For the better part of the last 40 years, policy experts and childrearing gurus relegated fathers to the parental minor leagues. Dads were seen as well-intentioned but inept Homer Simpsons who might be able to teach junior how to swing a baseball bat, but little else.
But kids see it differently. Mary Kay Shanley’s book, When I Think About My Father, recites these love-words from Amanda, age 6: “At the end of the day when I go to bed, Daddy tucks me in. We talk together about our day. He reads me a story to help me sleep. We pray together. That is my favorite part.”
Research confirms with Amanda’s endorsement of fatherhood. It turns out that kids with hands-on dads have greater levels of self-esteem and social competence, get higher grades in school, and do better on a broad range of social and psychological indicators. Even in high-crime, inner-city neighborhoods, over 90% of children who grow up in two-parent families avoid becoming delinquents.
Sadly, government social welfare programs have a dismal track record in this area. It’s not that they have just ignored the essential role of fathers. The problem is, they have offered inducements to actually remove dads from the lives of their kids.
This pattern can be traced back to the 1960s. Under Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, welfare benefits came with a catch: first, kick dad out of the house. As a result of this exclusionary “man-in-the-house” rule, the number of children growing up in fatherless homes rose dramatically.
Before long, people began to notice that poor fathers were “abandoning” their children. So beginning in 1975, the Congress passed a series of child support laws that targeted so-called “deadbeat” dads.
The reforms may have been well-intentioned, but they missed the mark on one key point: many low-income dads couldn’t pay their child support because they were on Skid Row. But that fact didn’t stop the federal Office for Child Support Enforcement, with a budget of $4 billion, from hounding indigent fathers and sending thousands to debtor’s jail each year (see this link).
But the government was not finished with its task of dismembering the traditional family.
In 1994 the Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act, a $1 billion-a-year feminist windfall that claims to combat domestic violence. One of VAWA’s tools is the issuance of restraining orders.
The dirty little secret that feminists fail to admit is that they have stealthily broadened the scope of violence. For example, the National Victim Assistance Academy came up with this all-encompassing definition: “Domestic violence is a pattern of coercive behavior designed to exert power and control over a person in an intimate relationship through the use of intimidating, threatening, harmful, or harassing behavior.”
As a result of this definitional sleight-of-hand, “domestic violence becomes whatever the woman says it is,” according to columnist Phyllis Schlafly.
So when these “battered” mothers seek a restraining order, they also petition for divorce and custody of the children. Once again, the kids are left without a father.
The effects of these federal programs are predictable -- and tragic. In 1960, five million American children lived in fatherless homes. By 1980, that number more than doubled to 11 million. And now, 16 million children live only with their mothers.
The National Fatherhood Initiative issued this sobering warning: “Children who live absent their biological fathers are, on average, at least two to three times more likely to be poor, to use drugs, to experience educational, health, emotional, and behavioral problems, to be victims of child abuse, and to engage in criminal behavior.”
So consider the 16 million boys and girls who go to bed each night without getting a bear-hug from daddy, and it’s easy to see why a 1999 Gallup poll found that 72% of Americans believe that “the physical absence of the father from the home is the most significant problem facing America.”
On Father’s Day, it’s traditional to honor our fathers--those home-grown heroes who sacrifice their moments of quiet reflection, their comfort, and even their health to support and protect their families. This coming Sunday I will remember my own dad, thankful for all the good times we spent together.
Perhaps this Father’s Day should also be a day of reckoning. It’s time to ask, "Why does the US taxpayer continue to subsidize government programs, to the tune of billions of dollars a year, that end up separating fathers from their families?"
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