“On almost every indicator of child well-being,” says the National Fatherood Initiative’s home page, “children today fare worse than their counterparts just a generation ago. The reason: the dramatic rise, over the last 30 years, in the number of children living in fatherless households.”
In June, the NFI issued “A Call to Fatherhood,” reprinted on this page, to help stimulate “a broad-based social movement to restore responsible fatherhood as a national priority.”
We come together because we believe that every child deserves a loving, committed and responsible father. Not just the lucky ones, but every child. We come together from across the nation and across the political spectrum, all dedicated to ending the curse of fatherlessness that is maiming our children and coarsening our society. We come together, inspired by the best of the American tradition, ready to declare our goal and seek the support of our fellow citizens. We come together to call for a fatherhood movement.
We come together as men and women, black and white, rich and poor, all committed to restoring the institution of loving fatherhood as the birthright of every child, the sure expectation of every mother, and the joyful obligation of every man who helps to bring a baby into this world.
We come together as liberal and conservative, and from every region of our nation, all believing that what divides us is far less important than what unites us. We come together as Catholics, Protestants, Jews and Muslims, all asking for God’s blessing and guidance, and all pledging our time, our energy and our best ideas for achieving the great task before us.
We come together knowing that our journey will be difficult, but knowing we can do no other. For, whatever its other advantages, a society in which large and growing numbers of adult males cease to nurture their offspring is a failing society. Unless we reverse the trend of fatherlessness, no other set of accomplishments will arrest our social decay.
We come together to give life and energy to a fatherhood movement.
We view fatherlessness as one of the greatest social evils of our generation. It is a principal cause of deteriorating child well-being in our society. It is also an engine driving our worst social problems, from crime and teen pregnancy to child poverty and domestic violence.
Today’s mass separation of American fathers from their children is historically unprecedented. Never before in our nation’s history - never before in any nation’s history - have so many men been so radically estranged from their children and from the mothers of their children…
Americans are increasingly familiar with the grim statistics of fatherlessness. Today, nearly 40 percent of all American children do not live with their fathers. Before they reach age 18, more than half of all U.S. children will spend at least a significant part of their childhood living apart from their fathers.
This astonishing absence - this large and growing hole in our society where fathers ought to be - stems demographically from two related behaviors: unwed childbearing and divorce. Today, never-married mothers and males who impregnate them account for one of every three babies born. And though divorce rates have declined somewhat since the late 1980s, the United States remains by far the most divorcing society in the world…
For at least the past decade, Americans have engaged in a loud and often needlessly polarizing debate over “the family” and “family values.” Much of this debate has centered on the issue of family structure: whether or not the steady defection of fathers, and the resulting proliferation of mother-headed homes, amounts to a social crisis, a legitimate cause for alarm.
While we come from various points along America’s political spectrum, we agree on one central point: the family debate of the past decade is over. It is over because everyone, or at least almost everyone, now realizes that fathers matter. Not just a little, or in some circumstances; but a lot, for every child. Increasingly, all our studies concur, all our experiences show, the spread of fatherlessness in our generation is a profound social crisis and a legitimate cause for alarm…
We seek a fatherhood movement that is broadly based, overcoming barriers of income, race and politics, represented by many voices and organizations, active at every level of our society.
We seek a fatherhood movement that is united by one idea: for every child, a loving, committed and responsible father.
We seek a fatherhood movement premised upon equal regard between men and women, mothers and fathers, husbands and wives.
We seek a fatherhood movement that, while reaching out to divorced and unwed fathers, nevertheless discourages divorce and unwed childbearing and insists upon the importance of marriage as a life goal worthy of the respect and commitment of young Americans.
The fatherhood movement we seek is more than a prediction, more than merely something that we hope will happen. It is already beginning to happen, embodied in the pioneering work of devoted leaders and new initiatives across the country.
Some of our colleagues focus on fatherhood education and skills training, reaching out especially to new fathers, teaching them better ways to care for their children and challenging them to become better men…
Some of our colleagues work for economic empowerment and greater economic opportunity for young fathers, recognizing that, for many young men, economic prospects and fatherhood prospects are closely related and mutually reinforcing…
Some of our colleagues, rightly appalled by the prevalence of child poverty in this land of plenty, work to improve the conditions and life prospects of poor children and their families, recognizing that all children need fathers who will provide for and nurture them, and that the spread of fatherlessness in our generation is inextricably linked to the spread of child poverty…
Some of our colleagues are leaders in efforts to strengthen marriage. Some are active in efforts to reform no-fault divorce laws, advocating measures such as extending the waiting periods for divorce, requiring counseling for troubled marriages, and, in cases of contested divorces, ending or restricting the unilateral right to divorce on demand. Other colleagues are leaders in initiatives to improve marriage counseling and family therapy, urging their fellow professionals to approach their work with a bias in favor of marriage. Still others, working through their houses of worship and guided by the biblical premise that “God hates divorce,” are leaders in efforts to improve pastoral counseling for engaged couples, create better faith-based marital enrichment programs, and establish new communitywide ecumenical policies aimed at strengthening marriage and reducing divorce…
Many or our colleagues are women and men of religious faith, reminding us, in their words and deeds, that being a good father is part of being a righteous man…
Some of our colleagues are community organizers. Some are business leaders. Some are scholars. Some are philanthropists and foundation officers. Some are writers and public speakers. Some are active in the mytho-poetic men’s movements. Some are child and family advocates. Some are leaders in efforts to organize and represent the interest of divorced fathers who seek to remain active and committed parents. Some of our colleagues work in the media. Others work primarily with young people. Still others work in government and in public policy…
Across the country, new leaders and new initiatives are emerging. The potential for real social change exists; the seeds of a movement have already been planted. The challenge now is to build further on these inspiring foundations - to deepen our commitment, to grow in wisdom, to win measurable victories, and to work together in trust and mutual commitment…
In an increasingly fatherless society, we come together to dedicate ourselves to a proposition: for every child, a loving, committed and responsible father.
Some will disagree with this goal. Others, including many experts, will concede that fathers are important, but will urge us to accept the current trend of fatherlessness with dispassion and equanimity. Rather than getting preachy about fatherhood, they will advise us, focus instead on more realistic solutions. More child support payments from absent fathers. More support for single mothers. More attempts to find adequate substitutes for the missing fathers.
While affirming the importance of reaching out with compassion to single mothers and fatherless children, this work, although necessary, is not sufficient. The truth is that the contributions fathers make to the well-being of children are unique and irreplaceable. Consequently, we assert that any fatherhood movement worthy of the name must ultimately be guided by this overriding goal: loving fathers for all our children. We assert this goal, not because we are unrealistic or lack compassion, but precisely because we wish to be as realistic and compassionate as possible.
We propose to reverse the deterioration of childhood by bringing back the father, for unless we reverse the trend of fatherlessness, we see no realistic possibility of reversing the current downward spiral for children.
Passivity in the face of this crisis is indefensible. We come together because we believe that our society can change for the better. We come together to call for fatherhood.
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