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The Father Factor

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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.

Remembering Stephen Covey

covey resized 600

The following is a post from Christopher A. Brown, Executive Vice President of NFI. 

I learned today that Dr. Stephen R. Covey died today from injuries sustained from a biking accident. He was 80 years old. You might recognize Dr. Covey as the author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, the best-selling business book of all time. But to me Stephen was one of my mentors. It was his work—the application of the 7 Habits, specifically—that directed me toward the work I do today.

Before I arrived at National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI), I served as a health communications and social marketing consultant with the Texas State Department of Health Services. During my time there I took a 7 Habits workshop. A light bulb went on inside my head during the workshop that illuminated how and where I should direct my career. I decided right then and there that I would focus my career on helping fathers connect with their children. I just didn’t know how at the time.  

Fortunately, I learned how to instill the 7 Habits into my professional and personal life and, most important to this story, to Begin with the End in Mind (the 2nd Habit), my end being full-time work helping organizations build capacity to serve fathers and families. 

Not soon thereafter a friend learned about NFI’s need to hire a director to run a statewide fatherhood initiative in Texas. He passed the information on to me and within a few weeks NFI hired me. The rest, as they say, is history.

But the story doesn’t end there. 

In 2003 we honored Dr. Covey with a Fatherhood Award™ based on how his work and personal life represented everything that is good and valuable about involved, responsible and committed fathers. 

I chaperoned him for 3 hours at the awards dinner and had the opportunity to tell him how much his work meant to me. He was flattered by my thanks, but what he really wanted to know was how our two organizations—NFI and FranklinCovey—could partner to help fathers. (That interest was not a surprise given the 6th Habit—Synergize.) 

When he returned to Utah where his company is based, he immediately instructed his staff to work with NFI to develop a joint effort. The result was NFI’s The 7 Habits of the 24/7 Dad™ curriculum and workshop, the first and still only co-branded curriculum of the FranklinCovey company. 

I had the honor of co-authoring the curriculum with Dr. John M.R. Covey, Stephen’s brother.

Thus Dr. Covey’s legacy reaches into the work of NFI and the lives of the thousands of fathers, children, and families that we and our direct-service partners help every year. 

It is with sadness at his passing and joy about his contribution to our work that I honor Dr. Stephen R. Covey’s life.

photo credit: agirregabiria

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?

Do involved fathers = smarter, better behaved children?

According to findings from a recent study from Concordia University, the answer to that question is yes. Compared to children whose fathers were absent, the study found that children who had present and actively involved fathers had higher IQs and demonstrated fewer behavioral problems.

Erin Pougnet, the study’s author, noted that programming for fathers is an important application of the findings of this study:
Programs that teach fathers positive parenting skills and that are attractive and accessible to families from a range of socioeconomic strata, "could go a long way to enhance children's later development."

Another expert in child research, Dr. Mariana Brussoni of the Child & Family Research Institute and University of British Columbia, noted that many programs neglect to specifically focus on fathers:
It is crucial for policies and programs to consider how they can support fathers to remain involved in children's lives. Many of the existing programs are more focused towards mothers and their needs, which is undoubtedly important. However, fathers cannot continue to be relegated to a secondary parenting role.

These statements are no surprise to us at NFI. We’ve long recognized that fathers take a different approach to parenting than mothers and need resources that are specifically designed for them. In fact, this matches what dads and moms are telling us in our national surveys, Pop's Culture and Mama Says:
  • Almost 50% of dads felt like they did not have the skills to be a father when they first became a dad
  • "Lack of knowledge about how to be a good father” ranked highly on dads’ list of obstacles to good fathering
  • 1 in 3 moms also agreed that the “lack of parenting resources specifically designed for fathers” is a significant obstacle to dads’ parenting

That’s where NFI comes in. NFI is the #1 provider of fatherhood resources and the #1 trainer of organizations and fatherhood practitioners. Here’s just a few of the highlights of our work to make sure dads have the resources they need to help them be involved fathers:
  • NFI offers over 100 resources designed specifically for fathers (brochures, fathering handbooks, curricula for fatherhood programs, etc.)
  • We have distributed over 5.8 million fatherhood skill-building resources
  • We have trained over 7,600 fatherhood program practitioners and over 3,500 organizations on how to deliver fatherhood skill-building programming to dads
  • Independent, third-party evaluations of our fatherhood curricula have shown statistically significant increases in pro-fathering knowledge, attitudes, and skills

You can learn more about the fatherhood skill-build resources we offer at our FatherSOURCE™ Resource Center. Ultimately, we strive to provide the very best skill-building resources for fathers because, as research like the Concordia University study have found, kids thrive when they have involved, responsible, and committed fathers. That is what is at the heart of NFI’s mission.

