Magazine article The Progressive

The Fatherhood Industry

Magazine article The Progressive

The Fatherhood Industry

Article excerpt

Welfare Reformers Set Their Sights on Wayward Dads

As the sun sets low on the horizon, a herd of male elephants appears in silhouette. Birds swarm around them, and drums beat in the background. A narrator intones: "When young bull elephants from a national park in South Africa were moved to different locations without the presence of an adult male, they began to wantonly kill other animals. When an adult male was relocated with them, the delinquent behavior stopped."

Segue to a basketball court, where a black man hugs a black youth. Narrator: "Without the influence of their dads, kids are more likely to get into trouble, too. Just a reminder how important it is for fathers to spend time with their children."

This commercial, which ran during the Late Show with David Letterman on September 7, is part of a national campaign produced by the Ad Council for the National Fatherhood Initiative.

Created in 1994 to "counter the growing problem of fatherlessness by stimulating a broad-based social movement to restore responsible fatherhood as a national priority," the National Fatherhood Initiative believes that "fathers make unique and irreplaceable contributions to the lives of their children."

In its first year, the group convened a National Summit on Fatherhood in Dallas. The purpose, according to the group's literature, was to gather the nation's "civic, business, and philanthropic leaders" together to "build a national consensus on the need to quickly reduce father absence." The National Fatherhood Initiative provides technical assistance to the Governors' Task Force on Fatherhood Promotion, whose goal is to help "rebuild the institution of fatherhood" in the twenty-first century. And the group works with the bipartisan Congressional Task Force on Fatherhood Promotion, formed in 1997 to promote leadership in combating "fatherlessness."

Wade Horn is president of the National Fatherhood Initiative and a fellow at the conservative Hudson Institute. He also sits on the board of Marriage Savers, a Maryland-based group pushing "community marriage covenants" that are designed to make divorces more difficult to obtain.

A former U.S. Commissioner for Children, Youth, and Families, Horn urges state officials to seize the opportunities created by welfare reform to remedy what he and many cultural conservatives call the crisis of the broken family. In a 1997 report he wrote with Andrew Bush, director of the Hudson Institute's Welfare Policy Center, Horn recommended that states discriminate against single-parent families by establishing "explicit, preferential treatment for marriage in the distribution of discretionary benefits such as public housing and Head Start slots."

Fatherhood is hot right now. Its promoters include not only ideological groups like the National Fatherhood Initiative but also liberal philanthropies like the Ford Foundation and the Annie E. Casey Foundation, as well as the government at the state and federal levels. According to the National Center for Children in Poverty, all fifty states have some kind of "responsible fatherhood" program in place, ranging from public information campaigns to parenting classes for young fathers to job training for incarcerated dads.

Call it Welfare Reform, Part Two. While single moms were the focus a few years ago, now wayward dads are getting a lot of the attention.

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, which ended the entitlement to welfare, spurred on these fatherhood programs by deeming marriage the "foundation of a successful society." The objectives of Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF), the program that replaced Aid to Families with Dependent Children, codified Congress's stance on the supremacy of traditional, nuclear families. The stated goals of the program include: "End the dependence of needy parents on government benefits by promoting job preparation, work, and marriage"; and "Encourage the formation and maintenance of two-parent families. …

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