a servanthood model of male commitment to children and family.

Recently, inspired in part by Vice President A1 Gore, a number of leading philanthropic organizations, including the Ford Foundation and Annie E. Casey Foundation, have formed a funding collaborative that will pour millions of dollars into efforts to strengthen fatherhood, including a National Institute for Responsible Fatherhood and Family Revitalization headquartered in Washington, D.C.

I am proud to be the volunteer chairman of the National Fatherhood Initiative and a speaker for that organization's 1995 "National Fatherhood Tour." The goal of the tour is twofold. First, to ignite a debate in cities and towns across the nation about the dimensions and social consequences of fatherlessness. And second, to identify 10,000 Americans - civic leaders and ordinary citizens - who will "make a commitment" to take action in their communities to help reverse the trend of fatherlessness.

Anyone interested in being a part of this effort, or in learning more about it, can call us toll-free at 1-800- 970-3237.

The famous anthropologist Margaret Mead once said that the supreme test of any civilization is whether it can teach men to be good fathers. Today, the United States is failing that test. But we need not make permanent the lowering of our standards. Passivity in the face of crisis is inconsistent with the American tradition. We can do better. We can reverse this trend. We can change our minds. Let us start today.

This article originally appeared here.

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