On Psychology

Jewish World Review Feb. 9, 2000 /3 Adar 1, 5760


Dr. Wade Horn

NOW: Pro-fatherhood funding is unconstitutional

By Dr. Wade F. Horn

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- AMERICA IS FACING a fatherhood crisis. Today, nearly four out of every ten children in the United States live in homes absent their fathers. That's 24 million children who will go to sleep tonight in a home without their father around to read them a bedtime story, fetch them a last drink of water, and give them a goodnight kiss.

And things are getting worse, not better. By some estimates, 60 percent of children born in the 1990's will spend a significant amount of their childhood in a father-absent household. This is not good news, especially for children.

Children growing up in father-absent households, compared to those living with their two, married parents, are five times more likely to be poor, two to three times more likely to fail at school, two times more likely to suffer an emotional or behavioral problem, and at least ten times more likely to commit suicide as teenagers. There are few statements one can make with certainty, but here is one: When fatherhood fails, children suffer.

Fortunately, America seems to be awakening from its three decade long denial about the importance of fathers to families and children. A recent Gallop poll indicates that nearly 80 percent of Americans now agree that "the most significant family or social problem facing America is the physical absence of the father from the home."

Econophone Moreover, community-based organizations are increasingly implementing fatherhood outreach, support and skill building programs designed to help men be involved, committed and responsible fathers. Indeed, when the National Fatherhood Initiative was founded just six years ago, we could barely find 200 such programs. Today, there are well over 2000, and the number is growing daily.

The U.S. Congress is poised to help support the growing responsible fatherhood movement by passing legislation that would provide funds to local community-based organizations to do three things: improve the fathering skills of men, increase the employment skills of fathers so that they are better able to financially support their children, and promote married fatherhood as the ideal.

Who could disagree with that? Not the Clinton Administration, which has issued a public endorsement of the legislation. Not the Children's Defense Fund, who along with several other liberal advocacy groups sent a formal letter of support for the bill. And certainly not the vast majority of members of the U.S. House of Representatives, which overwhelmingly passed the Fathers Count Act last fall on a bi-partisan vote of 328-93.

Standing nearly alone in their condemnation of legislation promoting responsible fatherhood is the National Organization for Women (NOW). Why? Essentially, NOW advances three arguments.

First, NOW asserts that legislation supporting men in their role as fathers is unconstitutional because it is gender specific. Funny, NOW isn't making that argument in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, which is considering the constitutionality of the Violence Against Women Act. It seems that at least in the eyes of NOW, the constitution allows gender-specific legislation when it comes to women, but not men. Must be in the fine print.

Trakdata Second, NOW suggests that no money should be spent to help fathers until every single mother who wants help is getting it. I do not begrudge assistance to single mothers. But government is already spending about $150 billion annually on programs that mostly support single mothers. All the Fathers Count Act would do is provide a smidgen of budgetary balance to the tune of about $35 million annually. Besides, despite NOW's heated rhetoric, the Fathers Count Act does not take away one dime from programs for single mothers -- nor should it.

Third, NOW is apoplectic that the legislation suggests that married fatherhood ought to be promoted as the ideal.

Radical feminism has a long history of hatred for marriage. Take, for example, this statement from the 1971 Declaration on Feminism, "Marriage has existed for the benefit of men... We must work to destroy it." Or consider radical feminist leader Sheila Cronan's proclamation, "Since marriage constitutes slavery for women, it is clear that the women's movement must concentrate on attacking this institution. Freedom for women can not be won without the abolition of marriage."

Although NOW stops short of such extreme rhetoric, it asserts that both the Fathers Count Act already passed by the House of Representatives and the Responsible Fatherhood bill pending before the Senate would force women to marry or stay married to abusive men. If the fatherhood legislation did any such thing, I would be against it, too.

But, of course, it doesn't do any such thing. No one would be denied services under either version of the fatherhood legislation if they didn't choose marriage, and no one would be pressured into getting married. All either piece of legislation does is suggest that where couples want marriage for themselves, assistance should be provided to help them establish and maintain a healthy, mutually-satisfying, equal regard marriage. In cases when a man fathers a child out-of-wedlock, he would be counseled to refrain from doing so again until after he gets married.

What's so horrible about that? What would be so terrible if more children grew up in loving and supportive households with two, married parents? Nothing. Unless, of course, you hate the very idea of marriage.

This is America. If NOW thinks marriage is a bad deal, it certainly has every right to say so. But saying so would indicate just how out of step NOW has become from the vast majority of Americans who want healthy, stable, equal-regard marriages not only for themselves, but for their children as well.



JWR contributor Dr. Wade F. Horn is President of the National Fatherhood Initiative and co-author of The Better Homes and Gardens New Father Book. Send your question about dads, children or fatherhood to him C/O JWR

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© 2000, Dr. Wade F. Horn