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Correcting Obama on Father’s Day

In this Washington Times column published yesterday, fathers’ rights advocates Glenn Sacks and Robert Franklin, of Fathers and Families, criticize Barack Obama’s Father’s Day comments.  They make some excellent points:

Mr. Obama marked Father’s Day 2008 [by] saying fathers have “abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men” – a view he voiced many times during the presidential campaign.

Mr. Obama is correct that involved fathers – even divorced or separated ones with little income – provide their children with substantial benefits. A recent Boston College study of low-income minority families found that when nonresident fathers are involved in their adolescent children’s lives, the incidence of substance abuse, violence, crime and truancy decreases markedly. The study’s lead author, professor Rebekah Levine Coley, says the study found involved nonresident fathers to be “an important protective factor for adolescents.” Yet Mr. Obama makes a serious error by placing all blame for family breakdown on men.

Indeed; of course, the view that fatherlessness is almost entirely the result of men abandoning their responsibilities is quite prevalent on both sides of the political spectrum.  (In this regard, there is very little different between Barack Obama’s rhetoric and that of George W. Bush.)  Sacks and Franklin cite interesting new research showing that even never-married young fathers in the inner city — so often trotted out as the very image of the feckless male sowing his wild oats — often have a strong commitment to their children, and that their bonds to those children are often broken by the mother moving on to a new partner and shutting out the father.  And they are right that “it often is mothers, not fathers, who create fatherlessness.”

But at one point, the column seems to make the leap from “often” to “always,” resulting in a picture skewed in the other direction.

Sachs and Franklin write:

Moreover, women are increasingly having children with no intention of ever having a father in their kids’ lives. Newly released data from the National Center for Health Statistics show that 40 percent of children born in the United States are born out of wedlock, a 26 percent increase since just five years ago.

But the figure they quote does not illustrate the proposition in the first sentence.  The NCHS data show that in about half of those cases, the mother is in a steady relationship with the father (sometimes, living together).  Some of these parents later marry (it would be interesting to get data on that).  Moreover, surely at least some of the unwed births that make up that 40 percent figure are, in fact, due to paternal abandonment.  Let’s not counter one false stereotype with another.

That said, I will add that I think Fathers & Families does great work, and their approach is generally very balanced, and steers laudably clear of the woman-bashing rhetoric that some fathers’ rights groups regrettably lapse into.  But it never hurts to be vigilant against the temptation of bias in a good cause.  Edited to add:  Or against careless wording which may create the impression of bias.

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