Confronting Our Most Urgent Social Problem
Confronting Our Most Urgent Social Problem
by David Blankenhorn
The United States is becoming an increasingly fatherless society. A generation ago, an American child could reasonably expect to grow up with his or her father. Today, an American childÂ can reasonably expect not to. Fatherlessness is now approaching a rough parity with fatherhood as a defining feature of American childhood.
This astonishing fact is reflected in many statistics, but here are the two most important. Tonight, about 40 percent of American children will go to sleep in homes in which their fathers do notÂ live. Before they reach the age of eighteen, more than half of our nation’s children are likely to spend at least a significant portion of their childhood living apart from their fathers. NeverÂ before in this country have so many children been voluntarily abandoned by their fathers. Never before have so many children grown up without knowing what it means to have a father.
Fatherlessness is the most harmful demographic trend of this generation.
It is the leading cause of declining child well-being in our society. It is also the engine driving our most urgent socialÂ problems, from crime to adolescent pregnancy to child sexual abuse to domestic violence against women. Yet, despite its scale and social consequences, fatherlessness is a problem that isÂ frequently ignored or denied. Especially within our elite discourse, it remains largely a problem with no name.
If this trend continues, fatherlessness is likely to change the shape of our society. Consider this prediction. After the year 2000, as people born after 1970 emerge as a large proportion ofÂ our working-age adult population, the United States will be divided into two groups, separate and unequal. The two groups will work in the same economy, speak a common language, andÂ remember the same national history. But they will live fundamentally divergent lives. One group will receive basic benefits – psychological, social, economic, educational, and moral – that areÂ denied to the other group.
The primary fault line dividing the two groups will not be race, religion, class, education, or gender. It will be patrimony. One group will consist of those adults who grew up with the dailyÂ presence and provision of fathers. The other group will consist of those who did not. By the early years of the next century, these two groups will be roughly the same size.
Surely a crisis of this scale merits a response. At a minimum, it requires a serious debate. Why is fatherhood declining? What can be done about it? Can our society find ways to invigorateÂ effective fatherhood as a norm of male behavior? Yet, to date, the public discussion on this topic has been remarkably weak and defeatist. There is a prevailing belief that not much can – orÂ even should – be done to reverse the trend.
When the crime rate jumps, politicians promise to do something about it. When the unemployment rate rises, task forces assemble to address the problem. As random shootings increase,Â public health officials worry about the preponderance of guns. But when it comes to the mass defection of men from family life, not much happens.
There is debate, even alarm, about specific social problems. Divorce. Out-of-wedlock childbearing. Children growing up in poverty. Youth violence. Unsafe neighborhoods. DomesticÂ violence. The weakening of parental authority. But in these discussions, we seldom acknowledge the underlying phenomenon that binds together these otherwise disparate issues: the flight ofÂ males from children’s lives. In fact, we seem to go out of our way to avoid the connection between our most pressing social problems and the trend of fatherlessness.
We avoid this connection because, as a society, we are changing our minds about the role of men in family life. As a cultural idea, our inherited understanding of fatherhood is under siege.Â Men in general, and fathers in particular, are increasingly viewed as superfluous to family life: either expendable or as part of the problem. Masculinity itself, understood as anything otherÂ than a rejection of what it has traditionally meant to be male, is typically treated with suspicion and even hostility in our cultural discourse. Consequently, our society is now manifestly unableÂ to sustain, or even find reason to believe in, fatherhood as a distinctive domain of male activity.
The core question is simple: Does every child need a father? Increasingly, our society’s answer is “no”, or at least, “not necessarily.” Few idea shifts in this century are as consequential as thisÂ one. At stake is nothing less than what it means to be a man, who our children will be, and what kind of society we will become.
This book is a criticism not simply of fatherlessness but of a culture of fatherlessness. For, in addition to losing fathers, we are losing something larger: our idea of fatherhood. Unlike earlierÂ periods of father absence in our history, we now face more than a physical loss affecting some homes. We face a cultural loss affecting every home. For this reason, the most importantÂ absence our society must confront is not the absence of fathers but the absence of our belief in fathers.
In a larger sense, this book is a cultural criticism because fatherhood, much more than motherhood, is a cultural invention. Its meaning for the individual man is shaped less by biology thanÂ by a cultural script or story – a societal code that guides, and at times pressures, him into certain ways of acting and of understanding himself as a man.
