Lancaster New Era

THEY CAN'T PUT A HAPPY FACE ON FATHERLESSNESS

Sunday, July 25, 1999
By Maggie Gallagher,
Syndicated Columnist
Lancaster New Era

The American Psychological Association, fresh from Dr. Laura's pummeling for a study that urged us to view "adult-child sex" in a less pejorative light, has done it again. "Reconstructing the Essential Father," by two Yeshiva University scholars, appeared in the June issue of the American Psychologist, which lands on the desk of almost every practicing psychologist in America.

Their goal: To torpedo the emerging new consensus that intact marriages are important for kids.

At least they admit it: "Our goal is to generate public policy initiatives that support (fathers) without discriminating against women and same-sex couples ..: (and) that support the legitimacy of diverse family structures, rather than policy that privileges the two-parent, heterosexual, married family."

Take that pesky idea that mothers and fathers are, well, different. Did you know that male mountain gorillas with harems don't spend a lot of time in child care, while marmoset fathers, whose "wives" always have twins, must care for them so she can eat enough to nurse them? That human fathers sometimes care for infants full-time? From data like this, they conclude that "both men and women have the same biological potential for nurturing."

They make the astonishing claim that the least amount of father involvement can be found in "poor, unmarried teen- age fathers and upper-class fathers in traditional nuclear families." Have they ever heard of absent dads?

Yes, for they report that out of one sample of 45 urban teen girls who didn't live with their fathers, seven saw them weekly, while "only" 10 had almost no contact with them. That proves that "it is not the decline of marriage that is discouraging responsible fathering. Rather, various social conditions inhibit involved parenting by unmarried and divorced men." Gee, silly meI thought actually living with your dad was likely to encourage contact with him. Poor, noncustodial fathers who have jobs are more likely than unemployed dads to pay child support, they note. From data like this, they conclude "... it is economics, not marriage that matters." Huh?

Our new desire to strengthen marriage is in their view just a scary attempt to reassert "the cultural hegemony of traditional values, such as heterocentrism, Judeo-Christian marriage, and male power and privilege." It leads to horrible, unrealistic policies like giving job help to low-income married fathers (and not just welfare mothers), or a more marriage-friendly tax code. Instead, these hard-headed professors urge more practical solutions, like reconstructing traditional masculine ideology so men care for infants as much as women.

Statements like "responsible fathering can occur within a variety of family structures" are obviously in some technical sense true. What they are not is relevant to the current debate, which asks:

Under what conditions are children likely to fare best? And, are adults obligated to provide, if they can, the best situation for their kids?

What a healthy marriage provides fathers and their kids is not one thing, but a series of things: more money, more time with mother as well as father, more consistent discipline and a model of family commitment and love. Married fathers and mothers every day declare to their kids: Family bonds last.

When fathers and mothers aren't married, these things happen: They don't live together. They develop new emotional, financial and erotic obligations to spouses or romantic partners who aren't in love with their kids. They find new things to fight about too often, as mothers experience repeated disappointments and fathers juggle their various conflicting emotions and obligations.

All parents struggling to raise responsible kids deserve our support. But a few words issued from an ivory tower aren't going to change the reality of fatherlessness that, sadly, too many of our children today know by heart.