Fatherless U.S.: A Nation in Decline

Fatherless U.S.: A Nation in Decline
"Jas" Shaw and his father, Jamiel Shaw. Sr. (Image via Heavy)

U.S. society and culture today are in decline.  It leaps out at us from the pages of newspapers and television screens.  It appears in the pronouncements and policies of government, business, the news media and academia.  Our core values and ideals – the rule of the people, freedom of speech and assembly, of the press and religion, due process of law, equality under the law – are under attack and far less by outside forces than by us.  (By “us” I mean mostly the power elites C. Wright Mills described in his 1956 book by that name.)

Here is a short list of indicators of that decline:

·        Simple factual honesty is now considered optional at best and disdained at worst;

·        Due process of law is under attack (mostly by the “Left”);

·        Many of our constitutional rights and liberties are under attack (mostly by the “Left”);

·        Government censorship is on the rise and embraced by much of the “Left”;

·        The idea of objectivity as a worthy goal is being dismissed;

·        The idea that there are objective facts with which it is necessary to deal is deemed a white, patriarchal and therefore dangerous concept;

·        That there are only two sexes is widely understood to be a white, patriarchal and therefore dangerous concept;

·        Merit is widely considered a white, patriarchal and therefore dangerous concept;

·        Our society is, in the words of Charles Murray, “Coming Apart,” i.e., the classes increasingly neither associate with nor talk to each other;

·        Anti-black racism is now regarded as the major cause of racial disparities and has replaced alternative ideas that could actually help the cause of racial equality;

·        Anti-female sexism is now regarded as the major cause of inequalities that disfavor women and girls;

·        That anti-white or anti-male bias can explain some of the inequalities that disfavor whites and men is dismissed out of hand;

·        That all white males, regardless of how heroic, accomplished or beneficial to humankind, are to be disdained as racist misogynists is widely accepted;

·        The U.S. Congress is a house divided, perhaps irremediably;

·        Americans don’t trust Congress;

·        Americans don’t trust the news media;

·        The increasing power of the national security state is widely applauded (mostly by the “Left”);

·        The two major political parties are losing control of their own extremist elements;

·        The federal debt is about 25% higher than U.S. GDP and threatens both our future ability to finance governmental programs and the dollar as the preferred world currency;

·        Victim status, and therefore emotional/psychological frailty, is now a socially valuable asset;

·        “Equity” (equal outcomes) has replaced equality (equal opportunities) as a national goal;

·        The federal government appears to be incompetent to handle even relatively minor problems;

·        Almost 40% of working-age adults are neither working nor looking for work.

But, in all of that incompetence and dysfunction, one thing stands out as the most telling, the most impactful development in the decline of the U.S. – the destruction of the family and the sidelining of fathers.

For about 500,000 years, human beings have been a bi-parental species; our children need to be raised by both parents because mothers and fathers tend to parent differently and kids need both in order to become the fully socialized adults our complex society requires.

The list of individual deficits of children raised without fathers is too long to be detailed here, but suffice it to say that the absence of Dad is highly correlated with a wide array of problems like poorer mental and physical health, greater involvement in crime and drug and alcohol abuse, lower probability of employment, poorer educational outcomes and the like.  Single mothers with minor children are at greater risk for poverty and victimization by domestic violence than other mothers.  The mental health of fathers without their kids tends to suffer.  Finally, our efforts to treat the many symptoms of the disease of fatherlessness drains the public purse.

We’ve known this for many years, at least since 1993 when Barbara Dafoe Whitehead wrote, in The Atlantic Monthly, her clarion call for sane family policies.  Since then, the information on the need for fathers in the lives of children has only gotten more extensive and persuasive.  It is the shocking discrepancy between what we know about fatherlessness and what we fail to do about it that so condemns this moment in our history.  We know its devastating effects, but we do essentially nothing to correct them.  Indeed, fatherlessness is mostly a result of conscious public policy.

In that context comes the latest academic appreciation of fathers, this one penned by the excellent David Geary, Curators’ Distinguished Professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences and the Interdisciplinary Neuroscience Program at the University of Missouri.  Geary is among the very best of commentators on a variety of human biology- and family-related topics.  His book, “Male, Female” is indispensable to a sound understanding of the biology of the sexes.  Unsurprisingly, Geary’s linked-to article adds to the already abundant literature on the value of fathers to kids and society.  For that we thank him.

And yet.

His prescriptions for addressing our crisis of fatherlessness are woefully insufficient.  They are, in their entirety, “fostering the educational engagement of boys and men,” “increasing opportunities for training in things-oriented trades,” “nixing hostile, anti-male rhetoric,” “effective policing” and “engagement with religious leaders.”   As Poe said, “only this and nothing more.”

Those aren’t “solutions.”  At best, they’re half-hearted efforts to treat a few of the symptoms of fatherlessness while leaving fatherlessness itself intact.  They nowhere address or even mention the many public policies and practices that separate fathers from their children and families and denigrate men generally.  Failure to do that most important of all tasks is acquiescence to the status quo that’s dangerous and getting worse.

Put simply, we need to change the many laws that marginalize fathers and we need to educate lawyers, judges, mental health professionals, public office holders, journalists and their editors, teachers, etc. about the vital necessity of raising children with, whenever possible, two biological parents.  That education should begin, for everyone, in grade school.  Throughout it all, we need to stop the wholesale denigration of men, whether fathers or not.  Amazingly, studies of television programming show that, side-by-side with our growing appreciation of the value of fathers, their depiction on the small screen is actually getting worse, more demeaning, with time.  That must stop.

What also must stop is our widespread tendency to treat mothers in family courts as if the choices they make – regardless of how destructive – cannot be questioned.  We must begin to demand that mothers change their ways that exacerbate the problem of fatherlessness.  One amazing aspect of Geary’s article is that it nowhere suggests that mothers might contribute to the problem of fatherlessness.  Here’s one small example:

Children are often better off in single-parent households if the two-parent household is riven by continuous, unresolvable conflict, or if the father is engaged in antisocial behavior (especially for boys).

See?  Mothers, it seems, never engage “in anti-social behavior,” or, if they do, it has no deleterious effect on children or the family.

Women initiate about 70% of divorce cases that for decades have shattered families and deprived children of perfectly capable and loving fathers.  They often do so because of their male partner’s loss of his job, so one requisite for strengthening the family is for women to set aside their tendency to hypergamy, i.e., their preference for a male partner who earns more than they do.

When divorce is necessary, mothers (and fathers) need to stop demanding sole or primary custody except in extreme cases.  They need to promote equal parenting when the circumstances permit.  Mothers need to learn that maternal gatekeeping – mother’s restriction on the father’s interaction with their child – is injurious to the child; they need to understand that men and women parent differently and that each is necessary to the child’s well-being.  They need to learn that domestic violence against their male partner is as inappropriate as his is toward her.  They need to stop using the domestic violence system to gain an upper hand in child custody cases.  They need to stop using the adoption system to remove fathers from children’s lives.

Until we begin teaching all that and much more, we’ll continue to produce dysfunctional families, marginalized fathers and fatherless kids, with all the social dysfunction that entails.

Sadly, Geary’s piece, while informative on the need for fathers, misses the boat in offering solutions to the crisis of fatherlessness.  It lets off the hook both public policies and practices that exacerbate the problem, and mothers who play a large part in separating fathers from their kids.  In so doing, it strongly suggests that fathers and fathers alone must, in some unspecified way, shoulder the burden of overcoming the effects of those policies and practices and the mothers who take advantage of them.

When even the best of us can’t muster a real attack on such a dysfunctional status quo, we know we live in a nation in decline.


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