Dad is Carpool King

A recent survey conducted by Chevrolet found that dads are taking a more active role in carpooling their kids to school, extracurricular activities, or daycare – 70% of dads are involved in this responsibility. Unsurprisingly, the survey also found that Dads prefer utility vehicles over minivans, the traditional choice for carpooling, opting for a more masculine / cool vehicle. Dads also value safety, fuel economy, versatility, and passenger capacity as top vehicle features.

At NFI, it’s no surprise to us that Dads are more involved in carpool duties. This is right in line with recent trends showing that Dads are taking more and more hands-on responsibility in caring for their kids and helping around the house. In fact, we’ve blogged about how dads and moms do the same amount of work and how dads are key influencers in family purchase decisions. NFI’s own Vince DiCaro certainly would agree with Chevrolet’s findings because he choose his SUV for the practicality of carrying a car seat, dog, two adults, and lots of equipment.

The fact is, despite record levels of father absence in our country now – 24 million kids or 1 out 3 grow up without their father in the home – when dads are involved, they are more involved than they have ever been in almost every category. Take a look at these statistics (taken from "Marketing to Dads”, August 2010, Mintel.):
  • Dads have tripled the amount of time they spend on child care since 1965.
  • Dads have become key influencers and decision makers in all categories of family purchasing, including groceries, financial investments, child and baby care items, and toys.
  • One-third of men are the primary shopper in the home – in fact, 7 out of 10 disagree that mom does most of the shopping for the kids.
  • Dads are spending a significant amount of time with their children engaging in play, cooking, and planning healthy and educational activities for their families.
Not only is this increased involvement good for kids – research shows that children who grow up with involved fathers fare better on almost all social, economic, educational, and physical measures and are less likely to be involved in crime, get pregnant, experience abuse, or drop out of school – but it’s also good for moms. In Mama Says, NFI’s survey of mothers’ attitudes about fathering, a significant majority of moms said they could balance work and family better if they had more support from dad. Most likely, the extra help with carpooling from dads is a big plus for moms.

Props to Dads for stepping up and adding “taxi driver” to the many hats they already wear. And props to Chevrolet for taking the time to recognize dads’ increased role in taking responsibility for ensuring their kids get to where they need to go safely!

Why Should Dad Care?

A recently released study by The Ohio State University suggests that in families with young children, the parents were more likely to have a stronger and more supportive co-parenting relationship if the dad was more involved in play activities than in caregiving activities with the child. On the flip side, if the dad spent more time in caregiving activities (i.e. preparing meals, bathing the child, etc.), the parents were more likely to be less supportive and more undermining towards each other.

Given that today’s dads have taken on significantly more responsibility in the home and family than previous generations of fathers, this is an interesting and, at first glance, a potentially concerning finding.

This increased likelihood of tension between parents when dad helps out with the kids might be due to the mom’s response to the father. The study noted that, “fathers’ increased involvement in caregiving might also arouse negative maternal gatekeeping behaviors (a particular type of undermining behavior) as mothers consciously or unconsciously try to protect their authority over parenting.”

NFI recently conducted a survey called Mama Says of 1,533 moms (a sample more than 10 times the size of the OSU study) on their attitudes about fathering. A couple findings from that survey are relevant here:
  • 84% of moms recognize that mothers and fathers parent in different ways.
  • 93% of moms think mothers are more nurturing than fathers
  • 66% of moms think they’d be able to balance work and family better if they had more support from the father.
The bottom line is that moms and dads are wired to interact with their kids in different ways. But different doesn’t always mean wrong. Different can actually be helpful, if both parties can recognize that.

