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Jewish World Review June 12, 2002/ 2 Tamuz, 5762

Don Feder

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Father's Day, what's to celebrate? | On Sunday, the nation will celebrate an increasingly archaic holiday -- Father's Day. The culture has decreed that fathers are irrelevant. Men get the message.

Forget global warming. There's a daddy drought that's blighting the social landscape. The National Fatherhood Initiative has compiled some startling statistics.

In America today, 34 percent of all children are living in households without their biological fathers. More than a quarter of American children are raised in fatherless homes. About 40 percent of the kids who are growing up in what the group calls "father-absent homes" haven't seen the old man in the past year.

Children raised without paternal guidance are two to three times more likely to do poorly in school, be victims of child abuse, use drugs and commit crimes than their counterparts from intact families.

This simple statement of fact should serve as a call to action.

But what happened earlier this year when the president proposed spending $300 million to promote marriage? Well, the chattering class had a conniption.

"Washington shouldn't spend our money to promote conservative social policy," they kvetched. Of course, it was fine for government to create an inner-city matriarchy through welfare payments.

In truth, I'm not sure spending $300 million is going to get men or women to start behaving like adults -- not with movies, television, Rosie and other electronic authorities regularly delivering the opposite message.

Feminism has infected almost every aspect of the culture. Women are told they can have it all -- that they don't need a man to answer the ticking of their biological clocks. Look at all the career women on "Oprah" who are touted as successful solo parents.

Men are treated like a vestigial organ -- the cultural equivalent of an appendix. Their income would be most helpful in bringing up baby, society says. And, if they're really willing to roll up their sleeves and pitch in, their extra pair of hands can be put to good work changing diapers and soothing fevered brows.

But they have no unique role to play.

Their paycheck can easily be replaced with a welfare check. Given an adequate "support network" (extended families, social services, "mentors"), happy, healthy, productive citizens can come from fatherless families.

It's a lie that's become the prevailing wisdom. If men aren't eager to volunteer for milch cow/nanny duty, is it any wonder?

Reinforcing this message is the way fathers are defamed in the entertainment medium, which does more to shape attitudes than every government program ever devised?

"Father Knows Best"? Today, "Father is a Well-Meaning Moron At Best," is more like it.

On family sitcoms, mother is the repository of wisdom. Father is Homer Simpson -- a buffoon who's ridiculed mercilessly by his son, Bart. It's worse on dramas, where, more often than not, father is an irresponsible jerk, an overbearing lout or a tyrant who runs his family like a cellblock.

The latest Jennifer Lopez masterpiece, "Enough," has yet another sadistic guy terrorizing his ex-wife and daughter. Since "Sleeping With the Enemy," Hollywood has offered a steady diet of monster males.

I'm old enough, thank Heaven, to remember another world -- one where fathers were wise, compassionate, firm and dedicated to their families. It was a world where the head of the household initiated sons in the mysteries of manhood and taught daughters the meaning of selfless love.

They were fathers who led by their example, fathers who didn't have to take parenting classes to understand their responsibilities, fathers who weren't afraid to discipline or to show their love, fathers who didn't flee.

They were fathers like mine, who died seven years ago on June 30. The son of immigrant parents, a man who never got beyond the sixth grade in school, my father taught me what it is to be a man. My failings are all my own. Everything I've ever accomplished, I owe to him.

These sentiments won't fit on a Hallmark card. Perhaps instead of sending Father's Day cards, we should pool our resources and rent billboards telling the world that at least some of us understand that fathers are unique and irreplaceable.

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JWR contributing columnist Don Feder's latest books are Who is afraid of the Religious Right? ($15.95) and A Jewish conservative looks at pagan America ($9.95). To receive an autographed copy, send a check or money order to: Don Feder, The Boston Herald, 1 Herald Sq., Boston, Mass. 02106. Doing so will help fund JWR, if so noted. He is also available as a guest speaker. To comment on this column please click here.

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© 2002, Creators Syndicate