By: Rick Santorum – nationalreview.com –
This Father’s Day is one like no other. Due to the coronavirus shutdowns, thousands of dads in nursing homes will not be visited by their children. Many kids and their moms will not be taking Dad to his favorite restaurant. Grown sons and daughters living in “hot” areas are not traveling so Dad can spend the weekend with his beloved children and grandchildren. Coronavirus, however, cannot stop us from celebrating this important day when we honor men who perform crucial roles in sustaining healthy families.
It has been exhaustively documented that the odds of successful life outcomes dramatically increase for children who have both a father and a mother in their home. These children have better education outcomes, fewer behavioral problems, and are less likely to use dangerous drugs or commit crimes.
It is a sad reality, however, that so many children in America — particularly underprivileged ones — are deprived of living in a two-parent home. As Fox News host Tucker Carlson remarked a couple of years ago, “Increasingly, having a father at home is a sign of affluence. But it is also a cause of affluence.” The research backs up this claim. Families are stronger when dads are engaged and living with their children, which leads to greater psychological, spiritual, and material wealth.
Research also shows, however, a disheartening decline in two-parent households over the past several decades. In a thought-provoking recent essay in The Atlantic, David Brooks notes that in 1960, 77.5 percent of children lived with their two married parents. Today, less than half of households are made up of a two-parent nuclear family. From 1970 to 2012, the percentage of households consisting of a married couple with children dropped by 50 percent.
This is clearly an unhealthy trend. Yet Brooks believes the age of the nuclear family is long gone and was a “freakish” historical anomaly that succeeded only during a brief period when economic, structural, and cultural stars aligned. Today, it only works for the highly educated and wealthy.
I find this thinking to be defeatist.
As he ponders how best to move forward, Brooks conspicuously avoids mention of fatherhood. Instead, he appears most intrigued by what he calls “forged” families — artificial, self-selected, largely non-biological extended “families” to fill the void. I don’t discount the importance of extended families, but abandoning fatherhood as an integral piece of the solution is another brick in the wall that has been constructed over the past 50 years, leading to the isolation of fathers from their children.
Academic and social movements have marginalized the importance of fathers. The popular culture went from lionizing fathers (Father Knows Best) to ridiculing them as incompetent boobs (The Simpsons, American Dad, Family Guy). Even well-meaning government social-welfare payments commencing in the mid-sixties made fathers less needed in the economic structure of families.
Do not underestimate the damage done by disrespecting fathers and fatherhood writ large. Men — fathers and future fathers — need to be needed and as Dr. Emerson Eggerichs wrote in his bestselling book, Love & Respect, men desperately need to be respected. What man seeking respect would seek a role that is widely disrespected? We ridicule and marginalize fatherhood, then are disgusted when men don’t want to take on the responsibility and sacrifice of fatherhood.
These trends have wreaked particular havoc on low-income male workers. In their 2013 book, Doing the Best I Can: Fatherhood in the Inner City, authors Kathryn Edin and Timothy Nelson looked at the personal stories of more than 100 black and white unmarried fathers in economically depressed sections of Philadelphia. The authors found widespread concern among these workers about whether they could support a family financially, and some openly questioned whether the mothers of their children would want to be with them, given their limited means. To be clear, this was not a lack of desire to be married with children being expressed, but rather a doubt about whether such a life was even possible for them.
This should not be the reality for any dad or potential dad — and it does not have to be. Public policies can make a difference. Fifteen years ago, Democratic senator Evan Bayh and I authored a law to provide grants to promote healthy marriages and help men become more responsible fathers. Today, 36 programs in at-risk communities across America are funded as a result of that law.
Family creation should be encouraged (and certainly not discouraged), too. No mom in America should be punished with a sudden and severe cut to benefits for her and her children should she get married. No employee should fear their career will hit a ceiling if they have a child. And paid family leave to care for newborns should be a benefit that both moms and dads earn from their jobs.
Pro-family policies need not cause economic harm, either. For example, just last week the pro-growth American Action Forum released its study on the benefits of paid family leave. While the study focused on children and found their benefit is significant, it also concluded, “Overall, these health and educational benefits to children — by helping to foster the conditions for individual wellbeing — have long-term social and economic benefits.” In other words, public policies can be pro-worker, pro-family, and pro-economy at the same time.
And babies aren’t the only ones who benefit from this bond. A growing body of scientific evidence shows that fathers who spend time with their newborns in their first weeks strengthen their bonds to their children and alter their brains, making them more caring and nurturing.
No matter our experience with our own father, this Father’s Day demands a newfound respect for fatherhood in our culture. The love and healing, particularly for the disadvantaged, that will come from this respect is difficult to overestimate in its power and can be the rock that grounds an American family revival. Dads are not just for the rich or the poor, for white, black, or brown, for daughters or for sons. Dads are essential for everyone.
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