Fatherless America: Confronting Our Most Urgent Social Problem
a book by David Blankenhorn
(our site's book review)
The book looks at fathers, no fathers, stepfathers, the Old Father, the New Father, and gender roles.
One important finding reported by Blankenhorn is the fact that kids do best in families with more adults as in nuclear families, extended families, and stem families (nuclear families with one set of grandparents living with them). (Note: What the author fails to mention here is that the sociological data clearly shows that elders and kids both do better in extended and stem families than in nuclear families, and kids in nuclear families do better than kids in single-parent or step-families.) In citing what goes wrong in step-families, he points out the step-family is the most volatile and unstable of all types, with increased rivalry and conflict, and the kids don’t experience the new fathers as fathers but as problems and competitors.
In citing what goes wrong in step-families, Blankenhorn points out the step-family is the most volatile and unstable of all types, with increased rivalry and conflict
Logically speaking, one would have expected Blankenhorn to comment at this time about steep-gradient versus flat-gradient nurturance. The reason step-families often experience constant win-lose conflicts is that the individuals in them have gotten their character structure from win-lose steep-gradient nurturance parenting, in which attention towards one kid is an intrinsically win-lose affair for the other kids, since the attention giver cannot be two people at once, and rare is the situation where two adults are simultaneously into (or even available to be into) giving two kids attention at the same time.
Another logical comment here would be that normal parenting relationship and communication practices are usually not that conducive to helping kids mature and become independent, therefore most step-families experience all this ugly competition and conflict because the people in them—including adults—have not been empowered to attain maturity, win-win character, independence, autonomy, empathy, insight, or compassion. The statistics regarding step-family dysfunctionality have more meaning than he gives them credit for, and are an indictment not just on the effect of divorce on kids, but the effect of dysfunctional lifestyles on us all.
Many fathers are now nurturers while the wife is the breadwinner
To Blankenhorn, the entire issue is about fatherlessness—and a new father is no help, except economically, because he’s not the old father. One would expect him to ask himself somewhere along the line: So why are the kids still into “the struggle” (defined by Janov in The Primal Scream as an overpowering obsession to get one’s parents to love one, which happens because needs were not sufficiently filled from said parents) to get love from parents, and why can’t the kids be open to both old and new father caring about them? What is the obsessive, codependent negativity all about, here? Would it happen if all concerned had been brought up in optimally need-filling environments with good relationship, communication and parenting practices? These are the sociological questions that would lead to the most insight and constructive conclusions, but which are relatively scarce in this and most other sociological books.
Many fathers were not well nurtured as children, so they have little to give their own kids no matter how much these kids need this nururing
But, in spite of the book’s omissions, there is much to be said about recovering and re-embracing the fatherhood idea. Although he says that we need to drop our attempt to accept the Nearby Guy (nonrelated father figures in kids’ lives) as substitute fathers and concentrate on making the real, biological father thing work, we would argue that that’s just more win-lose thinking and that supporting the real father concept and the nearby guy concept can be proven to be better for the child than simply focusing on one man. But, such issues aside, we support his advocacy of the worth of fatherhood and the nuclear families in which they reside.
The 'nearby guy' concept can be proven to be better for the child than simply focusing on one man since the extreme viability of a flater gradient of nurturing is well demonstrated
He offers twelve proposals for re-igniting the fatherhood tradition. Here are some of them: get father figures to serve as more overt and visible positive role models, encouraging male responsibility, transform public housing, end marriage disincentives, have community organizers help empower the rehabilitation of community values, get churches to recommit themselves to better marital preparation in their congregations, and make sure that all legislation passes the litmus test of not weakening marriage.
41% of first marriages in the U.S. end in divorce
Blankenhorn is correct that we need to encourage “. . . a broad new populist movement to empower families and strengthen community life.” His plan to get community organizers to champion this cause is not likely to light any fires under anyone, although we’d be only too happy if it does.
But we view all this as a reductionistic look at a much bigger problem of social dysfunction. All the divorces that lead to all the fatherless situations—or worse (in his opinion anyway): stepfamilies—are not the result of an extraterrestrial meteorite landing in America and warping our psyches with special anti-father radiation. Nor can you blame this on liberals, conservatives, or even “the 60s.”
