Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum attacked fathers in his recent Philadelphia Inquirer column Obama’s actions speak volumes. He wrote:
In a speech last Father’s Day, however, Obama said something important and, perhaps, change-making: “If we are honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that what too many fathers . . . are missing – missing from too many lives and too many homes. . . . They have abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men. And the foundations of our families are weaker because of it.” Properly, Obama was speaking to Americans of all races…
To Santorum’s credit, he does understand the problems caused by fatherlessness:
Social scientists have chronicled the attendant devastation. Rapes, murders, drug abuse, sexual abuse, abortions, and out-of-wedlock pregnancies up; marriages, diplomas and jobs down. The problem is especially acute in Philadelphia, where, for example, the murder rate is about three times the national average, and rape is nearly twice it.
However, he quickly goes off the rails again:
There are as many reasons for this societal mayhem as there are statistics documenting it. At its core, however, is the irresponsibility of fathers.
Tell the Philadelphia Inquirer that many fathers (black and white) want a larger role in their children’s lives but are thwarted by the family law system–to write a Letter to the Editor, click here.
Also, tell Rick Santorum how you feel by clicking on firstname.lastname@example.org.
As Santorum alluded, Obama decided to mark Father’s Day 2008 by bashing fathers, particularly black fathers. Obama put all blame for family breakdown squarely on men. This is beyond ludicrous. It’s doubtful that many dads wake up in the morning and say to themselves, “My child loves me and needs me, my wife/girlfriend loves me and needs me–I’m outta here.”
When a divorced or separated mother does not want her children’s father around anymore, she can usually push him out, particularly if the father does not earn enough money to pay for legal representation. Courts tilt heavily towards mothers in awarding custody, and enforce fathers’ visitation rights indifferently. In most states, mothers are free to move their children hundreds or thousands of miles away from their fathers, often permanently destroying the fathers’ bonds with their children.
Despite the stereotype of the feckless and irresponsible male, research shows that the vast majority of divorces as well as many break-ups of unmarried couples are initiated by women, not by men. Yes, some mothers have good reasons for these breakups. Yet, as Jonetta Rose Barras, the African-American author of Whatever Happened to Daddy’s Little Girl, explains, many black fathers are simply being “kicked to the curb.”
Another major part of black fatherlessness–which neither Obama nor Santorum mentioned–is that the women often have kids without ever having any intention of having a father in the kids’ lives.
Also, the Urban League’s 2006 report on the state of black America concluded that the child support system and its abuses often drive African-American men out of their children’s lives, and either underground or into crime.
Santorum is correct that the benefits that involved black fathers–even divorced or separated ones–can provide their children are substantial. For example, a recent study of low-income African-American and Hispanic families by Boston College found that when nonresident fathers are involved in their adolescent children’s lives, the incidence of substance abuse, violence, crime, and truancy decreases markedly. The study’s lead author, professor Rebekah Levine Coley, says the study found involved nonresident fathers to be “an important protective factor for adolescents.”
Below my co-blogger Robert Franklin has some thoughts on Santorum’s article. Robert writes:
We’ve got an epidemic of fatherlessness in this country. Most people know that. A few even know that it’s a problem. They know at least something about the host of problems fatherlessness causes for children, mothers, the fathers themselves and society generally. Former United States Senator from Pennsylvania, Rick Santorum, seems to be one who understands a little of this.
Unfortunately, it’s only a little. He’s also swallowed the line that “the irresponsibility of fathers” is what keeps fathers from children. Not a word about family courts and laws that do everything in their power to separate fathers from children, not a word about non-enforcement of visitation, false abuse claims, paternity fraud, women who keep children secret from the dad, move-aways, kidnappings, and on and on. Not a word about an adoption industry that avoids notice to biological fathers like a lethal STD. And of course, not a word about a culture that demonizes fathers, since, well, that’s what Santorum is doing himself.
Somewhat to his credit Santorum acknowledges that there are “disincentives” to real fatherhood. He just doesn’t mention what they are.
Not all men are good fathers; not all men want to be fathers; some men shirk their responsibilities. All that is true. But there’s a boatload of social science data on men that contradicts the mythology Santorum is peddling. According to it men in general want connection to their children. For some, it’s the most important thing in life.
Read the writings of Irwin Garfinkel, Sara MacLanahan, Ross Parke, Armin Brott, Sanford Braver and countless others, and the image of fathers that comes across is one of men who strongly desire an active role in their children’s lives. And that is true, it should be emphasized, in the face of a culture that, at every bend of the road tries to blunt that desire. Men are immersed in a culture that tells them that they are incompetent to care for children, dangerous to children, uninterested in children and that their only legitimate role in the whole affair is to provide money. Men look around and see that stuff every day.
Given those “disincentives,” imagine what fathers could do with even a little encouragement. Imagine what would happen if the media had frequent news items, articles, television and radio programs showing competent, loving fathers, men fulfilled by fatherhood. Imagine if boys weren’t born to single mothers. Imagine if, in two-parent families, the mother didn’t shoulder the dad aside and demean his efforts at childcare.
Imagine if governments budgeted real money to teach parenting skills to fathers, if schools and doctors offices and PTAs didn’t assume when fathers show up alone with children that they’re pedophiles. Imagine if dads weren’t thrown out of their houses and the lives of their children solely on the say-so of an angry wife. Imagine if former U.S. senators knew what they were talking about when they published op-ed pieces in major newspapers.
Then we might see what dads can really do and, into the bargain, who’s actually a deadbeat and who isn’t.