Like motherhood, fatherhood is made up of both a biological and a social dimension. Yet in societies across the world, mothers are far more successful than fathers at fusing these twoÂ dimensions into a coherent parental identity. Is the nursing mother playing a biological or a social role? Is she feeding or bonding? We can hardly separate the two, so seamlessly are theyÂ woven together.
But fatherhood is a different matter. A father makes his sole biological contribution at the moment of conception — nine months before the infant enters the world. Because social paternity isÂ only indirectly like to biological paternity, the connection between the two cannot be assumed. The phrase “to father a child” usually refers only to the act of insemination, not to theÂ responsibility of raising a child. What fathers contribute to their offspring after conception is largely a matter of cultural devising.
Moreover, despite their other virtues, men are not ideally suited to responsible fatherhood. Although they certainly have the capacity for fathering, men are inclined to sexual promiscuity andÂ paternal waywardness. Anthropologically, human fatherhood constitutes what might be termed a necessary problem. It is necessary because, in all societies, child well-being and societalÂ success hinge largely upon a high level of paternal investment: the willingness of adult males to devote energy and resources to the care of their offspring. It is a problem because adult malesÂ are frequently – indeed, increasingly – unwilling unable to make that vital investment.
Because fatherhood is universally problematic in human societies, cultures must mobilize to devise and enforce the father role for men, coaxing and guiding them into fatherhood through a setÂ of legal and extralegal pressures that require them to maintain a close alliance with their children’s mother and to invest in their children. Because men do not volunteer for fatherhood asÂ much as they are conscripted into it by the surrounding culture, only an authoritative cultural story of fatherhood can fuse biological and social paternity into a coherent male identity.
For exactly the same reason, Margaret Mead and others have observed that the supreme test of any civilization is whether it can socialize men by teaching them to be fathers — creating aÂ culture in which men acknowledge their paternity and willingly nurture their offspring. Indeed, if we equate the essence of the antisocial male with violence, we can equate the essence of theÂ socialized male with being a good father. Thus, at the center of our most important cultural imperative, we find the fatherhood script: the story that describes what it ought to mean for a manÂ to have a child.
Just as the fatherhood script advances the social goal of harnessing male behavior to collective needs, it also reflects an individual purpose, that purpose, in a word, is happiness.Â Anthropologists have long understood that the genius of an effective culture is its capacity to reconcile individual happiness with collective well-being. By situating individual lives within aÂ social narrative, culture endows private behavior with larger meaning. By linking the self to moral purposes larger than the self, an effective culture tells us a story in which individualÂ fulfillment transcends selfishness, and personal satisfaction transcends narcissism.
In this respect, our cultural script is not simply a set of imported moralisms, exterior to the individual and designed only to compel self sacrifice. It is also a pathway – indeed, our onlyÂ pathway – to what the founders of the the American experiment called the pursuit of happiness.
The stakes on this issue could hardly be higher. Our society’s conspicuous failure to sustain or create compelling norms of fatherhood amounts to a social and personal disaster. Today’sÂ story of fatherhood features one-dimensional characters, and unbelievable plot, and an unhappy ending. It reveals in our society both a failure of collective memory and a collapse of moralÂ imagination. It undermines families, neglects children, causes or aggravates our worst social problems and make individual adult happiness – both male and female – harder to achieve.
Ultimately, this failure reflects nothing less than a culture gone awry: a culture increasingly unable to establish the boundaries, erect the sign posts and fashion the stories that can harmonizeÂ individual happiness with collective well-being. In short, it reflects a culture that increasing fails to “enculture” individual men and women, mothers and fathers.
In personal terms, the end result of this process, the final residue from what David Gutmann calls the “deculturation” of paternity, is narcissism: a me-first egotism that is hostile not only toÂ any societal goal or larger moral purpose but also to any save the most puerile understanding of personal happiness. In social terms, the primary results of decultured paternity are a declineÂ in children’s well-being and a rise in male violence, especially against women. In a larger sense, the most significant result is our society’s steady fragmentation into atomized individuals,Â isolated from one another and estranged from the aspirations and realities of common membership in a family, a community, a nation, bound by mutual commitment and shared memory.
