Washington Times

5am -- November 22, 1999

Two parents are better than one

By Suzanne Fields

Fathers count, as the women of the National Organization for Women learned earlier this month. They got the proof by act of Congress, or at least part of Congress.

"Fathers Count" passed the House by a vote of 328-93. It aims to help fathers become responsible parents with grants for several initiatives. It's pro-marriage. It bolsters two-parent families in poverty by providing incentives for fathers to support their children and become more attentive parents. Fathers can join groups where they'll learn both vocational and parenting skills. Faith-based organizations, often the only institutions left in poor neighborhoods, can receive grants to run programs for training dads.

"Fathers Count" is essentially a companion piece to welfare reform, which encourages a mother to be a better parent and to learn how to support herself rather than depend on the government.

"Fathers Count" does the same thing for fathers. In addition to providing the money, it will be more aggressive in collecting delinquent student loans and expands the $3 billion Welfare-to-Work program to include absent fathers.

Only 42 Republicans, 50 Democrats and one independent opposed it. Some conservatives see it as another government spending program even though it won't use new tax dollars; they say such initiatives should be local not federal, and they're unimpressed that it draws heavily on local agencies. Opponents on the left don't like church participation and they say it promotes marriage before poor fathers are ready for the responsibility, even though these boys have already sired a child. Both Marian Wright Edelman, the head of the very liberal Children's Defense Fund and the very conservative House Whip Tom Delay support "Father Counts."

The opposition comes from NOW, and if you need any further evidence that NOW is swimming out of the mainstream, you can find it in the NOW opposition to "Father Counts."

Martha Davis, legal director of the NOW Legal Defense Fund, argues that the law is discriminatory and pits mothers against fathers in a struggle for government resources. "Congress should enact legislation for helping both fathers and mothers," she said in a letter to the Chicago Tribune. "But to put the needs of men ahead of parents, whatever their gender, is wrong-headed."

"As nearly a I can tell, NOW is aggressively opposing this bill because its leadership believes [it] would increase domestic violence," says Rep. Nancy Johnson, Connecticut Republican. ". . . and because NOW believes some fathers' rights groups and right-wing religious organizations might get money under the bill."

NOW wants the money to go only to women. "The argument that all single mothers should receive services before any fathers receive services is a telling insight into NOW's view about gender equity," says Nancy Johnson.

For NOW, gender equity means men-need-not-apply. What's really troubling NOW, it seems to me, is that the bill is pro-marriage, philosophically and financially and supports two-parent families.

Many fathers of the underclass are absent from the home because for years women couldn't get welfare payments if there was a man around the house. Big Daddy, the government, was jealous and vengeful. Big Daddy didn't want competition from any man, even when that man was the father of the welfare mother's children. Talk about negative incentives for marriage.

As the radical feminists of NOW became increasingly dominated by man-haters, NOW decided that it wasn't so terrific to have a man around the house, anyway. Women could take out their own garbage. Career women could afford the radical feminist philosophy. But the have-not women suffered mightily. So did their children. This insight is elementary today. The numbers of fatherless children have tripled in 40 years, from 5 million to 17 million.

The fate of "Fathers Count" now moves to the Senate, where a similar bill has been introduced by Sen. Pete Dominici of New Mexico, a Republican, and Evan Bayh of Indiana, a Democrat. "Fathers Count" is no panacea, but if we believe that fathers really do count, it's a baby step in the right direction.