For Wade Horn, Fathers of Our Country Are Key to Its Survival

Article excerpt

Personal Bio

Wade F. Horn: His boyhood dream included being a dad.

Born: Dec. 3, 1954, in Florida, but grew up in Bridgewater, N.J.

Family: Wife, Claudia; two daughters.

Education: B.S., American University, Washington. Ph.D., Southern Illinois University, clinical child psychology.

Family Entertainment: "Travel. This summer, we're going to Scotland. We've been just about everywhere in the United States."

Career: 1989-1993, commissioner for children, youth and families and chief of the Children's Bureau, Department of Health and Human Services; earlier, director of outpatient services at Children's Hospital National Medical Center in Washington.

Favorite Father Film: "As a father of two daughters, I happen to love the two Father of the Bride movies. I think the tenderness between the father and daughter in both these movies is really quite stirring."

The founder of the National Fatherhood Initiative is on a mission to highlight the crucial role fathers play in the lives d America's youth and to remind us that life with further is an enriching experience.

Talk for any length of time to Wade F. Horn about the National Fatherhood Initiative, the project he heads from his office in Gaithersburg, Md., and you'll hear three adjectives: "involved, committed and responsible,"as in "our mission is to improve the well-being of kids by doing what we can to see that they grow up with involved, committed and responsible fathers in their lives."

Horn tells Insight that a life-threatening bout with cancer six-years ago led him to found the initiative in 1994. "It focused my attention on whats more important, career or family, my boss or my kids," and his children and the cause of children in general won handily. "Above an what we are concerned with is the institution of fatherhood," says Horn. In parenting, he adds, "it is important that there be a mother. It is important that there be a father. Both roles are essential."

Insight: What is the National Fatherhood Initiative?

Wade F. Horn: We are concerned both about the physical absence of fathers from the home as well as those fathers who may be physically present but nonetheless psychologically distant from their kids.

We're impressed by the literature that shows the connection between the declining well-being of children in America and the increasing incidence of fatherlessness. We're convinced that if we're going to improve the well-being of kids, we're going to have to do something about the fatherlessness problem in our country.

Insight: What does the literature say?

WFH: By just about any measure of child well-being you can imagine, there are empirical studies published in the scientific literature which indicate the connection between father absence and such social ills as crime, educational failure, emotional and behavioral problems, ill health, drug and alcohol problems, tobacco use and poverty.

Now it doesn't mean that every child who grows up without a father is going to become a drug addict or an alcoholic or a juvenile delinquent or whatever. What it does say is that there is an increased risk for those kids. Smoking doesn't mean you're going to get cancer, either, but it increases the risk of developing cancer.

It doesn't mean that children are lost if they don't have fathers in their lives, but when fathers are not there they will forever experience father-hunger. Many of them grow up and have a good career and earn a decent living, but there's always something missing in their lives.

In my mind, one of the things we're trying to do is decrease the risk of poor outcomes for kids.

Insight: What about our current popular culture and fatherhood?

WFH: Generally on TV fathers come in one of three kinds: absent fathers, incompetent fathers and disgusting fathers. In Grace Under Fire the father is absent. …