Kids need both their parents to be involved in all aspects of their lives. How mom and dad divide parenting responsibilities will vary from family to family, but if both parents can be mutually supportive of each other, everyone wins – especially the kids.

Is There a Father Absence Crisis?

With the release of the National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse's new series of ads, bloggers and news sites have been buzzing about the need for these ads and the fact that there is a father absence crisis in America. "Do we really need to 'sell' fatherhood?" is the question of the hour.

Several individuals have cast doubt on a statistic from our Pop's Culture and Mama Says surveys, which state that 9 out of 10 fathers and mothers believe there is a father absence crisis in America today.

But that is the wrong statistic on which to focus.

The real issue is not what we see in our circles of influence or what we believe about whether or not there is a problem. The real issue is that 1 out of 3 children - 24 million - are growing up without their biological father in the home.

When millions of fathers aren't involved in their children's lives, that's a crisis. Especially when you consider that children from father-absent homes are more likely to face depression or commit suicide, drop out of school, experience a teen pregnancy, and experiment with risky behaviors.

There is a place for these ads. Even for the many dads who are involved and present, these ads are a reminder that your kids need you and you have an irreplaceable role in their lives.

For more information about the facts of father absence, visit www.fatherhood.org/fatherfactor or www.census.gov.

One Father's "Duh" Moment

From Chris Brown, NFI's Executive Vice President:

The NYT Motherlode blog recently reported on a new study on the biology behind the “transition to fatherhood” and the different ways in which dads and moms parent.

The study found that oxytocin—the “love hormone” that is so often attributed to moms’ ability to bond with their children—is just as high in new fathers as in new mothers six weeks after the birth of their child.

The study reminds me of a nerve that is struck in me quite often when the popular press—and some of my friends—talk about the biological link between moms and their children as if there isn’t one between dads and their children other than the oft-cited contribution of half a child’s DNA. With all the recent reports in the press about women having children without fathers in the picture, it could lead a reasonable person to conclude that the only reason for dads at all is to have their sperm to conceive children. Perhaps we men should just get a room at the local sperm bank.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. The research is rife with evidence of the need for involved, responsible, committed fathers. Almost all of this evidence is, however, from the social sciences which as an anthropologist is just fine with me. The problem with social science is that there is always someone who tries to punch a hole in the research because almost all of it is, well, social and “soft” and open to lots of interpretation. But as an anthropologist, my training focused heavily on biology and physiology, so I’ve been acutely aware of research that shows the biological foundation that connects fathers to their children. It seems to be much harder to argue with the evidence from the “hard” sciences.

I recall several years ago reporting at a conference on two studies that build on the biological connection between dads and their kids. One study found that girls who grow up with their biological dads go through puberty later than girls who don’t—a finding that should warm the heart of any dad with a teenage daughter. The researchers attributed this impact to the exchange of pheromones between fathers and daughters that affected the daughters’ biology. The other study discovered that a father’s testosterone levels—the “wandering hormone”—drops dramatically before and after his children are born thus preparing him for fatherhood through a greater estrogen to testosterone ratio. These studies, which have been replicated, didn’t create an “aha” moment for me when I learned about them and as they did for so many in the audience that day. As my 15-year-old daughter would say, I had a “duh” moment.

Father Absence and Puberty?

Time magazine just published an article about young girls entering puberty earlier and earlier. The article is based on a study that was just published in the journal, Pediatrics.

The age of menarche (first period) in white girls has dropped steadily since 1997. During that same period, the age for black girls stayed at the same very low age -- researchers think they may have "bottomed out" already.

While there is still a lot of mystery as to why this is happening, doctors are starting to posit some answers. Increases in childhood obesity and exposure to certain chemicals are two possibilities.

But research also suggests that another factor is at play here -- the father factor (See the name of our blog! Clever, eh?).

I remember once reading about the connection between father absence and the early onset of puberty, so I did a little research and came across a 2003 study called, “Father absence, parental care, and female reproductive development" in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior. Basically, it found that the more time a young girl spends in a father-absent home, the more like it is that she will experience "early reproductive development."

