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The Father Factor

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Roland Warren

Roland Warren is President and CEO of Care Net. He is the former President of National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI) and currently serves as a board member at NFI. He is married with two sons.

Recent Posts

Adrian Peterson’s Child Abuse Situation—Did We Learn the Right Lessons?

Recently, USA Today published at story titled, “Peterson’s Remorse is Real.” The article was the result of 90-minute interview the Minnesota Viking player Adrian Peterson about how to address his September 11, 2014 felony indictment for severely disciplining his 4-year-old son with a switch. 

adrian peterson child abuse discipline

What struck me as ironic about this situation was how much it resembled a typical penalty call on an NFL play. Society's "referee" blew the whistle and said, "We have a penalty on number 28 of the Minnesota Vikings... Roughing a 4-year-old... Illegal use of the hands... Loss of salary and the ability to play for the rest of the season." And, then we were on to the next play. After all, Peterson was remorseful and said that he learned his lesson because he "won't ever use a switch again..."

However, despite Peterson's remorse, as a fatherhood "coach," I am compelled to throw a red challenge flag. We desperately need to review the tape again, because buried in the USA Today article was an important point that too few talked about. 

But, as a fatherhood coach, I have to throw a red challenge flag on this one and suggest that we review the tape again. You see, buried in the USA Today article was a point that few talked about.  

Peterson has six children with six different women—five of which are not in his home. 

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not saying the Peterson is not sorry for what he did to the child that he switched that day. My issue is what he is doing to his other children that he didn’t switch. You see, father absence is a form of abuse and neglect, especially when a father creates children where he’s absent by design. And this is exactly what Peterson has done.  

Indeed, there are sins of commission and there are sins of omission. I believe that a child has a hole in his or her soul in the shape of a dad and that God whispers to a child in a mother’s womb that there will be a special one who will be present and love like no other. If a father is unable or unwilling to do this, it can leave a wound and a sense of abandonment that will leave a mark more severe and long lasting than a switch. 

Moreover, I suspect the fact that Peterson doesn’t live with his 4-year-old son contributed to the likelihood of abuse. Why? Because a father can’t really know a child’s temperament and needs well without spending “quality and quantity” time with his child. Like a football play, a child develops and changes quickly. And, like Peterson needs to be in the huddle to hear a play, a father needs to be in the home to understand a child’s way. Otherwise, a father will discipline from the wrong playbook. Alas, in Peterson’s case, it was a playbook full of “switch play” that was passed down to him from his absent father.

Interestingly, the USA Today article said Peterson must now prove that he is not an absent parent. But, he is an absent parent, by his own design, to most of his children. Why? Because he failed to truly consider how his actions would impact his children. When one pursues short-term sexual pleasure, there can be long-term consequences on others, especially children. And, although Peterson may now have a desire to be a present father, he cannot be for most of his children. Discipline, not just desire, determines a father’s involvement and what needs to be disciplined most is a father’s sexual appetite. That’s why it’s not surprising that children do best across every psychological, social, educational, and economic measure of child well being, and are less likely to be abused, by fathers who are married to their children’s mothers. Good fathering is like good real estate. It’s about location, location, location. 

Think about it this way. Let’s suppose that when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell reinstates Peterson, he gives him a special type of privilege that allows him to play simultaneously for six different teams in six different cities. And suppose that Peterson assures each team that he cares about and is totally committed to each team’s success. Now, consider what would happen. Each team and its fans would be livid. Why? Because wherever Peterson plays, his teams need him every play, and on a given Sunday, some teams will suffer. Well, Peterson’s children need him every day. He may be fast but he can’t transcend the space and time continuum to kiss and tuck all of his children into bed at night. Alas, some children will suffer. 

And here’s the sad part. No doubt, there would be more outrage about what Peterson would be doing to NFL football if he tried to play for six teams than has occurred regarding what Peterson is doing to his children. Unfortunately, our culture has a higher standard for football than it does for fatherhood. Scandals and bad actions of players are quickly forgotten when the product on the field -- a highly electrifying, exciting sport - continues to distract society from important off-the-field issues. Case in point - the New England Patriots exciting Super Bowl win for now has likely put an end to most of the talk of domestic violence and cheating allegations flying around the league. 

In my view, there are two lessons that Peterson needed to learn, and both involve discipline: How to discipline his children and how to discipline himself. Did he learn them? Only time will tell. But, better yet, did we learn anything? Unfortunately, I fear not. It's on to the NBA plalyoffs...

The Ultimate Guide to Connecting With Your Child

What Should We Do About Men?

question mark resized 600The latest sortie in our culture’s “men are unnecessary” phenomenon has come from a Boise State University biologist named Greg Hampikian.

In an op-ed published recently in the New York Times, Dr. Hampikian makes a biological argument against men: because the male role in reproduction has been made obsolete by technology, men are unnecessary.

However, he uses this biological argument to make a cultural one. He does a cost-benefit analysis and concludes, based on the fact that men are more violent and live fewer years than women, that we don’t need men anymore. Another underpinning to his argument is research that shows that children being raised in single-mother households are “doing fine.”

Dr. Hampikian’s argument is flawed for several reasons, but I will address two of the more important ones.

First is the lack of logic in the whole thing. If what Dr. Hampikian argues is true – that men contribute nothing unique or valuable to the human race – then wouldn’t his very article be dismissed as irrelevant and unnecessary? After all, he is a man and had his opinion published, implying that there is something unique and valuable that he has contributed to society. Therefore, his argument is self-defeating.

Second, and most important, is Dr. Hampikian’s glossing over of the three-plus decades of social science research that have all but proven that fathers play a unique and irreplaceable role in their children’s lives. He cherry picks research from Sarah McLanahan, which, when inspected closely, is not as cut and dried as Dr. Hampikian wants you to believe. Dr. McLanahan’s research was on low-income, high-risk families – referred to as “fragile families” – so, of course, poverty was a primary concern for these families. But in her large body of research over many years, McLanahan explores, in depth, the contributions of fathers beyond another paycheck.

Furthermore, there is an enormous body of academic research out there, readily accessible by someone like Dr. Hampikian, that shows that across every measure of child well-being, independent of family income, fathers contribute something important. We cite a small sample of that research here.

The most troubling part in all of this is where this sort of logic can lead us – ideas have consequences. Could we not argue, using Dr. Hampikian’s scary and flawed cost-benefit analysis model, that there are “unnecessary” races or groups on the planet that could be eliminated? Isn’t that the calculus the Nazis used to justify the elimination of the handicapped? As a black man, this sort of thinking sounds all too eerily familiar.

Or can we afford, in a world where hundreds of millions of children are growing up in father-absent homes, to give men yet another reason to check out of their responsibilities as dads, even if those responsibilities are only financial? Take the black community. In too many of our neighborhoods, astronomical rates of father absence – over 80% in the worst cases – are making life very challenging for too many children. They are more likely to be poor, use drugs, fail in school, be abused, and face a whole host of other risks. If Dr. Hampikian takes a closer look at those neighborhoods, I am certain his vision of a men-free, and consequently father-free utopia, would take a big hit.

Since the chances of us ever seeing a women-only world are extremely low, the important question is not “are men necessary?” but “what does society require of the men who inevitably will exist?” It is a binary choice – we either encourage and inspire them to take seriously their responsibilities to society and to their families, or we expect nothing of them because they are essentially useless. I would not want to live in a world in which we decide the latter.

But, then again, if Dr. Hampikian had his way, I won’t have to.

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