There’s a great deal of misinformation about dads, and – ironically – it starts with the very groups and organizations who purport to uphold fatherhood.
While we appreciate the efforts of fatherhood organizations like the National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI) and National Center for Fathering (NCF), we question the level of father absence that they claim exists in America, as well as campaign strategies from similar fatherhood organizations who continue to highlight father absence as a growing problem in America.
In the 1990s, the NFI and NCF established campaigns to build society-wide movements to reverse father absence, initiated by a growing body of social science research that showed there were record numbers of American children living in father-absent homes.
Three decades and hundreds of millions of dollars later, both organizations proclaim that father absence has reached “epidemic” and “crisis” proportions.
In fact, the following statements are posted on their websites.
“According to the national surveys conducted by the National Fatherhood Initiative, 9 in 10 parents believe there is a father absence crisis in America.”
“If it were classified as a disease, fatherlessness would be an epidemic worthy of attention as a national emergency… In short, fatherlessness is associated with almost every societal ill facing our country’s children.” – National Center for Fathering
How is it possible that after three decades of working to reverse father absence, these organizations can claim there is a fatherlessness crisis in America? This question prompted us to raise even more questions about father absence that pundits have failed to address. To help us find the answers, we contacted the Pew Research and asked:
1. Is there a clear definition of father absence?
2. Do you know if anyone has conducted research on what causes father absence?
Although we’re grateful for their prompt reply, we’re also very frustrated that they never answered the questions. Instead, we received two links to reports with the same old song and dance about father absence. Much of it was stereotypical, based on attitudes and tradition from yesteryear, similar in vein to the slanted and subjective messages that continue to describe a dad’s parental inadequacy and how he’s lacking in paternal deeds – and how there is a connection between father absence and an increase in social problems in America.
We reviewed both reports and found no definition of father absence, nor research on its causes. We also conducted our own investigation and could not find answers to our questions.
Why are the questions we presented important? How is it possible to conduct research without a clear definition of “father absence or what causes father absence?”
Sadly, most people mistakenly assume only a dad causes father absence when the truth is that there are many other origins.
Physical absence also doesn’t necessarily mean a dad is emotionally absent. And who should have the power to decide if a dad or mom is emotionally absent?
The reports also raised questions with respect to gender equality. For example, the report reveals that more moms are in the workforce and that the divorce rate is up.
Could we consider a mom who chooses a career over staying home as an absent parent? Could we consider a mom who does not have full custody after a divorce as an absent parent? Could we consider a mom who is in prison as an absent parent?
The report also admits that mothers are more overprotective than fathers, which many mental health experts define as maternal gatekeeping. Maternal gatekeeping can sometimes become an intimidating force. Even fathers who desire to be active and involved with their kids often drift away in the face of persistent maternal advice. Usually the way a dad parents is viewed as being wrong, when in truth, it’s simply different – each parent, regardless of gender, brings value to their children.
As such, more questions abound.
Where is the study on how maternal gate keeping prevents a father’s involvement or how it negatively affects children and causes social ills? Where is the study on mother absence? If one has not been conducted, why not? And if there is, did the researchers use the same rules and criteria as father absence? Did they spend the same amount of time analyzing mother absence?
One might also logically ask, where are these national organizations’ counterparts? Every parent can become better versions of him or herself, yet we do not see a National Responsible Motherhood Clearinghouse and slogan like “Take time to be a mom today.” What message does this send to dads toward being respected as equal, competent parents?
It strikes us as odd that these academic experts are held in high regard, yet create their own rules/definitions – or in the father absence case, yield no definitions or common sense upon which to conduct their research.
What we find even more frustrating about one of the reports is how it was conducted by telephone as stated on page 8 of “Parenting In America.” If researchers are directing a report of this much social and cultural significance, could it not have been done by observing and questioning actual parents in their respective communities?
Yes, it would require more work. However, it also might divulge some truths about fatherhood the public doesn’t want to hear, such as: fathers are every bit equal, are more active and involved, and are just as competent parents as moms – even in the primary caregiver role. The latter is a fact supported by the increased population of dads who choose to be the primary caregiver for their families.
Unlike the NFI, NCF and other fatherhood organizations who continue to play the father absence card, we are more optimistic about the state of fatherhood.
We wholeheartedly believe there are far more good people than bad people in this world. Therefore, we also believe the responsible, active dads far outnumber the irresponsible, absent dads. And we believe this to also be true with moms!
To prove our claim that the responsible, active dads far outnumber the irresponsible, absent dads, we propose a new “Fatherhood is Alive and Well” campaign. This endeavor shares real facts on how much growth has occurred with the active role dads have played as parents in the last three decades.
Our proposal is not just for dads, but moms too. Why? Because when business and organizations devalue a dad’s role as a parent, it also insults a mom – that’s the husband she chose to marry and serve as the father of their children.
It is time to stop the dad bashing and gender war in the parenting community. Let’s focus on finding ways to encourage dads and moms to create and model a loving parenting community for the kids!