Researchers are also not entirely sure why this happens either, but they posit that if a young girl spends significant time with non-related males, that could trigger menarche. A colleague of mine here at NFI who grew up without her father and had very early menarche thinks that it was a "survival instinct" based on needing to mature much earlier to deal with the added physical and emotional challenges that single-parent households can bring.

It is interesting that where rates of father absence are highest (in the African American community), the age of first period is already at a low point, and where rates of father absence have been increasing, the age has been getting lower.

I am not suggesting that father absence is the only reason for this phenomenon, but it seems to be one of them. And since doctors are concerned about early menarche (longer duration of puberty may affect cancer rates and fertility), they should be concerned about what is happening with fathers.

Don't Fumble the Baby...

Last week, I had an opportunity to speak at a briefing hosted by Congressman Danny Davis (D-IL). The purpose of the briefing was to present these findings of the Commission on Paternal Involvement in Pregnancy Outcomes, a project of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. A key aspect of the commission is to determine ways to reduce infant mortality, which is surprisingly high in the US.

As a member of the commission, I had an opportunity to share a pretty personal perspective on how, as a very new dad, I first learned just how important fathers are to the health and well-being of infants. A reporter wrote this story about my remarks. Are you ready for some football?

Crime of fatherlessness...

In light of the execution of D.C. sniper John Muhammad last night, I thought that you would find of interest a piece that I wrote about 7 years ago in the aftermath of the shootings. Of note, this was very real and personal for me. On October 22, they caught Muhammad and Malvo sleeping at a rest stop that was one exit up from my wife's office. It's a pretty secluded setting and there is a gas station--that she frequently uses--right across the street.

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In the days since John Muhammad and John Lee Malvo were detained in the “Beltway Sniper” case, we have all wanted to know why these crimes occurred. Who were these cold-blooded murderers? How do people become so unabatedly evil?

Many have made up their minds about John Muhammad. He is an angry, frustrated, middle-aged man with gripes against his ex-wives and his country. It has been reported that he was sympathetic to the 9/11 terrorists. It is not too difficult to put the pieces together with him.

But what about the 17-year-old boy, who is now believed to have been the triggerman in these vicious acts? As we learn more about Malvo’s upbringing and his tumultuous childhood, things start to become clear. How did a young boy with a bright smile and a promising future become a 17-year-old killer? The answer: John Lee Malvo did not have an involved father.

Malvo’s childhood was characterized by constant moves from one school to another, one island to another, and one caretaker to another. His mother, Una James, was constantly trying to find new work and a new life for her and her son throughout the Caribbean. Many of the people who knew James and Malvo became exasperated at the constant upheaval in the intelligent Malvo’s life. However, the biggest mistake James made was that she did not feel it was necessary for her son to have a father.

As Malvo grew up, he searched for his father from time to time, but had limited contact with him. Friends and relatives point out that Malvo was keenly in need of a father figure in his life and he tended to flock towards older males in his neighborhood. But his mother and her sister grew up without their father. James simply did not realize the importance of father-love for a child. Her sister said, “We grew up without a father. We don’t know father-love.” She went on to say that James did not realize that her son needed the father-love they never had.

Leslie Malvo, the biological father, owns a construction contracting company in Jamaica. Reporters located him the day after his son was arrested, and he commented in American media that he had been following the sniper murders. This is not a poor man living in an isolated, backwards village. He owns a business and reads American newspapers. However, he was a failure as a father. He did not contest James’ attempts to keep him uninvolved with their son. He never sought out his son, or tried to improve his son’s life despite his relative wealth and despite the fact that James was causing such upheaval in the younger Malvo’s life.

Eventually Malvo had become tragically accustomed to childhood without a father. But as a boy enters his late teens he wants to find out what it means to become a man. He looks for examples of mature behavior from the adult males around him. He loves his mother, but begins to pull away in an attempt to establish independence - to fill the “hole in his soul” in the shape of his father.