The main character in this book is not a real person. As befits a book about shared narratives, he is a cultural model, or what Max Weber calls an ideal social type – an anthropomorphizedÂ composite of cultural ideas about the meaning of paternity. I call him the Good Family Man. As described by one of the fathers interviewed for this book, a good family man “puts his familyÂ first.”
If this book could be distilled into one sentence, it would be this: A good society celebrates the ideal of the man who puts his family first. Because our society is now lurching in the oppositeÂ direction. I see the Good Family Man as the principal casualty of today’s weakening fatherhood scripts. And because I cannot imagine a good society without him, I offer him as theÂ protagonist in the stronger script that I believe is both necessary and possible.
Comments from the Author
When was this book published? I think I’ve got a copy, but it’s the best part of twenty years out of date?
1995 is not so far back – Nothing much has changed other than the Stats confirming that more Kids don’t have influencial FATHERS – The book makes a joke of those of us who have fought so hard to FATHER our Kids – In my case 14 years and still fighting my way out of Claytons FAMILY Court Ordered **Equal Parenting** because WINZ refuse to recognise those Orders now that I am an Invalids Beneficiary because of reduced Heart function and serious reflux hassles, caused by the fight – Onward – Jim
The author talks about children being voluntarily abandoned by their fathers, mass defection of men from family life, and the flight of males from children’s lives. This is the kind of mistaken belief that leads people who should know better to talk about deadbeat dads trying to avoid their responsibilities to their children. Most children who miss out on family life with a father present can thank their mothers for this, and ultimately feminist ideology that taught those mothers to abandon their husbands and to deny their children a family if those husbands do not conform to women’s rules and preferences. Those rules and preferences are by and large out of step with male characteristics and preferences. It is now almost routine and predictable that women will abandon the men with whom they start a family before the children reach independence, the children thereby subjected to trauma and father deprivation. Leading feminists applaud this state of affairs.
i find the author of the book highly ignorant or deliberately glossing over real issues of fatherlessness…
Spot on brother.
Jim, do you realise that in 4 years you and your ex can’t fight over a child anymore? 18 years of a life to be in the middle of a warzone must be rather damaging.
Julie – I don’t fight his Mother – Have not done for many years – One of us had to STOP the War – She was not likely to stop as she has always needed to traffic our Son to survive – Examine the letters which I allowed you and many others to see last year – You and others said at that time that I was wrong to send him to his mum to live – You and others where very wrong – Are you finally beginning to understand why I did just that – The War is with WINZ for not honouring our FAMILY Court Ordered **Equal Parenting** which effects 1000’s of Men and their Kids in various forms. – Re-Read http://rationShed2.blogspot.com from the bottom post and listen loud to what I am saying – Javan in fact spends much time here – Today I happened to meet one of his teachers and he is doing very well at school – I also have privy to know he is doing well at soccer – I have no doubt I did the right thing — Miss him living here something shocking — But at the end of the day this is not about me — Never was – Onward – Jim
These anti-father family laws were brought for financial reasons without thinking of the consequences for families, the next generations will pay severely for what is happening
Thanks Jim for your reply. I have considered you a father who would put the welfare of his child first. So many men do what you have to keep the peace. I know it is not fair but women are not changing easily towards equality. They are gatekeeping not just the children but the services provided in the community.
Ian – Right on – The most obvious is so called Child Support – Yet another cleverly Spin Doctored name for a Western World-Wide Govt Edifice that embezzles millions of $Dollars$ from mostly FATHERS that have been distanced from their CHILDREN. Or in other words, STEALS Children off one half of their FAMILY in order to fund failed FAMILY Law and Social Policy.
Most of the stripped $Dollars$ go into a consolidated fund for discretionary use by the Minister of Inland Revenue – in our case the so called honourable Peter Dunne – Peter Dunne is in his 2nd maybe third term in this office and would be well aware of the destruction his precious CS causes our FAMILIES, from many suicides, to Kids who never see dad again, to the depression and illness that this now huge Govt funded Edifice causes.
The seniors of these World-Wide Edifices have expensive conferences in fine surroundings in different parts of the World several times each year, to strengthen their knowledge of each others latest methods to screw more from non-custodial Parents and thus their **Empire of Injustice** grows.
