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Are More Moms Opting In or Opting Out?

The following is a post from Christopher A. Brown, Executive Vice President and Vincent DiCaro, Vice President of National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI). Interested in blogging for us? Read our guest blog guidelines.

Whenever we think our culture has come a long way in the last 15 years on this issue, we see an article that reminds us that a lot of work remains to be done.  

girl in mom shoes are more women opting in or out nfi fatherhoodAn article published this month on "The Daily Beast" website (a Newsweek property) has caused a lot of furor. The article, called "No Dad? No Problem. Meet the Moms Who Opt In Forever—and Aren’t Complaining," exemplifies an attitude that is growing in popularity in certain cultural circles; that kids do just fine without dads. To point, other than the mention of the word "dad" in the article's title, the remainder of the article has nothing to say about fathers or fatherhood.

So, despite the mountains of evidence that, on average, these children are at risk across every measure of child well-being, the article ignores the data and instead ends with a quote from one mom, whose own words prove that this is not about the well-being of children, but about "personal fulfillment" for adults: "I get to raise my child however I want. There’s no stress, no tension about child-rearing choices. Now I’m happy all the time. There’s not the emotional up and down. There’s never going to be custody disputes. She’ll never be taken away from me. I’ll never have that worry. It’s not as hard as people imagine."    

The article contends that more moms are opting in to a life filled with the demands of work and parenting and doing it all on their own. These moms, dubbed SMCs (single mothers by choice), like the idea of having complete control over their lives including the raising of their children. A life that is free from the trials and tribulations created by men and marriage. There’s even a group called Single Mothers by Choice that SMCs can join and through which they can connect with other SMCs for mutual support. The group even helps SMCs form virtual and local support networks. The philosophy of the group is as follows:  

“The word “choice” in our title has two implications: we have made a serious and thoughtful decision to take on the responsibility of raising a child by ourselves, and we have chosen not to bring a child into a relationship that is not a satisfactory one.”  

We question how thoughtful that decision really is. (It’s certainly a serious one, but not for the reasons these moms might think.) They’re certainly not thinking about the increased risk their children face growing up without a dad. Indeed, in an article chocked full of quotes from SMCs, not a single one mentions anything about the children. They focus instead on how these mothers benefit from being SMCs. Thoughtful, it seems, means “thinking only about me.”  

We also question the second implication of their choice and its validity. By definition, these mothers have chosen to bring a child into the world in the absence of a relationship, not in the presence of an unsatisfactory one. That part of their philosophy is simply a way to make themselves feel better about their choice—a convenient, and untruthful, excuse. The fact is they don’t want to mess with men and marriage and are willing to position their choice against an implication that doesn’t exist for them.  

Finally, we question the sanity of that choice—bringing more fatherless children into the world. A country with 24 million fatherless children (1 in 3) and a world with millions more. A country in which it costs taxpayers at least 100 billion annuallyto pay for the consequences of father absence. So while these moms are opting in to a life as a SMC, they’re opting out of giving their children the love of an involved, responsible, committed father.

Question: How do you think a child should be raised?

image: iStockPhoto

Why Do People Continue to Believe Children Don’t Need Fathers?

The following is a post from Christopher A. Brown, Executive Vice President of National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI). Interested in blogging for us? Email here.

i <3 You

I continue to struggle with the fact that so many people in our country deny that fathers play a distinct, irreplaceable role in children’s lives. Despite reams of data to the contrary, people believe that fathers are replaceable—that they simply fulfill a role that any man or any woman can fulfill. Indeed, National Fatherhood Initiative’s Pop’s Culture and Mama Says surveys reveal that a majority of American men and women, respectively, believe that another man or a woman can replace a child’s father. The resulting conclusion that a majority of Americans have reached is that dads are dispensable. As W. Brad Wilcox pointed out in a recent article in The Atlantic, many scholars and writers have come to the same conclusion, which gives further credence to a view that is refuted by decades of research.  

Then why does this belief persist? Wilcox, who directs the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, says that it “has a lot of intuitive appeal in an era where millions of women have children outside of marriage, serve as breadwinner moms to their families, or are raising children on their own.” He goes on to point out that this belief ignores not only the evidence that fathers are indispensable, it also ignores the evidence that fathers parent differently than mothers and that the difference is good for children. In Gender and Parenthood: Biological and Social Scientific Perspectives, a new book that Wilcox co-edited, he covers four distinct ways in which fathers parent, each of which are supported by substantial evidence:  

  • Physical (“roughhouse”) play characterized by arousal, excitement, and predictability,
  • Encouraging risk through embracing challenges and encouraging independence,
  • Protection of children through physical size, strength, and “public presence” (a deterrent to would-be predators), and
  • More frequent and firmer discipline.

Moreover, Wilcox notes that these distinct forms of parenting lead to positive outcomes for children that are also supported by research. Children with involved fathers are, for example, less likely to engage in delinquent behavior and become pregnant (or get someone pregnant) as teens.  

While I agree with Wilcox’s assertion for the persistence of the belief that fathers are indispensable, we have to dig deeper to further understand why so many people ignore the evidence and, frankly, the common sense that fathers are not replaceable. Two additional reasons, one cultural and the other psychological, contribute to this ignorance.  

