NPO publishes blog articles to inform and to stimulate conversation about issues of importance to NPO's mission.  All blog articles express the opinions of the authors as individuals and do not necessarily reflect the views of National Parents Organization, its Board of Directors, or its executives.  

July 16, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq.

Here’s a good, and not so good, piece by Heather MacDonald in the Wall Street Journal (Wall Street Journal, 7/8/14). It’s part of a series of short pieces by various luminaries under the general title “Ideas for Renewing American Prosperity.” MacDonald rightly argues we must “Encourage Two-Parent Families.” Here’s what she has to say:

The disintegration of the two-parent family is the greatest long-term threat to American prosperity and cultural health. Nearly half of all births in the Millennial Generation (18- to 33-year-olds) occur outside of marriage; the national average is 41%. Children raised by single mothers fail in school and commit crime at much higher rates than children raised by both parents. These children's social skills—needed to become productive, self-sufficient adults—are weaker on average. Single-parent households are far more likely to be poor and dependent on government assistance. But more consequential than the risks to individual children is the cultural pathology of regarding fathers as an optional appendage for child-rearing. A society that fails to teach its young males that they are unambiguously responsible for their offspring will have a hard time inculcating other fundamental duties.

Unfortunately, family breakdown isn't amenable to public-policy solutions, since it results from something more profound than misguided tax structure or welfare rules. Though many factors are at play, the biggest culprit is feminism's devaluing of males and the conceit that "strong women" can do it all. Reversing the trend of fatherlessness will require public figures, from President Obama on down, to violate feminist taboos and start speaking at every opportunity about the essential contributions that fathers make to the formation of their children. Family decline will be stemmed only when it is widely understood that care provided by both biological parents is the most powerful social and economic advantage that any child can enjoy.

Obviously, MacDonald was limited in what she could say by her word-count, but she hits some of the high spots. Most importantly, as I argued point-blank in my speech to the International Conference on Men’s Issues, the breakdown of dual parenting is the single greatest problem we face. The reasons for that are several. First, the erosion of the two-parent family is widespread. Single-mother child bearing accounts now for about 41% of all births and the divorce rate is 70% higher than it was in the early 60s. Divorce, with its emphasis on excluding fathers from the lives of their children means most of those kids end up effectively losing their fathers when the judge’s gavel comes down. About a third of children of divorce never see their fathers and a third of all children don’t live with their dads. So the phenomenon affects tens of millions of children at any given time. And of course the deficits children experience from the lack of a father extend well into adulthood.

Those deficits, many of which MacDonald touches on, extend throughout our society into most of our important endeavors. Education, income, crime, parenting, drug and alcohol abuse, employment, the ability to form and maintain intimate relationships, domestic violence, mental and physical health are all adversely affected by single parenting. But it’s not just a problem for those affected individuals, it’s a problem for all of us. How much public money and resources do we devote to fighting the countless consequences of single parenting? The number is staggering. The simple fact is that our penchant for removing fathers from the lives of their children is bad for children, bad for fathers, bad for mothers and bad for society generally. Fix that one problem and a host of others would be dramatically improved.

MacDonald gets all that and should be lauded for saying so.

But she doesn’t get are the many processes by which fathers are removed from their kids’ lives.

A society that fails to teach its young males that they are unambiguously responsible for their offspring will have a hard time inculcating other fundamental duties.

That’s not wrong, just wrong-headed. The idea that we can carry on doing what we’re doing but in some way “teach young males” to be responsible for their offspring, in the face of all we do to convince them otherwise is little short of crazy. Imagine a class of high-school boys; the teacher’s job is to do what MacDonald encourages – teach paternal responsibility. What sort of push-back might the teacher get?

One boy might raise his hand and say something like “Yo, teach. I hear what you’re saying, but what about abortion. If my girlfriend and I conceive a child, I don’t even get a say about whether it comes into the world or not. Seems to me our laws say I’m just the child’s father and not very important.”

