Orlando Sentinel

Study denouncing fathers sends danger signals

By Kathleen Parker
Published in The Orlando Sentinel on July 18, 1999.

Now is the time for all good fathers to come to the aid of the family.

But you'd better hurry; your days are numbered. In fact, if you happen to be a heterosexual male (further doomed by Caucasian pigmentation), your days are already over, according to a cover article in the June issue of American Psychologist, published by the American Psychological Association.

In their article, "Deconstructing the Essential Father," researchers Louise B. Silverstein and Carl F. Auerbach challenge one of the core institutions of our culture -- fatherhood. More or less, fathers, as we've known and loved them, are obsolete.

The article makes numerous breathtaking assertions, but basically the researchers state that:

Fathers aren't essential to the well-being of children.

Gay, lesbian and single parents are as good as any other.

Heterosexual marriage isn't necessary to produce healthy, well-adjusted children.

The article is long and impossible to summarize in a short column, but the gist is that our traditional family arrangement -- heterosexual mother and father -- was based on primitive biological needs that have been supplanted by more progressive bioecological arrangements, i.e. unwed motherhood, gay and lesbian partnerships, cohabitation.

That these developments have been rejected by many Americans as mistakes rather than cultural advances is merely backlash against gay rights and feminist activism, say the researchers.

Today, because more women are working, giving them economic parity with their mates, and because gays and lesbians have demonstrated that they, too, can procreate and rear offspring, heterosexual men are in a pout, say Silverstein and Auerbach.

"Within this new context of power sharing and role sharing, heterosexual men have been moved from the center to the margins of many versions of family life," the authors wrote. "We see the argument that fathers are essential as an attempt to reinstate male dominance by restoring the dominance of the traditional nuclear family with its contrasting masculine and feminine gender roles."

The authors may be commended for plainly stating their political agenda, which is to redefine masculinity, restructure societal institutions and push for government subsidies to all families with children.

But such honesty of purpose endows neither scientific credibility nor moral authority. What they want to do is simply wrong to the vast majority of Americans who believe in the traditional family, who live by their commitments and who know through life experience that mothers and fathers do matter.

Unfortunately, the article contains enough random pieces of truth to distract the unwary reader. The researchers carefully weave these pieces of truth -- divorce isn't all bad for all children, for example -- into an argument supporting their hypotheses. The reasoning goes something like this:

Truth 1: Some studies show that divorce isn't always bad for children; Truth 2: Some other studies suggest that children of divorce suffer more from life disruption than from absence of a parent; therefore, the researchers conclude, in a grand leap of logic, single-parent families are just as good as two-parent families.

Except, you know instinctively that's not true. Many children survive family disruption and worse. But by no stretch of logic or imagination can you convince a child that he's better off with one parent than with two.

Most men and women will recognize these new "findings" for the bogus nonsense they are. But the story doesn't end there. The gauntlet has been tossed and a cultural war declared with publication of that article. The non-essential father, a mere headline today, will become a textbook lesson for elementary students tomorrow.

Parents should not ignore these tidings as mere musings among academics but see them as the danger signals they truly are.

Kathleen Parker can be reached at Kparker@Kparker.com on the Internet.

[Posted 07/16/1999 6:18 PM EST]

Copyright 1999 Orlando Sentinel Online.