A compelling and controversial exploration of absentee fathers and their impact on the nation.
The passion with which Mr. Blankenhorn writes is apparent. From the home where there is no father, to where the father is only a visitor to where the father has no regard for the children in the home where the father has no concern for the children he has fathered, author David Blankenhorn tells of fatherlessness as blight upon our country.
Ultimately the author's recommendation is for a father's club where the men keep one another accountable for the time and investment placed in their families. Among the remaining eleven recommendations that he would give for the "re-creation of fatherhood as a vital social role for men" (p.23) is the pledge which fathers would take:
Many people today believe that fathers are unnecessary. I believe the opposite. I pledge to live my life according to the principle that every child deserves a father; that marriage is the pathway to effective fatherhood; that part of being a good man means being a good father; and that America needs more good men." (p. 226)
Real strengths in this writing were first that he helped the reader grasp not only the issue of fatherlessness, but he explained the impact that was made because of it. One example was the effect of wartime. War was the situation, but the effect was long lasting. Families torn apart by war leave gaping holes, preventing young boys, (sons) from having their own role models/mentors. Also the author distinguished the fatherlessness that came out of necessity and that which was volitional. Blankenhorn distinguishes the different types of fathers, i.e. the unnecessary dad, the old father and the new father, the visiting father and the sperm father. Intriguing is his use of the term "shadow dad". As this father is not always around he is cautious to make the time that he is with the children the best that money can by. His actions are those admired by all around. The difficulty, the inconsistency of this type of father is that the terms themselves are inconsistent. "Visiting" and "fathering" are terms that do not simply do not go together. (p.150) The sperm father is the logical conclusion to a fatherless society. He is one in whom there is no expectations.
Addressing this situation of the "fatherless society," the author outlines a twelve-point approach to the placing father's back in their role as the head of the home and the leader of the family. Still at this point the author seems to make these recommendations for those who are willing to change. In the first portion of the writing he spent time enumerating and describing those who were a part of this fatherless society. The changes proposed are not with them but with the new generations or those who are already doing well. This left the question of what could /would be done with those many families who are caught in the fatherless society.
Blankenhorn uses the format of a screenplay with eight characters in the script. The leading characters are the Unnecessary Father, the Old Father, and the New Father. The remaining five minor roles are termed as the fatherhood understudies or almost-fathers. They include the Deadbeat Dad, the Visiting Father, the Sperm Father, the Stepfather and the Nearby Guy. Although the first three are biological fathers, they do not live with their children. The latter two are not biological, so they exemplify the contemporary dispersal of fatherhood: the growing detachment of social from biological paternity" (68). In the last scene Blankenhorn introduces the Good Family Man.
Blankenhorn's Unnecessary Father is not needed inspires condescension, a is easily dismissed and forgotten (84). Old Father is destructive, overbearing man whereas the New Father is a good, nurturing man expressing his emotions and deeply involved as a parent (96). The Deadbeat Dad is a bad guy, "morally culpable and is usually in jail" (124). The Visiting Father is hard to see,"a displaced man trying not to become the ex-father" (148). The Sperm Father performed his father role in the "one-act father, whose fatherhood consisted entirely of the biological act" (171). The Stepfather and the Nearby Guy are substitute fathers often called father figures (185).
Blankenhorn reviews Frank L. Mott's 1992 study, "The Impact of Father's Absence from the Home on Subsequent Cognitive Development of Younger Children" which looked at 1,714 children. Although Mott concluded that "fathers are not a major factor" and "not that important," Blankenhorn states "this is directly and repeatedly contradicted by Mott's own research findings" (71). Blankenhorn identifies the five flaws of Mott's study: 1) Mott examines an extremely limited range of problems only within the younger children (5 to 8 years old), while, research demonstrates a wider range of characterological problems that surface during adolescent (71). 2) Mott concludes that for black children, fatherlessness is actually helpful and at worst not very harmful. Blankenhorn address Mott's ignorance of redundant negative influences. 3) Mott claims that "girls need fathers less than boys" and stresses that girls either suffer no harm from fatherlessness, or that they suffer much less than boys (72). Yet, studies clearly show that "fatherless girls tend toward personally and socially destructive relationships with men, including precocious sexual activity and unmarried motherhood (72). 4) Mott's definition of 'father' maybe a roughly but accurately defined as: a nearby guy who can do all or most of what fathers do (73). 5) Mott has depended almost solely on 'false criteria of causality' (Travis Hirschi and Hannan Selvin) which equates to "nothing causes anything" (73). So Mott claims "either fatherlessness does not cause problems for children or fatherlessness is comparatively less important than other causes" (73).
Blankenhorn discusses Melinda Blau's 1993 book Families Apart, which succinctly captures all the main components of the better-divorce idea as a solution for fatherlessness. Blau's better-divorce idea is "based on the proposition that 'parents could be taught to do divorce better' . . . 'co-parenting after divorce' is an 'ideal family style' and Blau believes that such an improved style of divorce is 'the least we can do for our kids'" (159). On the contrary, as Blankenhorn points out, most real-life divorced parents do not achieve postdivorce relationships based on good humor, warmth, mutual respect, rationality, and a commitment to cooperative co-parenting" (168). Actually, they do not get along very well if at all. Most divorcing couples direct their resentments and hurts at each other.
Blankenhorn's Good Family Man is based on the key words: Good: moral values. Family: purposes larger than self. Man: a norm of masculinity. Blankenhorn's defines him as "the best evidence available that fatherhood is not superfluous. In an increasingly fatherless society, the Good Family Man stands for fatherhood" (202).
No-good fathers are one's who Blankenhorn identified as ones considered as unnecessary, patriarchal, deadbeat, visitors, biological necessities, or mother's 'friend.'
Good fathers are ones who are able to comprehend their role beyond the traditional triad of provider, protector, and progenitor. Good fathers are active participants in nurturing, caring for, and directly involved with their children from birth!
Negative evidence is clear: "the fastest-growing family-structure trend in the nation has been out-of-wedlock childbearing . . . second has been the formation of stepfamilies . . . third has been divorce" (fn 5, 307). Of the three, divorce is seen as the least harmful, followed by stepfamilies, and out-of-wedlock childbearing. Blankenhorn concluded: "In sum, a perfectly inverse relationship between family-structure trends and child well-being" (fn 5, 307). Child well-being is key! Male sex partner, stepfather, and an out-of-the-way annoyance are not recommended primary roles for fatherhood. In the last third of the twentieth century materialism and narcissism in males and females have relegated the idea of child-well being to Never Never Land!
Blankenhorn's twelve-step program (Chapter 12) began with a pledge to good fatherhood, and included the distribution of consciousness raising information, of good fathers banding together, of the enactment of new legislation, of championing fatherhood affirmative action projects, and then ending with pulpit appeals and educational programs are helpful proposals.
Blankenhorn's final question is really the first question: "Does our society wish to recover the fatherhood idea?" Blankenhorn issued a powerful challenge. How our society reacts to that challenge will be the subject of controversy. The answer will be revealed over the next thirty years as men and women come to terms with the reality of perpetrating the human species in what some regard as a cultured and civilized society.
We are rapidly becoming a fatherless society. Read more