First, American culture is individualistic rather than collectivistic. It is marked by rugged individualism, the belief that individuals can overcome almost any challenge and rise to greatness, and that people should focus on improving their own lives rather than improving society if doing so comes at their own expense. Our constitution and laws are primarily designed to protect and give freedom to individuals. The fact that our culture focuses on the individual does not mean that Americans don’t come together and sacrifice their interests for each other or the common good (e.g. to defend our country against invaders). But when push comes to shove, the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many.  

As a result of living in such a culture, Americans tend to ignore population-based evidence. A body of evidence is necessarily population-based because it considers the impact of an issue on a large group of people to reach conclusions about the impact of an issue on the broader population, country, culture, etc. That’s the problem. It’s not a problem with the evidence—it’s clear. The problem is that we live in a culture that makes it difficult for people to accept even a large body of evidence, not to mention act on it. People rely instead on their own experiences (and, sometimes, those of family or friends) to draw broad conclusions about a variety of issues, not just this one. If their experiences don’t match up with the evidence, they simply ignore it and erroneously conclude that their experiences also apply to our society. They might also use “outliers” (exceptions) to ignore the evidence. If they are a child from a father-absent home and turned out fine, raised a child in a father-absent home who turned out fine, or know of someone from a father-absent home who turned out fine, then, clearly, fathers must not be important.  

Second, people are drawn to sources of information that confirm what they already believe and ignore information that doesn’t fit with how they see the world. Psychologists call this tendency “confirmation bias.” As Chip and Dan Health mention in their book Decisive, confirmation bias negatively affects decision-making. “Researchers have found this result again and again. When people have the opportunity to collect information from the world, they are more likely to select information that supports their preexisiting attitudes, beliefs, and actions…The tricky thing about the confirmation bias is that it can look very scientific.” The effects of confirmation bias increase with the emotional nature of the issue—the more emotionally-charged an issue is the more likely someone will experience this bias. When people search for evidence that supports the belief that fathers are irreplaceable, they seek out sources that support this belief, which further concretizes it in their minds. They become even harder to convince, especially because this issue is so emotionally-charged.  

National Fatherhood Initiative started nearly 20 years ago because its founders recognized and acted upon population-based evidence—evidence that has only continued to accumulate. We continue, and write blog posts like this one, because so many people ignore this evidence. Frankly, I wish this country didn’t need our organization. But we will continue as long as it does and, most importantly, as long as there are children who need their dads. 

image: http://flic.kr/p/4zvfEj

Building a Better Dad—Should We Start Earlier?

The following is a post from Tim Wright. Tim is Pastor at Community of Grace and author of Searching for Tom Sawyer: How Parents and Congregations Can Stop the Exodus of Boys from Church. A version of this post originally appeared in Huffington Post. Interested in blogging for us? Email here.

These are interesting days to be a dad. On the one hand, research overwhelmingly tells us that dads play an essential role in the lives of their sons and daughters. On the other hand, certain voices in culture not only question the necessity of a dad, but insist that dads are obsolete. This past Father's Day, CNN featured a debate on this question: Are some kids better off without a dad? (Can you imagine a similar debate about motherhood on Mother's Day?)

medium 8553474140Deadbeat dadsAbsent dads. Father wounds. Dumbed-down TV sitcom dads. The labels are not handsome. But increasingly, they seem to ring true. Too many dads have dropped the fatherhood ball. Perhaps we need to start the process earlier -- in fact, much earlier, when potential dads are still boys.

Much of what a father does or does not do is "built" into him as he grows into manhood. The values he embraces, the parenting he receives and the decisions he makes are the materials of future fatherhood. Denny Coates (Conversations with the Wise Uncle) reminds us that the thinking, reasoning, critical part of the brain develops in kids in their teen years. How they use their brain and what they put into their brain during those years will set the course for the rest of their lives, including parenting.

Sadly, the building process for boys is often counter-productive to equipping them for great manhood, let alone fatherhood:

  • 70% of all D's and F's are given to boys
  • 85% of stimulant addressing drugs prescribed throughout the world are prescribed to US boys
  • Boys have fallen behind girls in virtually every area of education
  • One in three boys is now considered a "heavy" porn user, with the average boy watching nearly two hours of porn every week.
  • Boys spend 13 hours a week playing video games. As a result, boys brains are being digitally rewired in a totally new way to demand change, novelty, excitement, and constant stimulation...That means they are becoming totally out of synch in traditional school classes, which are analog, static, and interactively passive.
  • According to Kathleen Parker, author of Save the Males, young men now in their twenties have never experienced a culture in which men were respected or expected to be gentlemen.
  • One in three U.S. children live without a father.
  • Some 40% of boys will spend at least a part of their growing up years without a dad.

The good news: We can reverse that storyline. In addition to giving men the tools they need to be great dads, we can start building great dads now by training our boys in the art of fatherhood.

Here are a few ways to get started:

Give boys a heroic vision for manhood. A vision built on honor, courage, commitment, sacrifice, love, compassion, forgiveness, wisdom and grace. This happens through mentoring, teaching, correction and rites of passage programs.

