All children need a father

The front page of the May 22 Deseret News carried an excellent story on fatherlessness in the United States. The experts interviewed for the story explained clearly the heightened risk to children who are raised without their fathers when the absence is due not to death but to divorce or abandonment or, increasingly, because the father and mother never married.

Our public policies do not always help the situation. No-fault divorce, by allying the state with the person who wants out of a marriage and refusing to take into consideration behavior that breaks up a marriage, sometimes allows fathers and children to be separated when the father has done nothing to harm his marriage.

The increasing acceptance of same-sex marriage constitutes an endorsement of the idea that fathers (or mothers, though usually fathers) are merely optional to a child’s well-being. Assisted reproduction laws dramatically undercut the principle of paternal responsibility. These laws promote the legal fiction that a father is not really a father if he creates a child through the intermediary of a fertility doctor. These laws allow a class of fathers to intentionally desert the children they create so as to facilitate the desire of another adult to have a child without a man around.

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  • Adam

    Unfortunately, this post is factually inaccurate.  According to a five-year study by Sociologist Stacey Biblarz, “two women who choose to parent together are slightly more likely than a heterosexual couple to be actively commited to hands-on parenting,” and “no research supports the widely held conviction that the gender of parents matters for child well-being.”

    • Bill Duncan

      The charge that this post is factually inaccurate does not stand up. The charge is based on a news report (inaccurately characterized in the comment) and ignores the critiques of the study Adam relies on that are mentioned in the story he links to itself. Adam’s comment does not take into consideration the family scholars mentioned in the Deseret News story which the original post links to all of whom say the exact opposite to what Adam has quoted from the USA Today article. In other words, the three experts from the University of Virginia and Brigham Young University (and a number of other government and academic studies referenced in the Deseret News story) all say that children do experience unique benefits from having a mother and father.

      Their expert evaluations are supported by a significant body of research. To take a few examples:
      •    This report by David Eggebeen of Pennsylvania State University,
      •    This study by Mark Regnerus of the University of Texas at Austin,
      •    This book by Ross Parke of University of California, Riverside,
      •    This report from sixteen family scholars, which include the findings related to fatherhood summarized here,
      •    This report for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services by Jeffrey Rosenberg and Bradford Wilcox,
      •    This book by David Blankenhorn of the Institute for American Values,
      •    This book by David Popenoe of Rutgers University,

      Scrolling down on Sutherland’s blog will lead to another blog post, which includes citations to two studies which demonstrate that father absence is associated with early puberty (and its associated risks). There are many other studies, such as this one: Paul R. Amato and Fernando Rivera, “Parental Involvement and Children’s Behavior Problems” Journal of Marriage and the Family volume 61, No. 2 (May 1999), pp. 375-384.

      How then would it be possible to reconcile the statement from Dr. Stacey and Dr. Biblarz on which Adam relies? One possibility is that these authors are unaware of or ignoring the research noted above. Examining the references in their Journal of Marriage and Family study (Timothy Biblarz & Judith Stacey, How Does the Gender of Parents Matter? 72 Journal of Marriage and Family 3, February 2010) suggests this may be the case since they reference only two of the works on fathers cited above in their references and do not discuss either of these.

      Another possibility is that there are flaws in the article by Dr. Stacey and Dr. Biblarz. University of Virginia sociologist Bradford Wilcox note, “a close reading of their article’s appendix indicates that the vast majority of the published studies they relied upon are deeply flawed from a methodological perspective. Specifically, most of the studies relied upon small, unrepresentative samples of same-sex and heterosexual couples. You just cannot draw strong conclusions one way or another from these studies, given their methodological limits.” He also points out that “Biblarz and Stacey ignore a growing body of research relying on large, random, representative samples of American children that indicates fathers do indeed play a distinctive role in the lives of their children.” A response to the Biblarz and Stacey article published in the same issue of the Journal of Marriage and Family, even though written by someone sympathetic to the article’s point of view, notes that the article conflates various factors it addressing (like marital status and sexual orientation) and relies on studies that do not use appropriate comparison groups. See Lisa Strohschein, “Generating Heat or Light? The Challenge of Social Address Variables” Journal of Marriage and Family, February 2010 vol. 72, iss. 1, p. 23.

      Finally, the comment on this post contains some inaccurate statements. There is no sociologist named “Stacey Biblarz.” The USA Today story refers to an article written by two sociologists, Judith Stacey and Timothy Biblarz. Also, the article is not based on a five year study but on reviews of other people’s work (with all of the flaws noted above).

      Obviously, Dr. Stacey, Dr. Biblarz and Adam are free to believe that fathers are not important to children and to make their case for that belief. That belief, however, does not create reality and it does not make those who disagree with it wrong.

  • Justin R. Traver

    Greetings Bill,
    I am attempting to have a new 2012 “Shared Parenting” bill presented.
    This would simply mandate that in the event of divorce or separation BOTH parents receive joint physical custody…unless one is unwilling or unfit.

    The body of evidence, showing the need for fathers to be equally involved in their childrens lives is abundant and makes this irrefuatable. You know this.

    I have a state Rep willing to present the bill. I have Family Law/ Father rights advocates willing to assist in preparing the bill.
    BUT… I have been told that Lt Gov. Greg Bell and the Legislative committee opposes all such revisions, claiming that some funding and child support for existing State services will be lost.

    RSVP. traverjustin at 435-671-1384 Thanks