In our opinion: Fatherhood hasn't received the attention it deserves

Published: Sunday, Feb. 23 2014 6:00 a.m. MST

Updated: Wednesday, Feb. 26 2014 6:01 a.m. MST

Being a parent is hard work. It involves countless hours, of pain and joy, of being a father or a mother to a child who needs you. The topic of fatherhood — what dads have to offer their children — hasn’t received the kind of coverage it deserves.

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Being a parent is hard work. It involves countless hours, of pain and joy, of being a father or a mother to a child who needs you.

Families and their parents are under so much strain today. It is vital for news organizations to dig deeply so as to understand both challenges faced by parents and solutions that might help them.

As part of the Deseret News’ commitment to rigorous reporting and analysis of these challenges, we have teamed up with TheAtlantic.com on a four-part series called “The Father Factor.” Many media organizations have focused recently on issues and challenges associated with single motherhood. But the topic of fatherhood — what dads have to offer their children — hasn’t always received the kind of in-depth coverage that it deserves.

Launching today and released simultaneously on TheAtlantic.com and DeseretNews.com, this series shows how important fathers are for the protection and emotional maturity of both sons and daughters. It demonstrates how single-father homes are growing faster than single-mother homes. It probes whether government welfare policies are creating a class of “dispensable dads.” And it offers a ray of hope for an encouraging apprentice-based approach to high school education that could address one of society’s most-significant family challenges: a spiraling crisis of boys dropping out of school, becoming unmoored from anchors of socialization and incapable of forming healthy relationships leading them to become good fathers themselves.

It might seem unusual that the Deseret News, with a strong focus on news about families, would join with TheAtlantic.com, which is dedicated to equipping opinion leaders with breakthrough ideas and original insights. We see it as common sense to focus on a topic that is as old as humankind — “The Father Factor” — but which desperately needs some fresh thinking. As we and other media organizations coalesce around the topic, it’s vital that fatherhood (and motherhood) don’t become seen as political anthems controlled by one party or ideology.

Consider Warren Farrell, the author of Father and Child Reunion and the convener of a bipartisan group asking President Obama to create a White House Council on Boys and Men. The group compiled research showing infants with dads living at home were months ahead in personal and social development. “The time a dad spends with his children is a particularly strong predictor of how empathetic a child will become,” the Deseret News reports in the first article in the series. “Children who lack contact with fathers are more likely to be treated for emotional or behavioral problems. Girls with absent or indifferent fathers are more prone to hyperactivity. If dad is around, girls are less likely to become pregnant as teens.”

The report that Farrell’s group produced said, “the U.S. has done a better job of integrating women into the workplace than in integrating men into the family — especially into the lives of children in the non-intact family. We have valued men as wallets more than as dads.” The result is “moms feeling deprived of resources and dads feeling deprived of purpose and children feeling deprived of the full range of parenting input.”

The impact of dads is being felt in other ways. A recent Pew Research study found that 8 percent of households with minor children are now headed by a single father. This represents a nine-fold increase over that number from 50 years ago. Homes headed by single mothers increased four-fold. Both of these statistics highlight a rising divorce rate (and rising conception of children out of wedlock) among non-college-educated parents, as well as a growing acceptance of fathers as caregivers.

Yet governmental programs haven’t caught up with that acceptance. The vast majority of U.S. anti-poverty programs are exclusively designed to serve single mothers and children. “Helping women and not men creates huge gender asymmetry,” said Harvard sociologist Kathryn Edin. “Men can’t earn enough money to earn a place in the family. They become dispensable.”

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