Give boys purpose. As we see a boy's emerging gifts and talents, affirm them in him. What he's good at is a powerful clue to his purpose for life. (See Michael Gurian: The Purpose of Boys)

Give boys masculine energy. In their report, Wayward Sons: The Emerging Gender Gap in Labor Markets and EducationThirdway.org looks, in part, at the impact of boys being raised without dads. In addition to listing the often cited downsides for boys without a dad, the authors offer this unique perspective: If children aim to emulate adult roles of their same-sex parent, then girls may increasingly expect to fully support both themselves and their children, whereas, conversely, males may come to anticipate a less central or more transient role. (p. 47). In other words, girls being raised by mom see that raising children and working outside of the home are what women do. Boys raised by moms see no role for the male in the family and more often than not live down to that level. Dads are built by dads. So, the key to building great dads is to surround our boys with great dads -- their own dads and/or other men -- who can model responsibility, love, compassion, and fatherhood to these dads in the making.

Give boys the chance to interact with children. When age-appropriate, give boys the chance to mentor younger children, either by helping out in a church Sunday School class or nursery, or through connecting with local organizations that offer kids clubs.

Imagine a world where deadbeat dads are replaced by life-enhancing dads; where absent dads are replaced by fully-engaged dads and where fathers are no longer the source of deep wounds, but the source of strength, affirmation, love and hope.

The secret to that kind of a dad: Start building him early, when he's still a boy.

Is the answer to creating a better dad 'starting earlier'? Why or why not?

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photo credit: the UMF

The Precipitous Drop in Teen Birth Rates & What it Means for Dads

The following is a post from Christopher A. Brown, Executive Vice President of National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI). Interested in blogging for us? Email here.

Last week the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released astounding data on the precipitous decline in the teen birth rate. The birth rate for teens 15-19 years of age fell 25 percent from 2007-2011 to an all-time low. The most significant drop, 34 percent, occurred among Hispanic teens.  

medium 5549214174Dr. Howard Koh, the Assistant Secretary of Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, notes in the Huffington Post that this is an acceleration of the decline we’ve witnessed for more than two decades. Dr. Koh points to a number of key factors that have led to this decline that include stronger pregnancy-prevention efforts (e.g. most notably those spearheaded by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy), teens choosing to delay sex (i.e. abstinence), and contraceptive use among sexually-active teens. The good news from NFI’s perspective is that this decline helps prevent father absence in the lives of children and the range of poor outcomes that these children experience, on average.  

As I reflected on these data and read Dr. Koh’s article, I couldn’t help but wonder why, despite this long-term trend, we see rates of unwed childbearing at an all-time high. The reason is that, more than ever, women in their twenties are having children out-of-wedlock. As I pointed out in an earlier post, nearly half of all births to twentysomethings (48 percent) occur outside of marriage. Coupled with the increase in age among women marrying for the first time exceeding the age at which they give birth to their first child, fathers should be very concerned about the prospects of our grandchildren growing up without involved, responsible, committed fathers in their lives.  

So what are fathers to make of all this good and not-so-good news? One thing for certain is that fathers can breathe a little easier knowing that their teens are less likely to become pregnant or get someone pregnant than when they (fathers) were teenagers. (Can you hear a big “Whew!” coming from this father of two teenage daughters?) But none of us should be under any illusion that there aren’t the same temptations for teens today to have sex than when we were in their shoes. In other words, don’t let any grass grow under your feet as you consider when to send your daughters or sons the message to not have sex until, ideally, they are married.  

What these data reinforce for every father is that the job of a father never ceases. When it comes to ensuring that our grandchildren grow up in homes with involved, responsible, committed fathers—regardless of whether we have daughters or sons—our work extends beyond adolescence and into our children’s twenties. We can’t breathe easy when we realize that so many children in our country are still at risk of growing up without involved, responsible, and committed fathers in their lives because of trends to which many Americans are oblivious. 

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photo credit: imagineerz

What Remains After a Father Leaves

This is a guest post by Lori E. Allan. Lori's poem, "Absence" won first place in the Dudley Randall poetry competition at the University of Detroit Mercy. The poem talks about the struggle and disappointment that comes with the absence of a father. Below is the story behind the poem, followed by the first-place poem. You can find Lori here and here. If you are interested in guest blogging for us, send an email.

emptyframesmedium resized 600Many people deal with the absence of their father differently. My parents got divorced when I was four and that was the last time my father was around and was in contact with my siblings and I. My mother was so strong so I never thought of the separation as a bad thing. We were okay. I held on to God and sought him out for guidance, provision, and truth. Surprisingly, it never really hit me until I got older. There are certain things in life that a father should be there for. I was accomplishing so much and doing so well in my endeavors. I was eager to know how much more knowledgeable I would be if my father was around. I made so many decisions based on what I thought a father figure would want me to do and it got me pretty far, but I was missing out on the tangibility of a father.

Most of the people I went to school with in Detroit didn’t have a father around either and it was obvious. People cling to different things to fill that void without knowing it and it’s scary. I definitely saw that things would be easier on my mother if she had someone to raise us with. A father to be there financially, emotionally, and just someone strong to go through life with would have been amazing for her and she deserved it. I do understand that things didn’t work out and he wasn’t the right guy, but I have a hard time understanding how someone wouldn’t want to be the right guy. I co-taught a first grade class and they brought me so much joy! I couldn’t fathom how someone would ever want to miss out on everything you can learn from a child.

