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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.  

January 10, 2019 by Robert Franklin, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Continued from yesterday.

I’d like to ask David French a question: “Did you grow up with a father?  That is, was your father present in the household, was he a tangible presence in your life?”

The reason I ask is that, in his National Review article, French demonstrates that he grasps the value of fathers to children, particularly boys.
But becoming a true “grown man” — while a felt need — isn’t an easy process. It involves shaping and molding. It requires mentoring. It requires fathers who are themselves grown men. Turning boys into grown men means taking many of their inherent characteristics — such as their aggression, their sense of adventure, and their default physical strength — and shaping them toward virtuous ends. A strong, aggressive risk-taker can be a criminal or a cop, for example…
Especially in fatherless homes, female-dominated elementary-school experiences often mean that boys are exposed to few — if any — male role models, and male restlessness is therefore viewed almost entirely as a problem to be solved rather than a potential asset to be shaped...
As I’ve argued before, acculturation into healthy traditional masculinity used to be a far more natural and inevitable act. Even upper-class men had to learn to work (at least to some degree) with their hands; to earn a living, working-class men often had to be strong; and with more intact families (and male-dominated work spaces), men did not lack for role models.
Plus, French also seems to be providing a healthy father-child relationship for his son.  In short, when it comes to fathering and the importance of fathers, French seems to get it.  I suspect that’s because he had a dad growing up.

So why doesn’t he get the fact that much of our country’s plague of fatherlessness comes from our courts and laws.  How can he miss the obvious?  When courts relegate fit fathers to every other weekend visitors and, in so doing, make them less fathers than entertainers of their own kids, how can French and so many others avoid noticing that it’s our laws and public policies that are in great part responsible for our lack of fathers in children’s lives?

It’s not only conservatives of course who blind themselves to what’s going on every day right under their noses.  When he was in office, President Obama’s web page bemoaned the problem of absent fathers and yet offered nothing in the way of a policy fix to address it.  Like French, Obama seemed to believe that the problem stemmed from some innate deficiency in men or fathers that, if they would simply behave better, all would be well.  French inveighs against governmental solutions, but, as I said yesterday, government, through its laws and regulations created this problem, so governmental reform is required to fix it.

Now comes Tucker Carlson whose 15-minute piece on Fox spurred French to respond (Fox News, 1/3/19).  Like French’s piece, I agree with a lot that Carlson says.  His commentary is about far more than the decline of intact families; indeed, it’s mostly about the great divide between the rulers and the ruled in this country.
We are ruled by mercenaries who feel no long-term obligation to the people they rule. They’re day traders. Substitute teachers. They’re just passing through. They have no skin in this game, and it shows. They can’t solve our problems. They don’t even bother to understand our problems.
Anyone who’s ever lobbied a state legislator knows this to be true.  When confronted by a conflict between what’s right for his/her constituents and what promises re-election, the choice is never hard.  It’s re-election by a landslide every time.  Oh, the officeholder would like to do the right thing, but if doing so is an electoral risk, it won’t happen.  If it did, equal parenting laws would rule custody decisions in every state.  But they don’t.

But Carlson, like French, misses the obvious.  He believes that the decline in the family is attributable to the liberal welfare policies of the 60s that, we are relentlessly told, separated fathers from their kids.  How that impacts today’s society, particularly among those who don’t receive welfare benefits remains a mystery.  Carlson also tags the decline in men’s wages as a problem and rightly points out that much social science demonstrates that low earnings are one of men’s biggest impediments to marriage and one of the strongest predictors of divorce.
Study after study has shown that when men make less than women, women generally don’t want to marry them. Maybe they should want to marry them, but they don’t. Over big populations, this causes a drop in marriage, a spike in out-of-wedlock births, and all the familiar disasters that inevitably follow -- more drug and alcohol abuse, higher incarceration rates, fewer families formed in the next generation.
All very true.  But one of the most powerful drivers of low male wages is competition from women.  In 1950, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, just 33% of women and girls over the age of 16 were part of the workforce, i.e. employed or looking for work.  For men the number was 88%.  The trends for each have converged ever since so that now workforce participation for women is about 56% and for men about 69%.  Meanwhile, men’s real wages have declined. 

That certainly has an impact on men’s marriage and divorce chances, but what does Carlson suggest we do about it?  Women get to engage in paid work if they want to.  So do men.  That both do so is a fact and will remain one, as it should.

Republicans have long claimed to be the party of Family Values, but they aren’t.  Carlson and French are both leading voices on the Right, but neither understands the problems besetting families.  To a huge extent, they are of our own making and entirely within our ability to solve.  Equal parenting following divorce is one answer, but there are more.  We can’t force people to marry and should stop trying, but we can make divorce less appealing once they do.  Currently, we offer (mostly) women cash incentives in the form of alimony and child support to divorce.  Plus, the family court system all but promises women sole or primary custody of their children.  Unsurprisingly, 70% of divorces are filed by women.

Given those weapons arrayed against them men can be forgiven for viewing marriage and children as dubious and dangerous propositions.  Who wants to invest his whole self into fatherhood, only to lose it at the drop of a judge’s gavel?  Who wants to lose half his savings, his home, his kids and much of his future income?  What about any of that is designed to encourage young men to marry?  We can’t seriously claim surprise at the decline in the percentage of young men who value marriage and kids.

All of this is within our power to fix, but our political system isn’t interested.  Carlson is right that elites don’t care enough to even acknowledge the problems we’ve created.  For all his good intentions, he looks very much like one of those elites.

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