Onward – Jim
It’s good to meet a fellow who doesn’t mince words but tells it straight.
You are so easy to see through Skeptic. Go back to the drawing board.
I’m transparently admiring of Jim’s no-nonsense style of communication.
I don’t always agree with him on everything, but I trust him more than many because I know where I stand with him. He doesn’t beat around the bush, put forward half statements and use weasel words.
That’s the kind of person I like to be around and try to be.
Some people at times can’t handle that and so occasionally come out with
shirty and peurile comments exactly like –
“Go back to the drawing board” trying to put me down instead of addressing the issues I raise..
That’s your prerogative, but I reckon it weakens you in the eyes of others who see you don’t respond to the intellectual challenge of debating the issues but resort to sandpit style name-calling and spiteful insults instead.
That’s too bad Julie, I was starting to admire you as a progressive thinker.
Julie – I don’t understand your offensive-sounding statement to Skeptic.
JimBWarrior – I appreciate much of what you write but personally find your use of CAPITAL letters and *$symbols$* around certain words and repeated terms to be distracting and to reduce the credibility of your message. Just my reaction, for what it’s worth.
Skeptic, I deleted my comments to you on this thread and one on another.
I apologise for offending you or Jim.
I’ll try to remain cordial and avoid name calling too – directly or by implication.
I actually don’t mind what people call me as when folks start doing that then
I just think they’ve been emotionally triggered and it rolls off me.
I know enough about you to see how you could identify with Rankin to a certain extent.
But seriously I reckon you can be much greater than she who cheapens what is already a cheapened institution after 9 years of Labour with her tarty attire and her at times gobby thoughtlessness..
Can you try real hard. (please)
That’s very nice of you to say.
I came accross writing which relates very strongly to the topic of this thread recently.
So I am attaching a link to Stephen Baskerville’s latest article for your reflection.
Please be warned those who haven’t read it…..although it is an academic piece of writing
Baskerville doesn’t mince with words and states his views plainly and forcefully.
It is a very sobering piece of writing.
And for those caught in the kinds of systems he’s describing it will certianly push you emotionally.
Here is the link (to see and download the article just click on
the PDF document link at the top of the page)
A brief descriptor –
The new article, “From Welfare State to Police State,” has just been published in The Independent Review. This is the first comprehensive scholarly treatment of the Title IV-D federal child support enforcement funding system. It documents how federal funding is tearing apart families, driving divorce and single-parent homes, creating fatherless children, demanding patently impossible child support levels, encouraging paternity fraud, and criminalizing innocent parents.
I hope posting it here brings about three things –
First and foremost it arms folks with solid academic research useful to fight with.
Secondly it puts to death the silly and timewasting argument that because I’m not out
in the streets demonstrating on ‘family court’ judges or climbing tower cranes with
Dads for Justice banners that somehow I’m not doing something but just issuing endless
Thirdly I hope it encourages you to continue reading Baskerville who often seems insightful
and very articulate in describing aspects of fatherlessness as it unfolds accross USA – and by extension the western anglosphere.
Here hopefully is a clearer link.
“the effect of unilateral divorce laws of the 1970s combined with the new
child-support measures has been to underwrite involuntary divorce, rendering it a lucrative enterprise for both custodial parents and state governments, along with other interests that benefit from the creation of fatherless children”.
Dr Stephen Baskerville 2009
Dave aptly entitles it – “Our most pressing social problem”
AND THE COLLECTIVE SILENCE IS DEAFENING…………….
Skeptic, I think (possibly) you are talking over most of our heads. Who is Stephen Baskerville and why is he speaking the way he does? How does he want everyone to live?
A “Google Search” of “Stephen Baskerville” gives more than a plethora of information.
Being a Professor of an American University, an author and a well respected MRA blogger who deeply questions all ideology creating the misandry within Western Society.
East Auckland Refuge for Men and families
(09) 271 3020
Baskers has many Male Kiwi admirers – Go http://www.phc.edu/Stephen_Baskerville__Ph_D_.php – onward – Jim
Julie, Paul and Jim,
Thanks for comments.
It’s good to see the link and suggestion to Google search.
Julie, I’m sure you can take in Baskerville’s essay (a link to which I provided earlier in the thread). It’s academic writing for sure, but not too full of jargon to understand.
