For want of a dad, will a
child be lost?
By MIKE McCORMICK and GLENN
Special to the Star-Telegram
A wealth of research confirms that fathers play a unique and
important role in their children's lives. Nevertheless, powerful forces in
our society try to marginalize fathers. Unfortunately, these misguided
individuals can be difficult to educate. With Father's Day upon us, it's
worth another try.
The rates of the four major youth pathologies -- teen
pregnancy, teen drug abuse, school dropouts and juvenile crime -- are
tightly correlated with fatherlessness, often more so than with any other
For example, according to a long-term study conducted in the
United States and in New Zealand and published in Child Development,
a father's absence greatly increases the risk of teen pregnancy. The study
found that it mattered little whether the child was rich or poor, black or
white, born to a teen mother or an adult mother, or raised by parents with
functional or dysfunctional marriages. What mattered was Dad.
A Journal of Marriage and Family study found that the
presence of a father was five times more important in predicting teen drug
use than any other sociological factor, including income and race.
A published Harvard review of four major studies found that,
accounting for all major socioeconomic factors, children without a father in
the home are twice as likely to drop out of high school or repeat a grade as
children who live with their fathers.
A Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency study
concluded that fatherlessness is so predictive of juvenile crime that, as
long as there was a father in the home, children of poor and wealthy
families had similar juvenile crime rates.
Adult children of divorce realize that dads are important. A
published Arizona State University study found that more than two-thirds
believed that, after divorce, "living equal amounts of time with each parent
is the best arrangement for children."
Nevertheless, fathers are often under attack by misguided
Although fatherlessness is almost always blamed on
irresponsible males, these advocates' powerful influence over family law is
also at fault. All family law and legislative battles over child custody
issues involve the same fight: Fathers want more time with their children,
and their opponents fight to limit their role.
For example, several major branches of the National
Organization for Women, including those in New York and Michigan, have
recently issued "Action Alerts" against shared parenting bills. These alerts
rallied NOW's supporters against moderate legislative attempts to help dads
remain a part of their children's lives after divorce or separation. NOW's
playbook is simple: Portray divorced dads as a threat to their children's
In this there is great irony. According to the U.S.
Department of Health and Human Services' new report "Child Maltreatment
2004," when one parent is acting without the involvement of the other
parent, mothers are almost three times as likely to kill their children as
fathers are, and are more than twice as likely to abuse them. But in New
York and Michigan, NOW's scare tactics worked.
The media's fascination with cutting down dads is another
part of the problem.
Former Stanford University gender scholar Peggy Drexler was
acclaimed last fall for her highly publicized book Raising Boys Without
Men: How Maverick Moms Are Creating the Next Generation of Exceptional Men.
Drexler asserts that father-absent homes are often the best environments for
Through her interviews with single-mother and lesbian
families, Drexler concludes there's no need to fear fatherlessness, because
fatherless boys play sports and scrape their knees like other boys, and
don't turn out to be effeminate or gay.
On that she's probably correct. However, fatherless boys
often do turn out to be juvenile delinquents, drug abusers and school
dropouts. Yet few hailing Drexler's research looked closely enough to see
that her assurances that fatherless boys "do fine" was based on the
ludicrous notion that all that really concerns us is that these boys might
turn out to be sissies.
Our society spends billions of dollars attempting to combat
crime, drug abuse, teen pregnancy and dropouts, without meaningfully
addressing fatherlessness, which plays a central role in creating them.
There is no easy solution to these problems. There is no solution without
Mike McCormick is the executive director of the
American Coalition for Fathers and Children (
Glenn Sacks (
www.GlennSacks.com) is a men's and fathers' issues columnist,
commentator and radio talk-show host.
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram ran my letter June 26, 2005.
The opinions of Glenn Sacks are right on the money, and his Fathers Day
commentary with Mike McCormick ("For want of a dad, will a child be lost?")
was no exception.
Fatherlessness is the major problem in society these days. But most divorces
are filed for by women. And most courts award custody to the moms. Dads are
not deserting their families.
Most of the problems cited by Sacks -- teen pregnancy, teen drug abuse,
school dropouts and juvenile crime -- would decrease with more involvement
How to increase father involvement in this day and age of divorce? The
concept of 50/50 shared custody would be a start.
Don Mathis, Sherman