The fact that I am becoming the woman God wants me to be and that I am coming out of this situation the way that I am amazes me. I knew that I was in a very vulnerable position as a woman growing up without a father. It made me very cautious when dating. I had a pretty good idea of how I should be treated, but I needed an example from a father. It is so important for a guy to see the relationship you have with your father. I used my relationship with my Heavenly Father to fill that and I wasn’t always a good steward in my relationship with God. God has heard, “you aren’t enough” from me plenty of times. But in the end, He really was and has been. He’s been there through everything: scraped knees, graduations, sick days, performances, and heartbreaks. He’ll be there when I get married and when I have a child one day.

I have no hard feeling towards my dad. I realized that you can’t make someone be a father and everyone isn’t cut out to be one. Who knows, maybe things are better this way. I just really hope that wherever he is, he’s a man and he’s growing. Not for me, but for himself. Though God has done far more than I could ever ask think or imagine, it would have never hurt to have two fathers. My relationship with God is a special one and I couldn’t have asked for a better father.

My poem, "Absence" won first place in the Dudley Randall poetry competition at the University of Detroit Mercy. The poem talks about the struggle and disappointment that comes with the absence of a father. It isn’t about anger; it is about unanswered questions and voids that will linger on. A father will always be thought about and he will always be needed. His absence is more present than anything else in the whole world.  

Absence 
by Lori E. Allan

Empty in the photos
is the shape of a man
who has left a void
of himself.

The strength of his arms
lifted the glass
apart from the frame
as he climbed out of the situation.

Behind the bars,
I am confined within
the seventy-two percent
of African-American children raised
in single-parent homes.

Struggle is the only thing
that shows up
in the house we live in,
the food we eat,
the look in my mother’s eyes.

Despite the chasm,
I can still hear the way he says my name.
He had a photographer’s urge
to stop and capture a moment
and never developed the photo.

The void is tangible;
I hold it in my hands
and wonder if there is
a significant difference
between who I am
and who I could have been
because of what he could have been—
a father.

I house his vacancy in a cautious frame,
passing it by when I have what I need
and climbing inside when I see that I don’t.

It is a black and white photo
that I see in color.
In his absence,
I see it all. 

 

photo credit: Viewminder

 

Most Popular Post of 2012 — The Difference Between a Man and a Boy

The Father Factor Blog closes the year by reposting our most popular blog post of 2012! Thank you for reading and connecting with us this year. We've enjoyed talking parenting tips and tools. Today, without further delay, we give you our most popular blog post of 2012!

Adapted from the original blog: 
You know the guy. He’s a friend of yours. Everyone knows the guy who’d rather play video games 24/7 and live in his parents’ basement. You know, the guy who takes the storyline behind his favorite board game a wee bit too seriously. Yeah, you know the guy, as do I. I think I’ve figured out what makes this guy different from the one not living in his parents’ basement.

difference between man and boy

This difference is explored in Philip G. Zimbardo’s new research and book The Demise of Guys, which reveals things we’ve thought for years, but just haven’t talked about - that guys are “flaming out.”

So what’s behind this research? Zimbardo’s complaining brings great insight into the core issue. Zimbardo says media and education and society at large are the problems. Society is the “major contributor to this demise because [it is] inhibiting guys’ intellectual, creative and social abilities right from the start.” The result is young men with a lack of purpose, basic social skills, who live off of their parents.

While I think Zimbardo’s research does well to reveal the problem, the solution isn’t adapting some societal strategy to make men out of boys by retraining society to not inhibit them. Society has its issues, of course. But the problem, in my eyes, lies with the boy. There’s a difference between a boy and a man. Always has been, always will be. If you have no plan to leave your parents’ house, you’re a boy. If you don’t relate to women as equals, you’re a boy. If you aren’t emotionally able to cherish your wife, you’re a boy. If you play video games 24/7 and you’re not actually designing the games, you’re just a boy without a purpose.

Therefore, I don’t blame media, society or women – I blame father absence.

Boys learn the kinds of behaviors Zimbardo talks about from their fathers. We live in an age of mass father absence. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 24 million children in America -- one out of three -- live in biological father-absent homes. Two in three African American children live in father-absent homes. Consequently, there is a "father factor" in nearly all of the social issues facing America today. From poverty, maternal and child health, incarceration, crime, teen pregnancy, child abuse, drug and alcohol abuse, education, and childhood obesity – fatherhood changes these issues, for good or ill.

Every generation has its things for which to watch out. Sure, this generation has seen a “rise of technology enchantment” as Zimbardo points out. I certainly have more technology-related temptations than my father did. Each generation has its forms of seduction. This generation’s may be video games and online porn. My father’s temptations may have been print magazines and watching too many sports on TV. All I know is that the temptation to live for oneself will always be with us – it is part of the human condition.

The difference, though, today is that fewer and fewer boys have the stabilizing presence of an involved, responsible, and committed father in their lives to help them navigate a world of temptations and make the transition from self-centeredness to other-centeredness – the transition from boyhood to manhood. The “demise of guys” is really, at its root, the absence of fathers.

Read the original blog post: The Difference Between a Man and a Boy

Which blog post was your favorite of 2012?

photo credit: practicalowl 

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When Daddy Isn't in the "Family" Picture

For all the talk we hear these days about how “families can take many forms,” it seems there is one particular form that, if there was a popularity contest for family types, would be losing. It’s the one where dad is involved.

Every time I think NFI is in danger of exaggerating our claims around the prevalence of father absence and the lack of respect for the institution of fatherhood, a good reminder of our pinpoint accuracy smacks me right in the face.