In one of the many unstable settings Malvo found himself in, this time alone on the island of Antigua and his mother in Jamaica, John Muhammad entered the picture. Muhammad was a human smuggler, getting people from the islands to the states. He was a powerful looking ex-military man with strong political and religious convictions. To the impressionable Malvo, Muhammad immediately became an attractive and authoritative “father figure.” Through many twists and turns, the two ended up living together in the United States, apart from James, and in relative poverty. Lee Boyd Malvo changed his name to John Lee Malvo taking the name of his new “father” and becoming his “son.” Muhammad’s interest in guns and shooting provided another means for the two to bond. We now know what the grotesque product of that bonding would become – 10 dead, 3 wounded, millions scared.

The statistics of father absence are potent, and illuminate several aspects of the Malvo case. A study of 1,800 middle-school students found that children who did not live with both biological parents were more likely to carry a gun. The likelihood that a young male will engage in criminal activity doubles if he is raised without a father. Seventy two percent of adolescent murderers are fatherless. However, as helpful as these statistics can be, they sometimes obscure the human tragedies that lurk behind them. Lee Boyd Malvo was abandoned by his father, and kept away from him by his mother who grew up without her father. He then turned to another man, who also did not know his own father. Together they killed.

Many will continue to analyze why these two men committed such crimes and they may come up with some very definitive answers. Psychologists, criminologists, academicians, and forensic experts will feed us with countless explanations. But we must look at this crime at its roots, as a crime of fatherlessness. If we do, not only will we have the greatest understanding of what happened, but we will also begin to embrace the solution to this problem - men must be involved, responsible, and committed fathers so that their shoes will not be filled by the likes of John Muhammad.

Paying More Attention to Fathers

The New York Times published an interesting article that not only highlights the importance of involved fathers, but also the turnkey role that moms play in involving fathers. "A mother's support of the father turns out to be a critical factor in his involvement with their children."

It goes on to report findings that show that when a couple's relationship is strengthened and a couple has positive interactions, dads are much more likely to be involved and kids are much more likely to thrive. Truly a win-win situation.

This article explores the fact that the mother-father relationship is one of several factors that can affect father involvement. We know that dads don't parent in a bubble; that's why we built a session for mothers into our 24/7 Dad curriculum and why we've developed Mom as Gateway. These resources help break down the barriers between couples (regardless of marital status) so they can effectively co-parent.

As this article points out, more and more people are realizing just how important dads are - and that there are many factors to enabling their involvement. Helping moms and dads see eye-to-eye and respect each other's parenting styles is key to thriving kids and families.

Who Really Wants Work-Family Balance?

Even in time of recession, work-family balance is still a popular topic. As is this recent study from the British Equality and Human Rights Commission. They surveyed over 2,200 British fathers about issues related to work, to childcare and household responsibilities, and to differences between mom and dad.

Some of the findings:
  • Fathers do want to spend more time with their children, and want to make their children a priority. 54% of dads with children under the age of 1 year felt that they spend too little time with their child.
  • More mothers (34%) than fathers (23%) believe that child care is the primary responsibility of the mother.
  • There is still a big gap between what flexible working options are available to fathers, and to what extent fathers are actually using those flexible work solutions.
This begs the question - do fathers continue to feel that using flexible work options is potentially damaging to their career? Or are there larger more diverse sets of reasons that fathers don't take the leave available to them?

Genes or Dads?

A new study by researchers at the University of Oregon asserts that genetic factors are more important in determining when a child will first have sex than whether or not they have a father in the home. According to a BBC story on the report, "The more genes the children shared, the more similar their ages of first intercourse, regardless of whether or not the children had an absent father."

I have a few problems with their conclusions:
1) On just about everything else where there is a genetic predisposition towards a behavior, we do not allow that genetic predisposition to act as an excuse for the behavior. Think about addictions. Drug addiction has genetic markers. Yet we don't say that a drug addict therefore has no control over whether or not he uses drugs. That would be letting the genes act as an excuse for bad choices.

2) Simon Blake, from a sexual health nonprofit called "Brook Advisory Centre," while disagreeing that genes are the overriding factor, does not then conclude that father involvement is important - even though the study showed clear correlation between early sexual activity and father absence. He instead points to the need for "better education." I guess it is hard to disagree with that, but it ignores the clear father factor that exists here.

I guess this gets back to the age old "nature versus nurture" question. What do you think? Is it genes or dads?

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