What I found more difficult was accepting his ideas at th emotional level (it meant accepting that western societies are even more rotten than I’d previously realised!)
Dr Baskerville’s insight is simple yet profound – and for many very disturbing.
He reckons that family life has over time been invaded so to speak by a plethora of self appointed government officials who form their own quasi-police state complete with thier investigators, judiiary, judges and many allied protagonists.
Little by little over the years they have garnered more and more power to police families and prosecute family members (again most often fathers) for crimes that over time they have invented.
When I first read Baskerville’s ideas it seemed such a bitter pill to swallow that it took me a long to accept them. But careful reading of how step by step, piece by piece by piece forces where brought into play to strip the family of it’s historic independence state control.
I see I’ve jumped the gun and I’m doing a lousy job here of trying to encapsulate the enormous scope, the breadth and depth of Baskerville’s ideas.
However, if I’ve stirred at least some curiosity about his views then I’ll be very happy.
Yes, thanks Paul and Jim for your comments. And Skeptic …
I thought you did very well. You have encouraged me to read the full longer version.
Things that happen when fathers are absent.
1. Children may feel unprotected. There is increased risk of abuse from new partners, strangers and the mother. (Farrel, 2001)
2. Boys may lack the clear, more black and white boundaries that males tend to hold.
3. Boys have more trouble with the police and law and anti-social behaviour. 90% of West Auckland police-involved youth are fatherless. (Interview Nov.2005)
4. Boys are more inclined to suicide and have poor mental health.
5. Fatherless males are 5 times more likely to suicide. 63% of youth suicides are from fatherless homes. ( McCann 1999)
6. Boys will be more dependent on mothers. The intensified relationship can make adolescent separation more troublesome and adversarial.
7. Boys are likely to transfer that dependency to a woman partner.
8. Under-fathered men are more likely to be violent to their partners. (Man Alive 1996)
9. Under-fathered girls are more likely to become pregnant. (N.Z. and U.S., 2 to 8 times Ellis, 2003)
10. The under-fathered child is more likely to use drugs. Fatherless boys are 10 times more likely to abuse chemicals. (McCann1999)
11. Fatherless boys may feel angry and cheated.
12. Male authority figures may receive a lot of the projected anger felt for the absent father.
13. Fatherless boys are 14 times more likely to rape. (McCann 1999)
14. Fatherless boys are 20 times more likely to end up in prison. (McCann 1999)
15. Some boys will feel the duty to be ‘the man’ and may become prematurely adultified.
16. Truancy may increase. Fatherless boys are 9 times more likely to drop out of high
school. They are 71% of high school dropouts. (US), (McCann 1999)
17. Poverty is more common. Single parent families are about 3 times more likely to experience poverty than a 2 parent home.
18. Educational achievements may be reduced. 90% of referrals to Resource Teachers of Learning and Behaviour are Boys. (Pudney 2000)
19. 90% of all homeless and runaway children come from fatherless homes. (US), (McCann1999)
20. There may be difficulty feeling confident with males in later life for both boys and girls.
21. Physical health tends to be reduced.
Two male youth advisers and the domestic violence co-ordinator from Waitakere Police were interviewed and asked if they considered fathering important.
Their response :-
“The majority of fathers we deal with do not have fathers themselves. 90% of the youth offenders dealt with do not have fathers. We must do something about fatherhood as a factor.
Parenting is vital. We are seeing an intergenerational cycle. Fathers hold the key to peace” (Waitakere Police H.Q., Nov. 2005)
The advisors reported that male offenders are the majority of the police clients. They considered that bonding with the father or a significant male had not taken place. ‘Father hasn’t bonded or is absent.’ Corrections figures indicate that 97% haven’t had bonding
with fathers, (About Time Report, 2001).
Mark Rowley – the Mens Centre North Shore Chair before me – Introduced me to Baskers in the late 90’s – I shared Skeptics name sake feelings then but soon began to see he is right onto it – Then I discovered the immense respect he and his university hold World-Wide – Its from these real Icons of the Men and their FAMILIES Movement that I have founded my belief that the way ahead is to take ALL the power from those who would destroy the **Whole Natural Biological FAMILY** by Enshrining Preferential **Equal Parenting**, even better HandsOnEqualParenting deep within World-Wide FAMILY Law and Social Policy.