Divorces are not the result of an extraterrestrial meteorite landing in America and warping our psyches with special anti-father radiation
First, we need to put all this into context: The Second Wave and the Industrial Revolution is giving way to the Third Wave and the Knowledge Revolution, with its focus on information and connectivity and diversity. We can expect many different family forms, and we need to support and respect all of them. But the Second Wave’s authoritarian family and relationship and government forms based on the lower quality power of force need to be replaced and transcended by the Third Wave’s high quality power in which knowledge and wisdom are not only achieved and organized but applied to our lives, and in this process it is essential that the appliers are not social-engineering-inclined politicians with heroic and Utopian ideals of “saving us all” through their benevolent socialistic manipulations, once more causing us to be at effect of well-meaning but misguided puppet masters who don’t feel we have the intellect or wisdom to take responsibility for our own lives.
Social engineers cause us to be at effect of well-meaning but misguided puppet masters who don’t feel we have the intellect or wisdom to take responsibility for our own lives
It is essential that social movements occur in which a message gets spread about a new alternative [think MC] and then individuals and families are at cause and self-responsible and make their own choices about viable lifestyles and relationship/parenting/communication practices. It is essential that individualistic, independent Americans act very, very American as only Americans can, and choose, not have choices made for them and then have taxes forced down their throats to back programs that always degenerate into caricatures of bureaucratic incompetence that condition us to be weak and dependent while we squirm uncomfortably because we know we are better than that—we are smarter and more capable and more self-reliant and more resourceful than that.
Movements are opportunities. Most political “programs” are authoritarian impositions, and, sometimes, even humiliations, depending upon how deep we cogitate about letting our government be a big daddy and mommy and taking responsibilities away from us that we know rightfully should be handled by us. In the 90s, Clinton, Gingrich, et al. at various times advocated Opportunity Society contexts; they were both trying to get us off government dependency, but both succumbing to the temptation to heroically act as dependency-desiring parental figures doling out tax breaks and entitlements, rather than empowering friends doling out encouragement and opportunities. Clinton’s 1996 State of the Union candy store speech in which he promised all things to all people is a case in point. The good news is that some of it was about empowering people to do for themselves. The bad news is that the rest of it was business as usual. It will take a lot of political courage to help Americans get weaned off the government teat, and it will be impossible unless there first occurs a movement that actually empowers people to adopt lifestyles that lead to autonomy and self-actualization as Fromm (The Revolution of Hope), Riesman (The Lonely Crowd), Maslow (Toward a Psychology of Being), et al. hoped for us. For that is what we ultimately need.
Back to divorces: They manifest social disconnectedness, social resourcelessness, steep-gradient relationships, and people trying to form couple relationships in which two people ludicrously assume that its feasible to have the two of them fill every conceivable emotional, companionship, social, intellectual and recreational need in each other, as if they were an island of infinite resources. This is a new experiment, and it hasn’t been tried before in history, mostly because few people in history were so naďve as to even imagine much less try such a patently stupid social arrangement! Many of our better thinkers have been decrying this experiment and enlightening us as to the need for social networking, friendships, diversity, and community connectedness. Many have also warned us of the vital part such social and community connectedness plays in preserving democracy and freedom. But most Americans have not been listening.
People constantly try to form couple relationships in which two people ludicrously assume that its feasible to have the two of them fill every conceivable emotional, companionship, social, intellectual and recreational need in each other
It’s true that the Tofflers have pointed out that people live a long time, and people finding partners that are right for each other is not that likely, but a couple growing together at the same rate and staying compatible for a lifetime in even more unlikely, so we can expect plenty of divorces. The arguments are unassailable, and unless another factor comes into play and changes things, this is indeed what we can expect. But, as we outlined in our comments on the Toffers’ books, there are many things that can be done to have growth happen concomitantly, to prevent most divorces, to greatly lessen the negative effects of divorces when they do happen, and to help the right people find each other in the first place. [The MC movement virtually cures all of these problems in one fell swoop. See Why Register for an MC?.]
Registering for MC search and match
Divorce rate in the US from 1935 to 2010
But it’s time that we realize that the divorce statistics would be even greater if it wasn’t for the fear of AIDS and other diseases. And this isn’t because people don’t want or need each other. As primates, we do and always will need and want each other. It’s just that our methods of meeting the “right” people—for both friendship and spouse purposes—are about as flawed as they could possibly be, and our parenting, relationship and communication patterns are random mixtures of blindly following “inner-directed” forces—what we learned from parents (and it didn’t work well then either), and blindly following “other-directed” forces—what we learn from peers and society—mostly the media. In spite of the fact that our society has the knowledge we need to parent, relate, and communicate with wonderfully successful results, we lazily make our decisions about these practices in the most thoughtless, comfortable, offhand way as though they were no more significant than buying a pack of chewing gum. Running businesses that way will get you bankruptcy every time. Running international diplomacy that way will get you wars and hostilities every time. And running governments that way will get you revolution, secessions, treason, bloodshed, and downfall every time. And yet running our lives, relationships and lifestyles that way is par for the course! Go figure . . .
