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News & Views - Aug, 1995 Issue #35 

Confronting our most urgent social problem
by: David Blankenhorn
Founder and President of the Institute for American Values
NY:BasicBooks, 1995, 328 pages.
Review by: Lon Woodbury

How important is the biological father to his children? Not all that important according to some authorities, citing alternative family arrangements they claim satisfy the basic need of children to be raised by loving adults. Even harmful according to other authorities who see a tendency of too many fathers to teach their children aggressive traits. There are even some who ask, "Why can't a man be more like a woman?" (James Garbarino, president of the Erikson Institute for Advanced Study in Child Development). 

Blankenhorn answers: "Fatherlessness is the most harmful demographic trend of this generation. It is the leading cause of declining child well-being in our society. It is also the engine driving our most urgent social problems, from crime to adolescent pregnancy to child sexual abuse to domestic violence against women." 

Concerning neighborhood violence, Blankenhorn says, "Neighborhoods without fathers are neighborhoods without men able and willing to confront errant youth, chase threatening gangs, and reproach delinquent fathers." "...

Margaret Mead and others have observed that the supreme test of any civilization is whether it can socialize men by teaching them to be fathers--creating a culture in which men acknowledge their paternity and willingly nurture their offspring." 

"If mothers are likely to devote special attention to their children's present physical and emotional needs, fathers are likely to devote special attention to character traits necessary for the future, especially qualities such as independence, self-reliance, and the willingness to test limits and take risks." 

Quoting from a study in England, "...reveal that those in stepfamilies not only experienced far worse outcomes than did children who grew up with their two biological parents but also, on almost every measurement, experienced worse outcomes than did children from single-parent homes." "What emerges is the sad picture of young people becoming estranged from stepfamilies at an early age.... 

"From the child's perspective, the arrival of a boyfriend or stepfather does not represent a 'second chance' nearly as much as it represents a foreclosure of the first and only chance." 

"As a social role, fatherhood is less the inelastic result of sexual embodiment than the fragile creation of cultural norms." 

"One primary result of growing fatherlessness is more boys with guns. Another is more girls with babies."

Quoting a 1993 story in the Chicago Tribune, "Dale Weigand, 11 years prosecuting child abuse cases in Cook County, Illinois said 'I'd say it's the boyfriend in about 95 percent of the child abuse cases." 

"What magnifies the risk of sexual abuse in our society stems primarily from the growing absence of married fathers and the growing presence of stepfathers, boyfriends, and other unrelated or transient males." 

Blankenhorn makes a contribution with this book. I'm sure his view of what is a major cause of teenagers with troubles will be controversial. But, many of his points seem to make an intuitive sense. I highly recommend reading, considering and debating his point that we are diluting the concept of fatherhood, and our children and our whole society are suffering from it. 

Copyright 1995, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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