It’s proving to be the most difficult task as the idea has many enemies.
In New Zealand the greatest enemy is the Men and their FAMILIES movement itself.
Onward – Jim
Wow – That was some seminar – Thanks for the reminder – I then had faith in the NZ Men and their FAMILIES Movement – Shame your local MP Paula Bennett is not listening tooo loud to Warwick and team – She has had 6 months to reverse the disaster brought upon Javan and I by 9 years of ABUSE from WINZ but has to date done nothing – I live in hope as does my Son – Onward – Jim
Julie (and others who take up the invitation to read Baskerville – see post #11)
A friendly warning….
once you get the profound depth of what Baskerville is expressing there may be no turning back.
It can be a harrowing experience to begin to see regularly, day in day out the phenomenon he is describing. It can lead to deep resentment at how YOUR taxmoney is being used to oppress you and others who don’t need statism (google or wikipedia that term if you don’t already know it)
Seriously, have a friend/friends you can talk to to debrief if you feel shocked and overwhelmed for a while as I was to discover all around me the truth Baskerville cleverly uncovers.
When you undergo a paradigm shift like that it’s disorienting for a while. It’s like the old story once you begin to see the first volkswagon beetle, you begin to see them all over the place…………only this beetle’s got horns and pincers, big nasty sharp ones……..
Here’s another significant part of the problem of fatherlessness…..
A quote from the article which stands out….
“But what about divorced moms who do not allow the father to visit his children, despite court orders allowing him to do so? Another study, “Visitational Interference: A National Study” by J. Annette Vanini and Edward Nichols, found that 77 percent of noncustodial fathers are not able to spend time with their children, as ordered by the court, as a result of “visitation interference” perpetuated by the custodial parent. This would mean that noncompliance with court-ordered visitation is three times the problem of noncompliance with court-ordered child support. In short, lousy moms outnumber deadbeat dads 3-1″.
What, do you mean those brave mothers protecting their children from the undesirable maleness of their fathers?
Stephen Baskerville writes:
The falling birth rate throughout the Western world has been attributed to family dissolution and to women’s entrance into the workforce, among other factors (Carlson 2003), but it may also indicate an increasing unwillingness among men to marry and start families (Whitehead and Popenoe 2001), a reluctance born of their increasing fear that they can lose their children, be driven into poverty, and then face criminal penalties for failure to pay child support that is beyond their means (Sacks and Thompson 2002). Abraham warns that the only effective way that men can avoid losing their children, earnings,and freedom is not to start families in the first place (1999, i).
My 20yr old son has just left home with a firm determination to remain free of commitment and fatherhood rather than living under the Power & Control of any potential partner and with the $tate taking her side while ignoring the needs and rights of his children and him.
I have another 15yr old son who thinks similarly.
They have both endured the abuse from $tate supported mothers while suffering the $tate enforced isolation from their fathers.
They’ve both witnessed the $tate supported(CYF$) perjuries entered as true evidence in our Family Court.
They’ve both witnessed their mothers submit deliberate perjuries to our Family Court and without consequence to their mothers.
They’ve seen Family Court Judges continue to allow further perjuries being submitted by their mothers despite already having been exposed as lying.
They’ve seen their mother’s $tate funded lawyer drag the case on ….. forever!… while their fathers struggle to pay $150 per/hour.
They’ve witnessed their mothers threaten and verbally abuse their Dads while hiding behind the umbrella of their Protection Orders.
They’ve both witnessed their mothers become violent toward their Dads and have called the Police for assistance, only to have their Dad escorted from their home because their mothers have invoked their rights inlcuded with having a Protection Order. They have both remained exposed to an abusive parent despite calling the Police for assistance.
Tust me!…. they have seen much more.
I suspect the future face of New Zealanders might more resemble people from countries with a surplus of males such as China and India. Our young men are becoming too AWARE to fall in to the fatherhood trap. They KNOW it’s all about dollar$. My sons will be keeping their$ thank-you.
Yet more GOOD news from England , views from the daughter of Alice Walker (famous iconic feminist)
GOOD FATHERS HAVE KNOWN THIS FOR YEARS AND YEARS