“Deadbeat fathers are a very small, minuscule minority and not representative of all men, just as deadbeat mothers are not representative of all mothers or women. However, we hear incessantly about deadbeat or violent fathers and men, while feminist activists and the feminist-dominated media sweep the issue of deadbeat mothers and far greater numbers of violent women in all cases of domestic violence (esp. when it comes to violence against children) under the carpet. The all-pervasive vilification of men, of fathers and of the traditional nuclear family grew out of the systematic implementation of the international agenda for the planned destruction of the family”, these are extracts from an American website for fathers called “fathersforlife.org”.
Needless to say, the United States is becoming an increasingly fatherless society. A generation ago, an American child could reasonably expect to grow up with his or her father. Today, an American child can reasonably expect not to. Fatherlessness is now approaching a rough parity with fatherhood as a defining feature of American childhood.
This astonishing fact is reflected in many statistics, but here are the two most important. Tonight, about 40 percent of American children will go to sleep in homes in which their fathers do not live. Before they reach the age of eighteen, more than half of the nation’s children are likely to spend at least a significant portion of their childhood living apart from their fathers. Never before in the U.S. have so many children been voluntarily abandoned by their fathers. Never before have so many children grown up without knowing what it means to have a father.
Fatherlessness is the most harmful demographic trend of this generation. It is the leading cause of declining child well-being in our society. It is also the engine driving the most urgent social problems, from crime to adolescent pregnancy to child sexual abuse to domestic violence against women. Yet, despite its scale and social consequences, fatherlessness is a problem that is frequently ignored or denied. Especially within our elite discourse, it remains largely a problem with no name.
If this trend continues, fatherlessness is likely to change the shape of American society. Consider this prediction. After the year 2000, as people born after 1970 emerged as a large proportion of working-age adult population, the United States has been divided into two groups, separate and unequal. The two groups are working in the same economy, speak a common language, and remember the same national history. But they are living a fundamentally divergent lives. One group is receiving basic benefits – psychological, social, economic, educational, and moral – that are denied to the other group.
The primary fault line dividing the two groups is not race, religion, class, education, or gender. It is patrimony. One group consists of those adults who grew up with the daily presence and provision of fathers. The other group consists of those who did not. These two groups are now roughly of the same size.
Surely a crisis of this scale merits a response. At a minimum, it requires a serious debate. Why is fatherhood declining? What can be done about it? Can the American society find ways to invigorate effective fatherhood as a norm of male behavior? Yet, to date, the public discussion on this topic has been remarkably weak and defeatist. There is a prevailing belief that not much can – or even should – be done to reverse the trend.
When the crime rate jumps, politicians promise to do something about it. When the unemployment rate rises, task forces assemble to address the problem. As random shootings increase, public health officials worry about the preponderance of guns. But when it comes to the mass defection of men from family life, not much happens.
There is debate, even alarm, about specific social problems. Divorce. Out-of-wedlock childbearing. Children growing up in poverty. Youth violence. Unsafe neighborhoods. Domestic violence. The weakening of parental authority. But in these discussions, we seldom acknowledge the underlying phenomenon that binds together these otherwise disparate issues: the flight of males from children’s lives. In fact, people go out of their way to avoid the connection between the most pressing social problems and the trend of fatherlessness.
They avoid this connection because, as a society, they are changing their minds about the role of men in family life. As a cultural idea, the inherited understanding of fatherhood is under siege. Men in general, and fathers in particular, are increasingly viewed as superfluous to family life: either expendable or as part of the problem. Masculinity itself, understood as anything other than a rejection of what it has traditionally meant to be male, is typically treated with suspicion and even hostility in our cultural discourse. Consequently, the society is now manifestly unable to sustain, or even find reason to believe in, fatherhood as a distinctive domain of male activity.
The core question is simple: Does every child need a father? Increasingly, the western society’s answer is “no”, or at least, “not necessarily.” Few idea shifts in this century are as consequential as this one. At stake is nothing less than what it means to be a man, who their children will be, and what kind of society it will come to be.