The latest smack came in the form of a series of pictures in a book for toddlers. The book, First 100 Words, was sitting innocently on a shelf in my house. I mindlessly opened it and started flipping through, and came across the following picture.

Dad not in family

In case you can’t make out what is going on there, it shows a picture of a family that includes “mommy,” “brother,” and “baby.” Where’s “daddy”? Well, he has his own separate, much smaller picture to the right of the larger “family” picture. (it is probably also worth noting that grandma gets the second largest picture)

Talk about a stark, visual representation of our culture’s general disregard for the centrality of responsible fatherhood. It is as if the editors did not want dad interfering with the pristine image of a mom-child family.

Moreover, this is a book designed to give toddlers their first lessons about the world around them. May as well get to them early with the notion that when we talk about family, we are really talking about a mom and her kids.

One might defend the use of an image of a mother-only family with the premise that we should be cautious about offending such families, or making them feel “left out.” But why is no one ever concerned with offending two-parent families? After all, 2 in 3 children still live in mother-and-father-present homes, and reams of social science research shows it is best, on average, for kids to live in such homes. So, shouldn’t we be “protecting” this family type?

These sorts of images reinforce the false belief that fathers are not as important as mothers. For a boy in a father-absent home, it reinforces the idea that he does not have to worry about being a central part of the family he will one day have. Mom’s got it covered! This attitude “empowers” neither men nor women.

fatherless family bookFor a child growing up with a father in the home, like my son, I am sure this image will be confusing. My 2.5-year-old son is too young to express himself about something as complicated as this, but this book -- along with a lot of other messages he will get from TV commercials, etc -- shows him that fathers are on the periphery of family. When he asks the question, “How now shall I live?” the answer provided by our culture will be vague at best. If it suits you to stick around for your family, that’s fine; but if not, don’t let the door hit you in the rear on the way out.

Now, you may say that it is just one book, and maybe it’s not indicative of what the general belief about fatherhood is in our country. But that is a cop out. If “just one book” published an image of a blonde girl struggling with a math problem, a ruckus would be raised. Or if “just one book” published an image of a minority being belittled by a white person, a ruckus would be raised. Because we know that images and messages matter; they communicate our culture’s values. When such messages are allowed to see the light of day, it is an indication that there is little fear of reprisal for publishing them.

Dads are not a feared demographic; very few people are worried about ticking us off. NFI will do its part to expose negative representations of fatherhood and award positive ones, but until market forces start to move, little will change. We saw a hint of how powerful those forces can be when Huggies made a mistake with dads.

Here’s to hoping that the mistakes are always pointed out and the offenders learn a lesson.

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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.

Just the Father Facts

Having worked at National Fatherhood Initiative for over 10 years now, I sometimes take for granted why our issue is so important. But every once in a while, I get a good reminder; this time it was from Father Facts, our research compilation on the causes and consequences of father absence.

ff6 resized 600I was flipping through the 90-page volume to locate some of the old print PSAs that we placed throughout the book. But as I flipped, I was once again struck by the boatload (that is the scientific term) of data on why fathers matter to children.

Since 1995, when we published the first edition of Father Facts on one side of a sheet of paper, we have cited research from thousands of academic and government studies that show, without any doubt that on average fathers play a unique and irreplaceable role in their children’s lives, and that children do best, on average, when their mother and father are married to each other. If you have a problem with that statement, I will put it another way: there is no evidence that growing up in a fatherless home, on average, confers any benefits whatsoever on children. If you have access to such evidence from a reliable academic source, please send it to us. 

If we had this much conclusive data on any other topic, we would start a multi-billion dollar campaign to “save our children.” Think of what we’ve done with smoking. Not everyone who smokes dies of lung cancer or heart disease. But because we have research that shows the increased risks smokers face, we have deemed smoking unhealthy (we are comfortable generalizing based on the data) and spend billions to get people to quit or never start.

I hope we can get to the same point when it comes to family structure. Despite the fact that we have 30-plus years of social science research that shows the clear risks children face when they grow up in father-absent homes, there are still debates about how important dads really are. For some reason, naysayers always point out the exceptions – “I know someone who grew up without a father, and she is fine. Therefore, fathers are not important.”

Would we do this with smoking? Would anyone say, “I knew someone who smoked her whole life and lived to age 85 and died of natural causes. So, smoking is not unhealthy.” No one would say that, because, again, it is about risk. The research helps us understand the risk, and we take action to reduce it.

So, why is it different with fatherhood? Why do people always point out the exceptions and conclude that we should base our behavior on the exceptions rather than on the rule?

Take this article that was just published in the New York Times denying that there is any problem with the institution of single motherhood. The thing that frightens me most is the attitude that decades of social science research can be dismissed in favor of someone’s “gut feeling.” How do we typically characterize people who dismiss academic evidence about climate change? And how about smoking… what would you think of someone who denied the research on smoking because they didn’t “feel” like smoking was unhealthy? The author of the Times piece, Katie Roiphe, takes issue with a researcher from Princeton University. So, her opinion is more reliable than Princeton University research? What nerve.

She also commits the fallacy of reducing fatherhood to money. She implies that the only thing missing in father-absent homes is a second income. Is that the only thing children without dads are missing out on? Money? Dads don’t contribute anything else to their children? Nonsense.

If you have some ideas about why folks act in this irrational way around the “family structure issue” please share them.

