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February 28, 2016 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

As everyone knows, we’re in the middle of a presidential election cycle. Various would-be presidents have been campaigning for months now and there are over eight months to go. In the process, millions of words have been spoken and written, by the candidates and about them and millions more will be before Election Day.

With all those candidates and all those words, you’d think they’d cover every possible topic that’s at all germane to this country and its interests. But they don’t. Indeed, one interesting exercise is to think of all the important issues that no one says a word about or, if they do manage to utter a syllable or two, it’s only in passing.

I won’t go into all of those subjects, but I will mention one of the most obvious ones – fatherlessness. I’m inspired to do so by this article by Ben Stein. (The American Spectator, 2/24/16). Stein is no authority on the matter of fatherlessness and he essentially admits as much. But what he does know is to the point. He knows that fatherlessness is pervasive and it’s a danger to the social fabric of the country.

Our country needs a great many things. More stealth bombers. More Marines. More medical care for Veterans and their families. More good teachers. But our most urgent need is for more fathers.

In every study, by every metric we have, we see that young people of color who grow up without a father present in the household do far worse in school than kids with a father present, have FAR more trouble with the law, are incarcerated at a far higher rate than young people who grow up with a father present.

The fatherless kids have wildly more mental illness, commit more violent crimes, have more suicides, more rapes, have incredibly higher rates of illiteracy, higher rates of dropping out of school than kids with fathers present.

Fatherlessness predicts trouble for kids of any race. But roughly 30 percent of white kids grow up fatherless. Roughly 3/4 of black kids do. This is a national catastrophe. One out of every three black youths will spend time behind bars, a rate astronomically higher than that of whites. A large majority in some urban areas are illiterate. Fatherlessness is behind much of this.

“This is a national catastrophe.” Imagine if a presidential candidate uttered those words. Imagine if a president did. But they don’t. And they won’t. Ben Stein thinks they should, as do I.

What to do? I don’t know. But maybe have a President who talks about it.

That would be nice, but after all, talk is cheap. Yes, the occupant of the bully pulpit could do that thing that leaders are supposed to do. He/she could lead. He/she could place the issue of fatherlessness at the forefront of our national agenda. He/she could demand that Congress change laws that encourage fatherlessness.

But in fact, for the past almost eight years, we’ve had a president who grew up without his dad and whose White House website has information about the many problems of fatherlessness. But somehow, in the course of his two terms in office, President Obama, like every president before him, has done essentially nothing about the scourge of fatherlessness.

And it’s not like it’s not an important subject, as Stein says. I argue it’s the most important problem this country faces. I argue that because kids who grow up without fathers disproportionately burden themselves, their families, their communities and the nation as a whole. They do that by being less educated, less reliable, less employed and more involved in crime and illicit drugs than anyone else. They’re not only dysfunctional themselves, but they command far more public resources per capita than do those who grow up in two-parent households. Industrial productivity is lower and our prison budget is higher because of them. Fatherlessness is a vital public-policy issue. Again, I argue that it’s our single most important one. But in all those millions of words, not a one is about kids growing up without dads.

But maybe that’s a good thing. After all, if the president did talk about it, what would he/she say? The narrative on fatherlessness has been in place for a long time now. It runs something like this: Men, particularly minority men, are worthless louts who don’t care about their children and will do just about anything to avoid their responsibilities to them.

That narrative informs family laws, adoption laws, child support laws, domestic violence laws, the practice of judges and the absence of laws against paternity fraud, among others. The theory is that, if fathers would just behave better, the whole crisis of fatherless kids would vanish and all would be well.

That is nothing but an excuse to do nothing about the problem. By adopting the narrative, a public figure can be seen to be concerned about a serious problem, but not be required to lift a finger to solve it. That’s been President Obama’s approach and it hasn’t done him any harm.

As I said, Ben Stein doesn’t know much about fatherlessness, but he’s certainly absorbed the narrative.

But it’s [President Obama’s] duty to inspire men to be better at fatherhood than his father was. Maybe pay men who knock up their women to stay with the kids. Maybe ask the music companies to stop glorifying sex without love.

Maybe a grandfathers’ corps of men like me to spend some time with fatherless kids and give them some little bit of male energy.

See? Men just need to “be better at fatherhood.” How we get them to do that, Stein doesn’t know, but if only they were better, then the problem of fatherlessness would vanish.

Bunk. Nonsense. The problem of fatherlessness isn’t fathers, it’s a public policy that is in fact all too content with children never or rarely seeing their dads. Given all we know about the value of fathers to children, that makes no sense, but there it is. In state after state, year after year, we see family courts cutting fathers out of their children’s lives. It happens by the hundreds of thousands every year.

We see men told in no uncertain terms that their sole value to their children is their money. Fail to pay up and the wrath of the state will come down on you. But if Mom decides you can’t see them, well, that’s really no big deal. What could be clearer? The Administration for Children and Families funds fatherhood programs across the country. Those programs try to get fathers to “be better at fatherhood,” but what they almost exclusively consist of are employment programs so the dads can get paid up on their child support.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for non-custodial fathers supporting their children, but again, the message is clear. We say we want you to be a good father, but 90% of the definition of “good” is how much you pay.

Never mind that the huge majority of fathers care deeply about their children and want to play the largest role they can in their lives. And never mind that the kids want and need the same. Year after year, our public policy of removing fathers from the lives of their kids goes on and, just for good measure, we blame the dads for it.

Are there fathers who seek to avoid their responsibilities to their children? Of course there are, just like there are mothers who do the same. Realistically, about those fathers, there’s little we can do. If a person wants to play no role in their kids’ lives, I don’t see how we can force them to.

But what we can do is remove the barriers we’ve erected between the countless good, loving, motivated fathers who want to be the type of parents we say we want them to be. But year after year, we leave those barriers in place despite knowing to a certainty the harm they do. And every four years, we have a presidential election and countless millions of words spoken and written, but not one about our most serious problem.

Ben Stein missed the most important part of the problem of fatherlessness. But he got one thing right.

[T]he country is falling apart from the ground up.

 #fatherlessness, #BenStein, #societalbreakdown, #publicpolicy

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