Monday with Mitch: When did fathers become expendable?
This month we celebrated Father’s Day. We know that from the calendar, the lines at restaurants, and the holiday sales at Best Buy.
But the rest of the year, fatherhood is shrinking in significance. I’m not just talking about physical absence — a third of American kids now live without their biological fathers — I’m talking about perceived importance. More and more, fathers are being viewed as less than necessary.
A 2010 study concluded that children of lesbian parents fared just as well — if not better — than those from a traditional man-woman marriage. A 2013 book stated “the notion that fathering is essential to children’s ... development seems to be a uniquely American preoccupation.”
And take this recent exchange on “The View,” an ABC show with a massive female audience. A guest host, an actor named Terry Crews, had floated the idea that “there are some things only a father can give you.” He was deluged by objection — both on social media and on the set.
When he said, “A father gives you your name,” cohost Whoopi Goldberg joked, “Like in ‘The Lion King?’ ” When he said, “A father gives you your security” and “your confidence,” cohost Jenny McCarthy, who is raising a son on her own, shot back, “I’m a single mother and I guarantee you, I can give (my son) all those things.”
The debate went on for several minutes at a high volume, with the female hosts paying homage to widows, single moms and gay couples, and McCarthy hammering at the idea that her “amazing” son needs no man.
And while I know the show is not scientific, it’s entertainment, it still got me thinking how far we have come, that on network TV, a man suggesting “there are some things only a father can give you” is greeted not with agreeing nods but with cannon fire.
On some levels, we men must blame ourselves. The number of fathers who take no responsibility for parenting — who impregnate and run as if they are pollinating flowers — is despicably high. Same goes for disinterested divorced men and deadbeat dads. They have forced single mothers into playing all roles.
But what about the fathers who stay? The fathers who relish their roles? Is citing their virtues now politically incorrect?
Take the sentence “There are some things only a mother can provide.” Does anyone disagree with that? You say “nurturing,” everyone nods. You say “unconditional love,” everyone nods.
But try saying that sentence about a father — as Crews did — and it’s as if you’re hammering people’s toes. “A father provides security,” you suggest? Oh come on, comes the response, as if a woman can’t? “A father provides discipline”? Don’t single moms keep kids in line? “A father provides a male role model.” So now you’re insulting gay couples?
Whew. When did it become so difficult to extol fatherhood? Perhaps when there became other agendas. An author of that 2010 study on lesbian parenting, for example, also has argued there is no need for marriage whatsoever. She also chided President Barack Obama, saying his emphasis on fathers’ importance was “dead wrong.” Even the New York Times, for Father’s Day in 2013, stirred debate — and presumably readers — by asking, “Do fathers bring anything unique to the table?”
But if they don’t, why does nearly every statistic on kids turn sour when fathers disappear? Youth suicides, five times higher than average. High school dropouts, nine times higher. Behavioral disorders, 20 times higher. Runaways and homeless children, 32 times higher.
Does none of that count?
We all recognize it’s a changing world. And I would not use this space to disparage single parents, or two men or two women raising children. But if it’s now insensitive to even question gay parenting, why does it ruffle no feathers to dismiss heterosexual dads? No one should be made to feel a traditional role is prehistoric thinking. That’s bullying of its own kind.
What does a father bring to the table? I can cite a few things I got from my own: Strength. Quiet confidence. Discipline. Responsibility. And love — all displayed differently than my mother, which was fine. My father also taught us how to be a husband, how to respect a woman, when to lead and when to support.
It’s true, not all men are like my dad. But plenty are. And fatherhood didn’t suddenly, after thousands of years, lose its value. It may be trendy to dismiss dads as little more than fertilizer, but it’s not true. In fact, it’s pretty foolish. Such is our world, where a comment like Crews’ brings a tsunami. Funny thing is, I remember someone from my childhood frequently saying, “He needs his father to do that.”
It was my mother.
Mitch Albom is a columnist for the Detroit Free Press.
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