Is it because telling men they should be good fathers and telling women they should enable good fathering is more “personal” than telling them not to smoke? Is it because people have more control over whether or not they choose to smoke than whether or not they raise their children in a two-parent home?

What do you think?

Learn more about Father Facts and the research on families and fatherhood.

The Difference Between a Man and a Boy

You know the guy. He’s a friend of yours. Everyone knows the guy who’d rather play video games 24/7 and live in his parents’ basement.

You know, the guy who takes the storyline behind his favorite board game a wee bit too seriously. Yeah, you know the guy, as do I. I think I’ve figured out what makes this guy different from the one not living in his parents’ basement.

the difference between a man and a boy, manhood, boy, men, fatherhood, father absence, fatherlessness, researchThis difference is explored in Philip G. Zimbardo’s new research and book The Demise of Guys, which reveals things we’ve thought for years, but just haven’t talked about - that guys are “flaming out.”

Zimbardo’s most recent article in Psychology Today and his TedTalksay much about this generation of boys. Zimbardo uses vocabulary like “undermotivated” and “emotional disturbances” and points out the guy we all know, the guy who doesn’t play well with others, has no girlfriend or very little friends at all. This is tragic for sure. Guys who aren’t doing well in school and are socially inept probably aren’t on the fast track to success.

So what’s behind this research? Zimbardo says in his talk he doesn’t have the answers; he’s simply done the research and can now reserves the right to complain about this phenomenon. However, in Zimbardo’s complaining, he brings great insight into the core issue.

Zimbardo says we’re not asking the right questions when it comes to these young men and their motivations. The fact is, it’s not that these young men aren’t motivated at all, they’re just not “motivated the same way guys used to be,” says Zimbardo. He says society wants guys to be “upstanding, proactive citizens who take responsibility for themselves, who work with others to improve their communities and nation as a whole.”  

Commenting on his own research, Zimbardo continues, “The irony is that society is not giving the support, means or places for these young men to even be motivated or interested in aspiring to these things.” He says media and education and society at large are the problems. Society is the “major contributor to this demise because [it is] inhibiting guys’ intellectual, creative and social abilities right from the start.” The result is young men with a lack of purpose, basic social skills, who live off of their parents.

Once a man finds a mate, problems really start. Many young men who manage to find a spouse carry entitlement issues and add little value to the relationship. Zimbardo rightly points to Hollywood films to describe these boys. Films like Failure to Launch, Hall Pass and Role Models (I added Role Models, Zimbardo hasn’t seen that movie yet!) present men as “living only for mindless fun and intricate but never-realized plans to get laid,” says Zimbardo.

While I think Zimbardo’s research does well to reveal the problem, the solution isn’t adapting some societal strategy to make men out of boys by retraining society to not inhibit them. Society has its issues, of course. But the problem, in my eyes, lies with the boy. There’s a difference between a boy and a man. Always has been, always will be. If you have no plan to leave your parents’ house, you’re a boy. If you don’t relate to women as equals, you’re a boy. If you aren’t emotionally able to cherish your wife, you’re a boy. If you play video games 24/7 and you’re not actually designing the games, you’re just a boy without a purpose.

Therefore, I don’t blame media, society or women – I blame father absence.

Boys learn the kinds of behaviors Zimbardo talks about from their fathers. We live in an age of mass father absence. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 24 million children in America -- one out of three -- live in biological father-absent homes. Two in three African American children live in father-absent homes. Consequently, there is a "father factor" in nearly all of the social issues facing America today. From poverty, maternal and child health, incarceration, crime, teen pregnancy, child abuse, drug and alcohol abuse, education, and childhood obesity – fatherhood changes these issues, for good or ill.

Every generation has its things to watch out for. Sure, this generation has seen a “rise of technology enchantment” as Zimbardo points out. I certainly have more technology-related temptations than my father did. Each generation has its forms of seduction. This generation’s may be video games and online porn. My father’s temptations may have been print magazines or watching too many sports on TV. I don't know. What I know is that the temptation to live for oneself will always be with us – it is part of the human condition.

The difference, though, today is that fewer and fewer boys have the stabilizing presence of an involved, responsible, and committed father in their lives to help them navigate a world of temptations and make the transition from self-centeredness to other-centeredness – the transition from boyhood to manhood. The “demise of guys” is really, at its root, the absence of fathers.

Think about it: What would your dad say was the difference between a man and a boy?

Ryan O'Neal Not Alone as a "Lost" Father

In a depressing interview on The Today Show yesterday, actor Ryan O'Neal spilled his guts about the multitude of problems he's had with his children and with his romantic partner of many years, Farrah Fawcett.

In the interview, Matt Lauer listed the various problems O'Neal's four, now grown, children have had, and then the conversation went like this:

Lauer: "Were you a bad parent?"

O'Neal: "Looks like it... Sure looks like it... I suppose I was."

Lauer: "Why did you fail as a parent?"

O'Neal:"Well, I wasn't trained."

Lauer: "Nobody's trained."

O'Neal:"Nobody's trained, so I found out..."

First, I can't imagine how difficult it would be as a man in my later years (O'Neal is now 71) to have to face the fact that I was a failure as a father. After all, being a dad is the most important role a man will ever have (along with being a husband). If you fail at that, then, in many ways, your life is a failure. At least that is how I think I would feel.

