Sunday, June 19, was the 101st anniversary of Father’s Day. Like many Americans, I gave my father a call as a sign of appreciation and to respect the tradition.
In contrast to Mother’s Day, Father’s Day tends to be low key. The contributions of a mother to her children are clearly visible, while a father’s role is often in the background. This mother-father dynamic may have an influence on the level of praise one parent receives over the other, but the actual importance of fathers is only now beginning to be realized.
Historically, the vast majority of children were raised in a two parent household. In the 1950s, single-parenthood was viewed as nothing less than a scandal. By the 70s, 11 percent of children were being raised by single parents; in 2011, the number has more than doubled to around 26 percent.
Of all single parents, 84 percent are women. Which means that a nearly a quarter of all children in the United States are being raised without a father.
Many believe fatherless households are not a problem, but something to be celebrated. Single Mothers by Choice (SMC) is an organization that offers “support and information to single women who are considering motherhood.” This view is supported by The New York Times columnist Pamela Paul who espouses the virtues of single motherhood. In the same vein Carol Sarler of the The Sunday Times argues that, “children don’t need fathers.” Unfortunately, the absence of fathers has real and serious detrimental effects on children.
According to the Progressive Policy Institute, seventy-two percent of juvenile murderers were raised in fatherless homes.
The Village Voice published similarly grim numbers: children raised without a father were found to be five times more likely to commit suicide, 10 times more likely to use drugs, and 20 times more likely to end up in prison.
Perhaps the most telling statistic is that boys without a father were 14 times more likely to commit rape.
This is corroborated by a 2006 U.S. Children’s Bureau Office on Child Abuse and Neglect report: “One of the most important benefits of a positive relationship between mother and father… is the behavior it models for children. Fathers who treat the mothers of their children with respect… are more likely to have boys who understand how they are to treat women and who are less likely to act in an aggressive fashion toward females.” The report also emphasizes the impact of a father’s behavior on his daughter. “Girls with involved, respectful fathers see how they should expect men to treat them and are less likely to become involved in violent or unhealthy relationships.”
What isn’t quite understood by many is the great importance the male gender plays in the upbringing of children. Dr. David Popenoe, a noted sociologist writes, “Fathers are far more than just ‘second adults’ in the home. Involved fathers bring positive benefits to their children that no other person is as likely to bring.”
Even the cognitive development of children seems to be greatly influenced by fatherly involvement. According to Michael Lamb, professor of psychology and head of the Department of Social and Developmental Psychology at Cambridge University, “Children raised without fathers are more likely to show signs of psychological maladjustment, they are more likely to have difficulties at school… They are more likely to be represented in the statistics on delinquency and unconventional social behaviour, and they seem to have difficulty establishing and maintaining intimate relationships, particularly heterosexual relationships once they move into adulthood.”
Faced with these realities, it is no wonder that in 2008, Barack Obama urged Black fathers to take care of their children. “They have abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men. And the foundations of our families are weaker because of it… I resolved many years ago that it was my obligation to break the cycle — that if I could be anything in life, I would be a good father to my girls,” Obama said.
Despite my disagreements with the majority of Obama’s policies, I greatly respect him for his dedication to his family.
He was right to send the much needed message to the Black community, because that is where fatherlessness is most prevalent. Around 65 percent of African American children are being raised by a single-mother. The aforementioned Progressive Policy Institute study also revealed a great crime inflicted on black children. After controlling for the factor of an absent father, there is virtually no difference between black and white crime rates.
The great tragedy in all this is that defenders of the nuclear family now have studies to prove their points where there used to be only religion and tradition to rely on.
In this age of increasing abdication of responsibility, a real effort is required of both men and women to turn these trends around. The fact remains that fathers matter; there should be nothing but contempt for men who abandon their wives or girlfriends and leave their children fatherless. Single mothers by choice belong in the same category. They display an incredible level of narcissism and lack of concern for the well-being of children, which are practically relegated to the category of fashion accessory.
Most of us appreciate the contribution of our mothers in our lives; it is fathers who often go unnoticed. Those of us raised by good, hardworking, and loving fathers, could likely do a lot more to show our gratitude. And for those men who weren’t so lucky, you can do what our President did and break the cycle, make a conscious choice to be a good father.