Another, encouraged by the first might add, “I heard just the other day about a dude who’s been very responsible for his child. He works, pays for its food, diapers, everything. He comes home and he reads to it, bathes it, puts it to bed and so on, but then he found out it wasn’t his! It was another dude’s. So now he doesn’t know what to do. He doesn’t know if he’s the kid’s father or not. In fact, it was the child’s father who wasn’t responsible, but now has parental rights. That’s all f***ed up. And what’s worse, the mom doesn’t have any responsibility for lying to both guys. Looks to me like we don’t reward men who are responsible or punish mothers who aren’t.”

By now there are several hands in the air, excited to be the next to speak. One says, “My father was there every minute for me when I was little, but then Mom divorced him. Over the years, she had various boyfriends and they didn’t want my dad coming around. They were jealous of him and Mom didn’t want him around either, so little by little, he just got squeezed out of my life. He asked the judge to do something, but that went nowhere. I barely see him anymore. How was he supposed to “be responsible” for me in that situation?

Yet another says, “For years I never saw my father and my mom always was telling me what a deadbeat he is. I came to believe it until I got old enough to make my own decisions. So I started seeing him and it turned out everything she’d said was a lie. He paid to support me. He loves me and always wanted me in his life, but she wouldn’t allow it. Told the judge he’d abused me, but that was a lie too. Now I know my dad did his best to take responsibility for me, but the courts wouldn’t allow it. They believed every lie my mom told. What was he supposed to do?”

“Yep,” says another, my mom divorced my dad when I was little, and every time he’d come over to pick me up for his weekend, she’d take me somewhere where he couldn’t find us, or she’d tell him I was sick or didn’t want to go with him. Pretty soon, I wasn’t seeing my dad much at all. He doesn’t have much money, so he couldn’t hire a lawyer to go to court to make her let me see him. He wasn’t irresponsible; he just didn’t have the money to pay a lawyer. Hey, who does?”

“I can top that,” says another boy. “My mother moved out of state. I’m not from here originally, but once she and Dad got divorced, she got the judge to let her move here. It’s almost 2,000 miles from where my dad is. How’s he supposed to see me regularly?”

And so it goes; boy after boy, each with a different story to tell. One tells about a child support order set so high his father could never pay it. That resulted in him being in and out of jail and seldom able to see his son. Another tells of false allegations of abuse made by his mother to keep his father away. Still another knows of a father whose child was placed for adoption without his knowledge or consent.

Such a class could be highly educational, but less for the students than the teacher. Or Heather MacDonald. The idea that children don’t have fathers because men are irresponsible and don’t care about them is false and well-known to be so. Are there irresponsible fathers out there? Of course, just as there are irresponsible mothers. The difference between the two is that the system of divorce, custody and related issues tends to condemn the father and reward the mother.

What punishments does the system mete out to mothers who commit paternity fraud, level false allegations of abuse, alienate children from fathers, refuse to tell fathers they have children, fraudulently place children for adoption without the knowledge of the fathers, refuse to comply with visitation orders, or simply divorce because they know they’ll get the kids? For the most part, none. Oh, in some cases, there are laws on the books, but they’re rarely enforced. In some places, like Texas, custody interference isn’t enforced at all.

MacDonald, having concluded that it’s all the fault of irresponsible fathers, goes on to conclude that there’s nothing we can do about the problem of fatherless kids. Wrong. We can do plenty, but so far have resisted essentially every effort to do so. Equal parenting laws would solve a lot of problems, but so would sensible child support statutes, paternity fraud laws, enforcement of visitation, education of judges, punishment for perjury, parental alienation and interference with custody.

The list goes on and on. We could educate children and adults on the importance of two-parent childrearing, require judges to actually know the science on children’s welfare, enforce treaties on child abduction, stop demonizing fathers in the news media and popular culture, etc.

There are plenty of things to do to get us back on track toward stable, two-parent families. But strangely, despite the fact that it’s arguably the most important problem we face, elected officials pretty much agree that none of it is necessary.

Family decline will be stemmed only when it is widely understood that care provided by both biological parents is the most powerful social and economic advantage that any child can enjoy.

Very true. Too bad MacDonald thinks there’s nothing we can do to make that happen. On the contrary, there’s a lot we can do, but not when the two major parties find themselves in a rare situation of agreement.


National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization

National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Along with Shared Parenting we advocate for fair Child Support and Alimony Legislation. Want to get involved?  Here’s how:

Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting, and fair child support and alimony. Thank you for your activism.

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