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The Father Factor


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.

Fatherhood By the Numbers

Greetings, Father Factor readers! My name is D.L. Chandler, a recent addition to the National Fatherhood Initiative staff in the capacity of Web Editor. I joined NFI officially on December 5, and it has been a wonderful experience so far. Everyone on the staff is not only committed to our core mission of increasing the viability and visibility of involved and responsible dads, but it’s such an inviting environment as well.

Originally, I wanted my inaugural blog posting to be a resonating piece that highlighted my joy in being a part of the NFI mission and how I intend to assist in increasing the online reach of our important work. However, I was taken off that that path this weekend after my required reading in joining the staff led me to figures that highlighted the very issues father absence causes – and all the while, my own fatherless childhood memories were being triggered.

24 million children in America, one out of three nationally, are residing in biological father-absent homes. Children who grow up without a father in the home are 54 percent more likely to be poorer than their dads. Teens are at a 30 percent higher risk to abuse drugs and alcohol when dad isn’t present. A study of minority youth ages 10-14 showed that contact with their biological fathers decreased their risk for delinquency, even when dad didn’t live in the home.

As I continued reading the sixth edition of NFI’s Father Facts reference manual, I began to recognize how the numbers and facts related to my own life. After my parents split in the late 70s, I was without the man I admired. I can say with certainty that when my father left the home, my mother, my then-infant brother, and I spiraled into poverty – even becoming homeless for a spell. My father went on to earn a high profile law enforcement position and found other successes while my mother barely kept our lights on.

Growing up as a teen without guidance from dad, I went to the streets to find solace. I dabbled in drugs and drinking and petty crimes – all attempts to feel like I belonged to something. The truth was simple: I wanted my dad to come rescue me. I wanted him to eliminate the pain by simply showing up. I hoped that my behavior would inspire him to pay some attention to me. Sadly, it never worked. I did have a man in my life that fulfilled the father role I sorely needed – my grandfather. Without his firm talks and loving guidance, I would have been lost to crime or worse.

In my further reading of NFI’s Pop’s Culture fathering attitudes survey, I learned that ninety-one percent of the respondents agreed that father absence is a national crisis. I know firsthand that father absence has had a detrimental impact on my own life. The question remains then is how do we make father absence a larger conversation for dads across the board.

If you need any motivation to embrace the importance of eliminating father absence, just look at the numbers. The data alone suggests that something must be done to bridge the gap between fathers and their children. But for me, I’m solely motivated by my own past and I feel encouraged that together we can turn the numbers around in favor of dads being presently involved with their children.

Father's Day Recap: Part 2

As promised yesterday, here are some more highlights of what we did this Father's Day to promote our work of connecting fathers to their children, heart to heart.
  • We released the sixth edition of our flagship research resource, Father Facts. This story from The Washington Times puts Father Facts in the context of the fatherhood news of the day. Father Facts 6, like all previous editions of Father Facts, has been distributed to key members of Congress, government officials, and members of the press. You can learn more about Father Facts 6 and order it here.

  • NFI president, Roland C. Warren, spoke on a panel at the HBO premiere of The Kids Grow Up, a documentary about a dad learning to let go of his daughter as she leaves for college. NFI was an official non-profit partner for the film. The documentary aired on HBO on Father's Day, and will air again tonight at 9:30 eastern. If you want to see it, but don't have HBO, buy the DVD and a portion of the sales will go to NFI!

  • We launched our new "Be a Dad" television PSA (public service advertisement). Be a Dad inspires fathers to spend time with their children. Be a Dad has been distributed to virtually every TV station in the country, so look out for it on your local stations. In fact, if you see Be a Dad on TV, send us an email and let us know which station you saw it on (we may send you a free book or something if you do this).
That about does it for the major stuff we did this Father's Day. But as you can imagine, pretty much every day is like Father's Day here at NFI. And we have a lot of work to do to ensure that every child grows up with an involved, responsible, and committed father, every day of the year.

If you are able, please consider supporting us financially to help us continue this important work. And keep checking in with us here, on Twitter, and on Facebook as we roll out all of our new projects over the next several months.

Thanks for your support!

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