Fredericksberg Star

Sunday, June 20,1999

Keeping fathers in families

Kids, society suffer when dads are cast out

By Amy Ridenour
Published, June 20, 1999

WASHINGTONóFatherís Day is not only a day to express our gratitude for all our fathers have done for us but also a day to reflect on the importance of fathers to society as a whole.

Although a January 1999 poll found that 72 percent of Americans believe that fatherlessness is the most significant family or social problem facing America, this is apparently a problem that many donít care enough about to solve. Here are some sobering statistics:

Forty percent of the children of divorced parents havenít seen their dads in the last year.

Thirty-six percent of children, approximately 24.7 million, donít live with their biological father. In 1960, just 9 percent of children lived with one parent.

The number of live births to unmarried women increased from 224,300 in 1960 to 1,248,000 in 1995, while the number of children living with never-married mothers grew from 221,000 in 1960 to 5,862,000 in 1995.

A just-released National Fatherhood Initiative analysis found that of the 102 prime-time network TV shows in late 1998, only 15 featured a father as a central character. Of these, the majority portrayed the father as uninvolved, incompetent, or both.

But for the kids who have them, a good dad makes a big difference. Consider:

Children with fathers are twice as likely to stay in school. Boys with Dad and Mom at home are half as likely to be incarcerated, regardless of their parentsí income or educational level. According to a Men Against Domestic Violence survey, 85 percent of youths in prison are from fatherless homes.

Girls 15Ė19 raised in homes with fathers are significantly less likely to engage in premarital sex, and 76 percent of teen-age girls surveyed said their fathers are very or somewhat influential over their decisions regarding sex.

Girls raised in single-mother homes are more likely to give birth while single and are more likely to divorce and remarry. Studies have shown that girls whose fathers depart before their fifth birthday are especially likely to have permissive sexual attitudes and to seek approval from others.

Paternal praise is associated with better behavior and achievement in school, while father absence increases vulnerability and aggressiveness in young children, particularly boys.

Young children living without dads married to their moms are five times as likely to be poor and 10 times as likely to be extremely poor.

Fatherless children are ďat a dramatically greater riskĒ of drug and alcohol abuse,Ē says the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Children living in households with fathers are less likely to suffer from emotional disorders and depression.

When dads donít live with their kids, the children are 4.3 times more likely to smoke cigarettes when teen-agers.

A white teen-age girl with an advantaged background is five times more likely to be a teen mom if she grows up in a household headed by a single mom instead of with her biological dad and mom.

Children with involved dads are less susceptible to peer pressure, are more competent, more self-protective, more self-reliant, and more ambitious.

These benefits to kids come at a cost for dads, but many are willing to make even greater sacrifices. Thirty percent of fathers said they have turned down a promotion or transfer because it would cut the time they would have available for their families.

In a 1991 survey, 75 percent of men said they would trade rapid career advancement for a chance to have more time with their families.

It doesnít take a lot of modern sociological data for people to realize that involved dads make an irreplaceable contribution to the lives of their kids. Back in 1909, Mrs. Sonora Smart Dodd of Spokane, Wash., invented Fatherís Day. Her own father, Henry Jackson Smart, a Civil War veteran, raised six children after his wife died in childbirth.

His daughter wanted a special day to honor the sacrifices he made raising six children alone and the sacrifices of all devoted dads. She selected June 19, her fatherís birthday, as the first Fatherís Day.

In 1924, President Calvin Coolidge supported a national Fatherís Day, and in 1956 Fatherís Day was recognized by a joint resolution of Congress.

In 1966, President Lyndon Johnson signed a presidential proclamation declaring the third Sunday of June Fatherís Day.

In 1972, President Richard Nixon made this date permanent.

Should we celebrate Fatherís Day because involved dads are great for kids? Sure. But we should do it for another reason, too: because we love them.

AMY RIDENOUR is president of The National Center for Public Policy Research, a nonpartisan Capitol Hill think tank.


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