So, I felt a mix of pity, pride, and anger at O'Neal as I watched him make this admission. Part of me felt terrible for the guy; what a tough thing to face. Part of me was "proud" of him for having the courage to make this admission publicly; it is a hard thing for a man to admit he failed at something, especially in public. But another part of me was screaming, "Why didn't you realize this 40 years ago when your kids were young and you still had a chance! It's too late now, you jerk!"

Second, there is much wisdom, but also an omission in Lauer's statement that "nobody's trained" to be a good father. While this is true (our own research shows that about half of men do not feel prepared to become fathers), it is also true that many sons learn how to be good fathers by watching their own dads. I don't know anything about O'Neal's father, but it would appear that O'Neal did not feel like he learned anything from him. He may not have been trained, but wasn't there the possibility he could have learned by watching? Apparently not... 

That said, O'Neal's experience should be a lesson to our culture -- we need to make sure we are doing more to prepare men to be good dads, especially in an era of mass father absence. One in three kids grows up without his or her father in the home. And they are not being "trained." What kinds of fathers do we expect boys to become? It's hard to be what you don't see. And what kinds of fathers will our girls decide they need to have for their children?

From that perspective, it is hard to be mad at the Ryan O'Neals of the world who grow up in a culture that de-emphasizes the importance of dads and then expects them to be good fathers. While he should certainly be held accountable for not being as responsible as he should have been, there is at least an explanation that provides context.

What did you feel when you watched O'Neal's interview?

Junior Seau's Fatherhood Story

There are still many unanswered questions about the tragic death of former NFL player Junior Seau. From our perspective here at NFI, many of the most important questions surround his family life.

While many people in the sports world gush about how great a player he was and all the good he did for "the community," things are much less clear when it comes to what he did, or didn't do, for his own family.

We do know that the day before he apparently took his own life, he sent text messages to his ex-wife and three children telling them he loved them. The fact that he texted his kids, and did not see them face-to-face before his death, raises questions. How often was he seeing his children? What was the extent of the estrangement since his divorce in 2002? Indeed, it was his girlfriend, not his ex-wife or children, who found him dead.

I also find it interesting that Seau never officially retired from football. Was his life so locked up, his identity so inseparable, from his role as an NFL player that he just could never bring himself to let go? Because of his divorce, was he not able to pour his life into his family, especially his children, in a way that would have saved him from what looks like an identity crisis? While he was too old to continue playing on the football field, couldn't he have continued playing with his children?

I don't pretend to know the answers to these questions. But having been around this fatherhood thing for as long as I've been, there are certain patterns that you start to notice. I think of the murder of former NFL quarterback Steve McNair in 2009, which we blogged about here.

I think of all the research I've read on what happens to men's health, and father-child relationships in particular, after divorce. In short, they disintegrate over time. Many men tend to view "the wife and kids" as a single "package," and when their marriages end, their relationships with their children often become strained. And often, the legal system and our culture make it more difficult for them to stay connected to their children over time. Also, men are more likely than women to remarry after divorce, and when they start new families, the old ones often get left behind.

More answers are certainly going to come in the next few weeks as to what happened with Junior Seau. We can only hope and pray that his children will be ok. We will continue to follow the story as it unfolds.

Father Absence And School Discipline

Before I joined NFI’s staff, I never heard of the term "father absence," but I was most certainly a product of it.

Raised by a single, African-American mother in a tough neighborhood, I had to navigate the dangers of my environment and still be a well-behaved student. My mother worked late five days a week, and I was left alone often. Naturally, I modeled my behavior after the tough guys in the neighborhood, carrying that attitude into school. I was in trouble frequently for insubordination and not following instructions. Mom attributed much of my actions to my father not being around to help guide me.

A national survey conducted by the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) points to a glaring gap between the discipline students of color faced compared to their white counterparts. The numbers showed that while the collected data counted for just 18 percent of African-American students, Black males were shown to have nearly twice as many suspensions and even higher numbers for expulsion.

According to recent reports compiled using Census data and other sources, it was found that last year just 33 percent of Black children lived in a two-parent household compared to 85 percent of Asian children, 75 percent of White children and 60 percent of Hispanic children. Nearly all children living in single-parent homes lived with their mothers, with over half of those being Black children.

While the OCR survey is said to be expanding its research categories in the ongoing survey, it hasn’t been said to include data regarding the number of parents in the home. Education Secretary Arne Duncan addressed reporters in an open call on Monday ahead of the release of the data, asserting that the numbers are not directly a result of discrimination. Educators, obviously invested in what the data means ultimately, wisely noted that race, poverty and struggling school districts plays a part in what’s happening.

I scoured a lot of text while writing this blog entry, and not one person mentioned the family structure, at least in my searches. There is nothing said on whether these students of color are in two-parent homes or not. According to research, children from father-absent homes are more like to have behavioral problems. Why are commentators ignoring this reality?

In my own experiences, not having my father present in the home directly impacted how I behaved when I was not under my mother’s care. I’m not a statistician or researcher, but other numbers mesh with this report. 24 million children live apart from their biological fathers, with two out of three Black children and one of three Hispanic children dealing with father absence.

That alone points to something I’d like to see the OCR address in their further collection of data. While it’s not the Department of Education’s aim to offer a counter to the problem of father absence, I’m a living example of how the issue of academic failure could also be attributed to growing up in an unbalanced home environment.

