Wednesday, June 16, 2004

The Expendable Father

For those few of you who once upon a time received the print version of Ideas Hatched, this, like yesterday's post, is a re-run. But now that at least a billion people could theoretically log on to this site, don't you think it would be selfish of you to demand a ban on material that is only stale to you? This appeared in the June 99 edition. Consistent with the theme below, which family do you think Jesse Jackson is spending Father's Day with?

About one year ago, Al Gore took the opportunity during a speech to announce the latest finding from high-tech social science: that fathers are actually an important element in the proper development of children. Mr. Gore is not the only one who requires some scientific backing to feel safe in making such statements. Remember that it was only seven years ago when liberals howled with indignation when Dan Quayle criticized the fictional character Murphy Brown for deliberately having a child with no intention of providing it a fatherly presence. That controversy actually stimulated work for sociologists who wanted to find out if fathers actually did matter. Only in pseudo-scientific sociology, and among liberals bent on trying not to offend feminists, does common sense become a debatable topic to be resolved by scientists.

There is much to lament this Father’s day for the respect society accords to fatherhood. While Dan Quayle was reminded patronizingly that Murphy Brown was a fictional character, the show was nevertheless reflecting a disturbing reality. Madonna, Rosie O’Donnell, and most recently Jodi Foster, represent some of the more high profile cases of women selfish enough to purposely deprive a child of the love of a father. These women are all certainly capable of providing materially for their children, unlike the countless cases of young women who have not planned their pregnancy, and whose boyfriends do not face up to their responsibilities. The poverty that so often goes along with illegitimacy is not a concern for millionaires having illegitimate children, but there is ample reason for as much moral concern. Unlike the Jodi Fosters of this world, most single mothers do not anticipate the father’s abandonment of themselves and their children; they have not necessarily chosen knowingly to deprive their children of fathers.

Children are born every day with birth defects and disabilities, and most are still lovingly received by their parents. The child’s physical problems rarely affect the love accorded by a parent, but still there is not one parent alive who would willfully choose that fate for a son or daughter. Why is it any more justifiable to willfully burden a child with the potential emotional problems that so often are present in fatherless children? We should recognize the choices of these women as embodying the crassest form of consumerism (notice that it is not an option for women of average income). The very act of conception for these mothers is a taking from their child, placing the mother’s needs first. Granted, not every child is born into the ideal circumstances of knowing two parents who conceived the child out of their love and commitment for one another, but this is usually not by design, and was always looked to as the ideal.

One need only look to the inner cities to see the devastating effects of absentee fathers, though in this case, it is primarily the refusal of fathers to accept the consequences of their behavior. Many of these young fathers unfortunately know that life guarantees no one the gift of a loving father, and they, like so many men, walk in the footsteps of their own fathers. We ignore the fact that this is the central problem in these communities, where the dirge of opportunity can never be remedied without the every day presence and influence of mothers and fathers, both of whom are necessary for the real education of children.

Perhaps the failure of so many fathers to love their children, and the mothers of those children, has led us as a society to shrug our shoulders when affluent single women reveal by their choices that fathers do not matter. But for every father who has failed his son or daughter, there are thousands who, in the eyes of their children, are one of only two people in the world who can truly never be replaced. For this most recent father’s day, I offer my best wishes to all the men who know this to be true, and who treat their children to their unique love. You’ll never have a more important job.


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