The State of the Fatherhood Movement

David Blankenhorn and Wade F. Horn, New York Post, 6/18/2000

But most of all, we need to acknowledge that while fathers count, marriage matters as well. The fact is that throughout history, marriage is the glue that binds fathers to their children; not a perfect glue to be sure, but a sturdier glue than any other. This does not mean we should not support noncustodial fathers in their efforts to get and stay involved in the lives of their children. Of course we should. We do not have a father to spare. But when fathers do not live with the mothers of their children, they tend, over time, to disconnect from them. Fully 40 percent of children who do not live with their fathers have not seen their fathers – not for a single second – in over a year. Half who do not live with their fathers have never set foot – not even once – in their fathers' homes.

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Subjects: Marriage, Fatherhood, Family

More by: David Blankenhorn and Wade F. Horn

Ten years ago, fatherlessness was largely a problem with no name, all but invisible as a public issue. Today, the opposite is true. Father absence is widely recognized as an urgent social problem by scholars, the media and presidential candidates alike. Government officials, civic leaders and grass-roots, activists, cutting across racial and political lines, are busy launching a thousand local experiments in ways to bring back the fathers.

So much has changed. Now the hard part begins. For despite all the successful consciousness-raising of the 1990s – all the books and articles, all the words from the talking heads, all the public attention – actual fatherlessness in our society has not yet diminished.

Yes, divorce declined during the 1990s; but the U.S. still has the world's highest divorce rate. Although rates of unwed childbearing have leveled off, one of every three live births is to a never-married mother. The result? On Father's Day 1990, nearly four of every 10 children in the country went to sleep in homes in which their fathers did not live. The same is true for Father's Day 2000.

So the real work must now begin. As a society, we have debated the issue publicly for almost a decade and have concluded that, yes, children do need fathers after all. We have no more excuses. We report to the pollsters that we have changed our priorities. But talk no longer is enough. The challenge before us is to change behavior to give more children nurturing, committed, full-time fathers. The question is: how?

First, we need to recognize that while some noncustodial fathers are deadbeats, others are dead broke. What these men need is not more threats of fines, license revocations or imprisonment, but jobs.

Second; we need to understand that while some fathers have walked away from their children, others have been thrown away. These men deserve our help in establishing and maintaining close relationships with their children.

But most of all, we need to acknowledge that while fathers count, marriage matters as well. The fact is that throughout history, marriage is the glue that binds fathers to their children; not a perfect glue to be sure, but a sturdier glue than any other.

This does not mean we should not support noncustodial fathers in their efforts to get and stay involved in the lives of their children. Of course we should. We do not have a father to spare.

But when fathers do not live with the mothers of their children, they tend, over time, to disconnect from them. Fully 40 percent of children who do not live with their fathers have not seen their fathers – not for a single second – in over a year. Half who do not live with their fathers have never set foot – not even once – in their fathers' homes.

So while assisting non-custodial fathers, we must at the same time not flinch from the goal of married fatherhood. For if given a choice, most children would choose an in-the-home, love-the-mother father over any other kind. And they would be better off for it.

Forcing people to marry is not the answer. We don't need more bad marriages. What we need is more loving, equal regard and sustainable marriages. The fatherhood movement must, therefore, work hand- in-hand with the marriage movement to provide more premarital education, marital enrichment and outreach to troubled marriages, especially for those couples whose parents divorced or never married.

The good news is the fatherhood movement is gaining traction. Earlier this month, over 500 representatives of this new movement gathered in Washington, D.C., at the National Fatherhood Initiative's Third National Summit on Fatherhood. Hundreds more gathered at an International Fatherhood Conference in New York City.

Moreover, the U.S. Congress is poised to give this movement a much needed financial shot in the arm by passing legislation designed to provide funding for community-based organizations interested in implementing support, outreach or skills building programs for fathers. There is reason to hope that the emerging fatherhood movement will accomplish as many great things in this century as did the civil rights and women's movements in the prior one.

Achieving great things will require that this new movement begin to focus on results. What children need, after all, is not more good talk about fathers, but more good talks with their fathers. That requires not only helping noncustodial fathers, but working to ensure there are fewer noncustodial fathers in the first place.

This article originally appeared here.

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