NCFM Adviser Gordon E. Finley, PhD, Blast from the Past, On Fatherhood
NCFM NOTE: Originally posted in Mens News Daily June 16, 2010 , but as relavant today as it was then. After reading this please see the next two related posts. Mr. Finley, says “Fatherhood as an institution will not disappear. Like Liberty, however, the price of fatherhood is eternal vigilance. Let your vigilance this Father’s Day shine a new light on your father-child relationship and reinvigorate it.”
Happy Father’s Day everyone. Thank you Mr. Finley for all you do to make the world a better place for the rest of us.
Harry Crouch, President, NCFM.
Long ago and far away, Father’s Day was celebrated as a special day for Dad with his favorite meal generally accompanied by the traditional gifts of a shirt, tie, belt, or wallet. As a son giving these gifts, and later as a father receiving them, it did not fully dawn on me what they really symbolized – honoring the father’s central role as the family breadwinner, the family member who brought home the bacon.
All of this has changed, of course, as society and the economy have changed. Today Father’s Day and fatherhood itself are under fire on multiple fronts and with multiple losses, not only for children and fathers, but also for society. Consider three: male unemployment, divorce, and non-marital childbearing.
Male unemployment today is higher than female unemployment while not coincidentally female educational attainment is higher than male educational attainment. Combined, these gender gaps portend a family gender role reversal with uncertain consequences. Specifically, for eons, men have supported women for love, sex, companionship, and for being good mothers to their children. Given the current reversals, will women support men for love, sex, companionship, and for being good fathers to their children?
Second, although sound social science research clearly indicates that children want a father in their lives, these three trends auger against the fulfillment of children’s wishes. The strongest evidence comes from the children of divorce. Multiple studies from multiple perspectives all reach the same conclusion: children of divorce not only miss their fathers but they also want legislatures and judges to change family law and family court practice so that they can have a loving and nurturing father involved in their lives.
The third challenge to fatherhood is non-marital childbearing. In the 1950’s, only four percent of children were born out of wedlock, while today it is about forty percent — a tenfold increase. While there is no “natural law” that children born out of wedlock should be at higher risk of losing contact with their fathers than children born within marriage, there is a very clear informal “social law” joined by formal “family law” jointly dictating that father absence increases with out-of-wedlock births.
For society, unambiguous research indicates that children of divorce and of out-of-wedlock births are at a much higher risk for a host of negative personal, social, health, work, welfare, and criminal outcomes than children whose fathers are heavily involved in their lives. Additional research shows that fathers are superior to mothers in curbing high-risk sexual and health behaviors in adolescents and young adults. Society thus has a vested interest in preserving fatherhood.
Like the children of divorce, the fathers of divorce also suffer from the severing or marginalizing of the father-child bond. Divorced fathers are worse off than divorced mothers on virtually all indices of personal, social, work, and health well-being. Strikingly, divorced fathers commit suicide at rates of eight to ten times greater than divorced mothers.
Insight into the emotional losses of a severed father-child relationship comes from the classic song Big Yellow Taxi. For many separated children and fathers, “… you don’t know what you’ve got ’till it’s gone” really rings true on Father’s Day.
For those fortunate enough to have a father, share this Father’s Day with him. For those who have lost their father through divorce and the family court system, contact him in the spirit of regret and reconciliation. For those who have lost their father through estrangement, contact him in the spirit of acceptance and an understanding of the issues of his time and generation. For those who have lost their father through death, consider placing a single red rose and contemplating his contribution to your life.
Fatherhood as an institution will not disappear. Like Liberty, however, the price of fatherhood is eternal vigilance. Let your vigilance this Father’s Day shine a new light on your father-child relationship and reinvigorate it.
Gordon E. Finley, Ph.D. is Professor of Psychology at Florida International University in Miami.