With Fathers’ Day fast approaching, we can expect the usual wave of articles and commentary, much of it nonsense, some of it kind, some of it malicious. But the ever-excellent Barbara Kay’s piece won’t be found among the latter (National Post, 6/13/18). Her topic is the urgent need for our societies and cultures to once again place value on men and fathers. Of course, she nails it.
It is difficult to overstate both the positive effects of growing up with a father and the negative effects of father absence, especially for boys. These myriad benefits and perils are on record, undisputed and easily accessible. But in this gynocentric era, what is good or bad for boys does not seem to attract the interest of our cultural elites.
Not only cultural elites, but public policy elites too blithely ignore the scandal and the crisis that is the decline of masculinity throughout the Western World. As Kay points out, this is all well known. Information is not what we lack. What we lack is decency and good sense among those who could change this if they only would. Children need to grow up with a father and a mother. They used to do that and, no surprise, men’s value to society went largely unquestioned. Now we’re doing the one thing we should never, never do – taking fathers out of the lives of their kids. And when the kids manifest every symptom of growing up fatherless, we do nothing to fix the problem. Into the bargain, we have the gall to criticize the very kids (now grown to adulthood) we damaged in the first place.
At every turn we tell men that fathers have no value. We do that in the news media and popular culture. And, just in case men missed the point, we follow those messages up with even more-hard-hitting ones. Family courts routinely marginalize fathers in the lives of their kids, child support laws place the bar higher than dads can clear, the better to incarcerate them and denigrate them in their children’s eyes. Adoption laws are, in over half the states, designed specifically to get fathers out of the loop and line lawyers’ pockets with the cash that comes from completed adoptions.
All that sends the same message that pop culture sends – dads aren’t important. We know they are, but wouldn’t dream of mentioning it.
We could do a lot to fix this if we wanted, but we don’t. We could change laws and make sure judges understood the reality of what Dr. Kyle Pruett calls Fatherneed. But we don’t. We could preach to the skies that kids need both parents in their lives and make services available for parents to help them make co-parenting work. But we don’t. We could teach girls that maternal gatekeeping and paternity fraud aren’t appropriate behaviors. But we don’t. We could teach boys that, if you have sex and don’t want a child, use a condom or get a vasectomy. But we don’t. We could teach boys that, if you father a child, you need to stay in its life. But we don’t.
Boys are in crisis everywhere. They are falling behind academically in 60 of the most developed nations. Boys are 50 per cent less likely than girls to meet basic proficiency standards in reading, math and science. Rates of ADHD among them are escalating. Since the Great Depression, the gap between male and female suicides has tripled in the U.S.
The common denominator behind many of these trends is fatherlessness. When all other variants of race, socio-economic status, health and other obvious metrics are accounted for, fatherlessness is the single biggest predictor for many negative outcomes among boys. Male prison inmates are 85 per cent fatherless. Juvenile detention centres are likewise full of dad-deprived boys. Male violence and fatherlessness are strongly linked, even in violence-promoting political movements. Fiyaz Mughal, a radicalization specialist with the Faith Matters Network, says, “All of these (young ISIL recruits), they have an absent father … the kids fought police, fought at school, rebelled against every power structure at every opportunity.”
I somewhat disagree with Kay on one point.
As women’s roles expand, society’s need for men in their traditional roles as protector, provider and parent is shrinking.
That’s certainly true, but how important is it? After all, if men’s traditional role is shrinking, women’s has already shrunk. Indeed, it started doing so long ago. The role of nurturer to children is of far, far less importance than ever before, particularly in the very parts of the globe that see men and fathers suffering so. Face it, there are over seven billion people on the planet. We don’t need more. And in the post-industrial West, women tend to have fewer children than ever before, in fact, at below-replacement rates. Plus, caring for a child has never been easier. Household technologies make it easier and less time-consuming and daycare takes much of the obligation away altogether.
So with their traditional role so diminished, why aren’t women in the same boat with men? The answer is that, in one way, they are. Women’s happiness levels, as measured since the 70s has declined while men’s has stayed the same. But women are excelling in school and at work, they’re healthier and far less likely to take their own lives than are men. With the diminution of the role of mother, why don’t they show the same deficits as do men?
It seems obvious that, whereas we denigrate men at every turn, we laud women. We’ve altered the system of primary education to suit the way girls learn at the expense of boys and how they learn. We can’t log onto the Internet or open a magazine or newspaper or turn on the television without being bombarded with messages worshipful of women and girls. And of course the family court system gives them every break imaginable and some that aren’t (see my previous posts on the Ryan West child support matter).
The problem isn’t that women compete for men’s jobs. It’s one of men’s greatest virtues that they welcome fair competition. The problem is everything else – the outright malice, the ignorant but pervasive criticism, the collective guilt mongering, the second-class citizenship in the legal system. Fix those things – and we can – and much of the problems facing men and boys will disappear like morning mist.
Till then, we need more Barbara Kays, contemporary Cassandras, to warn us about the path ahead, the path we’ve chosen against all that’s sane and sensible, against all that’s morally right.