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A Father's Day downer PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Barbara Kay   

From the loving, engaged portrayals of fathers featured in recent popular movies like “The Descendants,” “Moneyball” and “A Better Life” — all three performances were nominated for Academy Awards — one might conclude American dads are culturally valued.

Look again. The mothers in these films are comatose, divorced or dead. It’s no coincidence. From Atticus Finch to today, there’s an unspoken Hollywood rule that fathers can’t shine too brightly in the face of active mothering. Dads are more likely to be accorded respect when they are “coping” — in effect, when they are surrogate mothers.

Sadly, it is not only in Hollywood where fathers get the short end of the stick. The culture reflects a painful and pervasive social reality: For all we talk about the value of fathers, we have been devaluing and discarding them for decades.

We must first diagnose this cancer. Then we must systematically work to cure it.

Why do fathers matter so much? Because fatherhood makes men out of boys, for one thing. And because typically they offer children a just as necessary but different kind of love and guidance from what mothers bestow.

Mothers give their children unconditional love. It can be argued that children need their mother’s love more in infancy and very early childhood than they need their father’s.

But from the moment they step into the world beyond their doorstep, their need for a father or father figure grows exponentially. They need his protection and guidance in handling the complexities and competing demands of school, adult authorities and sometimes difficult peers. Fathers give boys a role model for manliness and girls respect for themselves. Fathers give children strategies for negotiating their way in the world. They set standards to be respected. Their love may even seem conditional on those standards being met. That’s a good thing.

Father absence is devastating for children. Exhaustive peer-reviewed research confirms that the absence of a father is the single most reliable predictor for a whole roster of negative outcomes: low self-esteem, parental alienation, high school dropout (71% are fatherless), truancy, early sexual activity, promiscuity, teen pregnancy, gang membership, imprisonment (85% of jailed youth are fatherless), drug abuse, homelessness (90% of runaway children have an absent father), a 40 times higher risk of sexual abuse and 100 times higher risk of fatal abuse.

Today, 84% of custodial parents in America are mothers, a figure that hasn’t budged in three decades. Forty percent of the 236,000 children (in the 2009 census) whose fathers live outside the home have no contact with them. The other 60% had contact an average of 69 days in the last year.

 



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