When I’m asked what I do for a living, I say that while writing is what I do to make money, I am a husband and father first.
That makes me part of a shrinking minority.
Back in November, I wrote a post about a Pew Research Poll that showed than men were increasingly uninterested in marriage. Later, an article in the Washington Times showed that, according to US Census data, the number of children raised in single parent homes has increased dramatically over the last several years.
Even as the country added 160,000 families with children, the number of two-parent households decreased by 1.2 million. Fifteen million U.S. children, or 1 in 3, live without a father, and nearly 5 million live without a mother. In 1960, just 11 percent of American children lived in homes without fathers.
Over 40% of children live in single parent households, and the majority of those are missing fathers.
The article goes on to talk about the consequences of children growing up without fathers, and some of the demographic data, but it doesn’t really try to answer the most important question:
Why don’t men want to be fathers anymore?
I’m going to tell you what I think, but I’m more interested in what you, the reader, thinks so I’m really hoping to stimulate discussion on the causes of the dearth of good fathers out there, because we can’t develop a good solution unless we identify the correct causes.
I think we are facing a ‘perfect storm’ of cultural and demographic trends that have come together to discourage men from seeking fatherhood and I’ll start with the most obvious one; the sexual revolution.
Sex used to be part of a commitment, and that is no longer the case today. I know there were exceptions, but in general, sex was at least somewhat confined to marriage, which created not just a legal connection, but an emotional one as well. (And for those of you inclined to argue the point, let me just ask one question: If sex wasn’t primarily limited to married couples, then why did there need to be a revolution in the first place?) And inside a marriage, any children resulting from sex had a built in family framework to be raised in.
After/during the sexual revolution, that was no longer the case. Pregnancy out of wedlock became increasingly common and today, I’m pretty sure that more pregnancies occur without the benefit of marriage than with it.
Feminism also played a role. How many boys have been raised hearing that “a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle?” Is there a possibility that the stridency of modern feminism may have taught our boys and young men that they are, in fact, unnecessary for a functioning family unit? How often can a person be told they are not needed before they begin to behave appropriately?
Let’s toss in a related cultural factor. Our society has held for decades that “a child needs its mother.” As divorce became more prominent, so too did custody arrangements that for years favored the mother over the father. (Again, if you are inclined to argue the point, explain why the 1979 movie Kramer vs Kramer about a man fighting for custody of his son was considered to be so groundbreaking?) How many thousands of boys grew up being taught by our society that fathers were superfluous accessories and not necessary?
Except, of course, for their wallets.
How many boys grew up with a reservist father? You know, every other weekend and two weeks in the summer.
Let’s look at TV and the movies. Fathers are almost always portrayed as either bumbling idiots who must be rescued by their wives and/or kids, or cold, aloof and remote figures who are unable to build an emotional connection with their children. Does anybody believe that the constant drumbeat of ridicule heaped on fatherhood will have no effect on young men?
As a final example, consider the abortion question. A woman claims the absolute right to choose whether to have a baby or not when she has sex with a man. The man has no say at all in the question. Once he has had sex, he is on the hook. The woman can decide to have an abortion or a baby and the man is on the hook for it, period, end of discussion. Whether you agree with this situation or not is irrelevant; from the male perspective, he is held completely accountable for the consequences of a decision somebody else makes.
These factors, combined with the fact that we are in the second generation of absentee fathers makes the remarkable thing not how many men choose against marriage and fatherhood, but how many brave souls still opt in for a traditional family.
Now I am not knocking any one of the factors I’ve mentioned above, so let’s not get sidetracked into discussions about feminism or abortion. All I’m doing is pointing out the variety of societal factors that can be considered as possible causes for the trends against fatherhood. As I wrote earlier, I’m really interested in what you think. Why do you think men are shying away from marriage? Why are fewer men interested in being fathers? Is it even a bad thing?
Let me know what you think!