Academic journal article Policy Review

Our Foundering Fathers

Academic journal article Policy Review

Our Foundering Fathers

Article excerpt

Are You a Sperm Dad?

Perhaps the most important book written this decade on our greatest social crisis is Fatherless America: Confronting Our Most Urgent Social Problem, by New York intellectual David Blankenhorn. The president of the Institute of American Values, Blankenhorn dissects the insidious and prevalent bias against the value of fatherhood in both elite and popular culture. In this impassioned yet carefully reasoned and researched book, he argues that being a father is "society's most important role for men."

While mothers typically concentrate on meeting children's immediate physical and emotional needs, Blankenhorn writes, fathers tend to "focus on preparation for the future and on children's success in the larger society. Fathers are likely to devote special attention to character traits necessary for the future, especially qualities such as independence, self-reliance, and the willingness to test limits and take risks."

Moreover, Blankenhorn writes, a proper view of fatherhood is essential to the concept of masculinity. "Fatherhood cannot destroy or oppose masculinity, but fatherhood must domesticate masculinity. In a good society, men prove their manhood by being good fathers."But many journalists, academics, and purveyors of popular culture are writing a new "cultural script"-new definitions of what it means to be a man-that fails to serve the needs of children, families, or society. Here are some of the inadequate roles available to today's dads:

The Unnecessary Father. "He may be useful in some ways. He may be a nice guy, perhaps even a force for good. But he is nonessential, peripheral, 'not that important.' His presence may be appreciated, but it is not required." The Visiting Father. This poor chump writes the checks and strives valiantly to stay in touch with his children after a divorce. Although often romanticized, as in the popular movie Mrs. Doubtfire, "the great majority of visiting fathers are not-indeed, cannot be-good-enough fathers to their children," The Sperm Father. He accounts for nearly 30 percent of all fathers of young children. "His is the fatherhood of the one-night stand, the favor for a friend, the donation or sale of sperm. His child is the unintended consequence, the result of the affair that did not work out, the reason for the paternity suit, the baby he never learned about."

The Stepfather and the Nearby Guy. Rosy assumptions to the contrary, "children who live with stepfathers experience outcomes that are no better, and frequently worse, than children in mother-only homes."boyfriend) provides not fathering but often "ambiguity, complexity, and frequent change."

The New Father. "He expresses his emotions. He is a healer, a companion, a colleague, He is a deeply involved parent. He changes diapers, gets up at 2 a.m. to feed the baby, goes beyond 'helping out' in order to share equally in the work, joys, and responsibilities of domestic life."doesn't fault dads who change diapers, but he insists that this is not their most important contribution.

In contrast to this cast of losers, Blankenhorn holds up the Good Family Man. He "puts his family first. He is responsible for them. He sacrifices for them" to help prepare them for life in the real world. Sure, this guy also helps his wife care for the children and pitches in with household duties, but he views his role as complementary, not identical, to that of his spouse. This distinction is vital to the masculinity of men and to the future of fatherhood.

That's why, Blankenhorn says, it is crucial that society provide men with the right cultural script, because successful fathering depends more on societal codes of conduct than on biology. If we get those codes wrong, we'll see "the continuing decline of fatherhood and a deepening ambivalence and skepticism toward masculinity."more than any other male activity, helps men to become good men."

Your Man-Frog or Prince? …

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