Regardless of race and other societal factors, you can’t always expect well-behaved children in the face of father absence. In fact, the more the gap widens between fathers and children, the more we can expect numbers like this to spike even higher, and that’s truly a shame.

Does Chris Brown Need A Father Figure?

R&B singer Chris Brown burst onto the scene in the fall of 2005, and like the rest of America, I enjoyed his energetic dance moves and singing. Just 16 at the time, he was a fresh face poised for stardom. I knew some people personally at his label, and I rooted for his success.

His first two albums were full of puppy love talk, ballads, and up-tempo songs that captured his talent. In February 2009, however, my perception of Brown’s music and personality changed after the violent domestic dispute between he and ex-girlfriend Rihanna. Then 19, Brown assaulted the beloved pop singer after attending a party together earlier that evening. Naturally, Brown caught the wrath of both the media and his fans. The images of Rihanna’s swollen face still haunt me.

At the time, Chris Brown’s biological father, Clinton, defended his son, saying his son was remorseful. Chris didn’t grow up with his biological dad as his parents split when he was young. His mother, Joyce, remarried and Donelle Hawkins became his stepfather. In 2007, Chris revealed that his stepdad would beat his mother and that the situation filled him with rage, saying he even plotted to harm him. Although Hawkins denied striking Brown’s mother, he did confirm that it was a tense relationship.

It’s no stretch to see that Chris Brown modeled behavior he grew up seeing. He wasn’t given an opportunity to witness a man treat his wife with respect and honor. His violent reaction to Rihanna was reportedly sparked by an accusation of Chris sneaking around with other women, leading to the fight. It was nearly the same pattern of events he would have to endure between his mother and stepfather. Instead of learning to resolve conflicts sensibly, Brown’s propensity to fly off the handle continues to this day.

Brown has since gone into the gutter with his lyrical content. Moonlighting as a foul-mouthed rapper and morphing into a sex-crazed singer, he has lost all of the innocence in his music that once defined him. Another evolution of Brown’s character is his caustic online persona. Gone is the man who was subdued and reflective after his appearance on the Larry King show months after the 2009 incident. On his popular Twitter account, Brown is often profane and pushed into rage easily once anyone mentions his violent past.

Rihanna and Chris Brown are reportedly together again; with some saying they never split officially. Disappointing fans and opponents of domestic violence, they have also recorded new music together that’s unfit for young ears. Rihanna herself lived with an abusive father in her native Barbados, who she has since forgiven. To his credit Brown has tried to address the issue but while he begins with his heart in the right place, he is easily moved to anger. Even entertainers on Twitter have pushed Brown to the edge and even challenging him to fights.

Had Chris Brown been closer to his dad, a corrections officer, would he have received better guidance? Is it possible that Brown still needs a father figure or a mentor that can steer him away from this downward spiral? In other words, Chris Brown has a lot of growing up to do and may need a guiding hand along the way.

Chardon High Shooting: Symptoms of the Father Factor

Image by Aaron Josefczyk, Reuters.

On Monday, a teenage gunman shot five of his peers at Chardon High School. When this story first broke, my initial impulse was to skim the news for hints about the shooter’s family life, as I’ve become more aware that there is usually a “father factor” in these sorts of stories.

T.J. Lane’s motives for shooting his five classmates (three fatally) are still largely a mystery, and I will leave journalists to speculate on the mental processes leading up to Monday’s horrific events. However, I did discover that Lane’s story does indeed have a father factor. It would seem that the lifestyle choices of Lane’s father had a significant impact on him.

According to multiple news outlets, T.J. Lane was born to Sara Nolan, while she was in a relationship with his father, Thomas Lane. Sara and Thomas’s relationship was tumultuous and eventually ended in divorce after repeated incidents of domestic violence. T.J. stayed with his mother, and it’s unclear if he had much contact with his father afterward.

It’s reported that his father went on to marry another woman and started a family with her. But he was repeatedly abusive to this woman, and went on to get in trouble with the law for assault, kidnapping, and attempted murder.

Clearly, having an uncommitted and unstable father was a significant part of Lane’s story.

The knowledge that his father acted violently toward the women in his life must have had an impact on T.J., and the absence of an involved father probably left T.J. craving affirmation, acceptance, and without a clear idea of what a healthy relationship between a man and a woman could look like. T.J.’s Facebook page shows that he was dating a girl from his youth group, but that she recently broke up with him to date someone else. The new boyfriend is reported to be one of the victims of Monday’s shooting.

T.J. Lane is ultimately responsible for his own actions, but I have to wonder: would he have done this if his father had been positively engaged in his life? Would these three high school students be dead today if T.J. had a dad who cared about him and modeled healthy relationships with women? Would T.J. have shot his ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend if his own father wasn’t abusive to T.J.’s mom?

These questions deserve serious consideration. As this shooting and its aftermath plays out in the media, I’d urge you to remember that the news stories we read are often just about the symptoms of deeper issues.

Many heinous events like these have a father story behind them. We’ve noted before how the D.C. sniper situation in 2002 was largely cause by two men with deep father-needs, and how the Tuscon shooter last year was affected by his negatively-involved father. And just this summer we saw a mass murderer in Norway whose life was marked by his absent father.

An involved father makes a significant positive impact on the lives of his children, and you never know what might be averted by ensuring that you are a positive and loving presence in your children's lives.

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