We need to tax the public in order to take care of sick, injured and disabled people, and for defense, but whoever thought up the following idea deserves the Nobel Prize for Stupidity: taking care of irresponsible people
In a way, the divorces reflect symbolically the divorce at the heart of the Culture War itself. One side is saying “be free” and the other side is saying “be good” and they’re both right, but both their strategies are wrong. One side wants to “make sure no one goes hungry” by creating an entitlement/welfare state that takes care of people regardless of how well they take care of themselves—one of the worst ideas that anyone ever came up with, and it explains why “the L word” (liberal) has become a dirty word. By taking the natural consequences out of life, people are encouraged to act irresponsibly. We need to tax the public in order to take care of sick, injured and disabled people, and for defense, but whoever thought up the following ideas deserves the Nobel Prize for Stupidity: taking care of irresponsible people, taking care of people who won’t work because they don’t like the available jobs, and taking care of people who breed in situations in which they have no resources or spouses or anyone else who are in a position to take care of kids, so they expect the government to take care of them and the kids.
The Nobel Prize for Stupidity should go to the creators of these ideas: taking care of irresponsible people and taking care of people who won’t work because they don’t like the available jobs; Note: hunger is a great motivator
The natural consequences that have guided all life forms since the Earth was formed are the most important learning tools in existence. If you waste, you want; if you go the wrong way, you’re lost; if you treat neighbors or the environment badly, it will come back to bite you, and if you act foolishly and irresponsibly, you will learn from natural consequences that you should have showed better sense. This creates thoughtfulness, morality, responsibility, thrift, forethought, planning, and results in wisdom and life knowledge. Sever consequences from actions and you lose much of these vital social goods (and end up with a mess like the one America is now in). The liberal idea of erasing this learning tool from human experience out of “kindness and benevolence” is a very bad idea, and had there not been the affluence (and forces like “white guilt”) to support such an idea when it arose, people would have simply laughed at the idea.
The conservative and libertarian idea of letting this tool prevail is entirely correct. But their strategy of suddenly pulling the rug out from under those that have been made dependent on government entitlements is not viable. And their assertion that people should have their supports removed because people “should” have good character and self-reliance and manifest independence and individualism is also flawed. Of course people should have the character and self-reliance to not need economic supports except for injuries and sicknesses and disability! But they don’t. So the strategy of acting like they do have these things just because they should have them is no good—it’s the worst type of wishful thinking: the blind type. And neither side listens to the other when they discuss these things. One side hollers responsibility and he other hollers compassion and neither side listens.
The strategy of suddenly pulling the rug out from under those that have been made dependent on government entitlements is not viable
One can easily see why this stalemate is so hopeless. Neither solution is viable, no one has the answer, the problem seems hopeless, and the argument seems irreconcilable. One can see from this that the Culture War can only get worse and the polarization can only increase and the chances for violence can only go up unless something new enters the picture—a solution that satisfies both sides, that empowers both responsibility and compassion, that transcends the right-left continuum, and that comes from individual choice, not tax-and-spend social engineering. Almost all of our social thinkers encourage going beyond left-right labels and the cliches of sound-bite rhetoric, but they generally have no real answers to the problems that go beyond more cliches, more tax-and-spend “throw money at it” pseudosolutions, and more token gestures that don’t even recognize much less affect the roots of the problems.
We need a solution that satisfies both sides, that empowers both responsibility and compassion, that transcends the right-left continuum, and that comes from individual choice, not tax-and-spend social engineering
(The MC movement will allow the irresponsible to become responsible, the uncaring to become compassionate, the authoritarians to upgrade from the power of force to the power of knowledge, the nonworking to become motivated with a work ethic, the irresponsible-pregnancy-inclined to attain the moral character to refrain from the irresponsible act of bringing babies into the world that they cannot care for properly, and even the thoughtless to become good thinkers, the confused to become smart, and the dull conformists to become creative self-actualizers. And that’s just the beginning! What are inspired people soulfully involved in “close encounters of the first, second and third kind” really like to be with, and what would an MC-full be like, or a nation-full be like. If this thought doesn’t reach your heart, we can’t imagine what would. See Why Register for an MC?.)
It occurs to us that an interesting partial solution that would be instructive to think about is the Dichotomy Solution. All taxpaying voters must register as “rights” or “lefts.” All lefts must pay for all the bleeding-heart-liberal nonsense that they decide democratically as a group (one person = one vote) to do. Just how much sacrifice would they be willing to make in their orgy of compassion and “caring”? We’d soon see! Their taxes would be handled separately from those of the rights. The rights won’t pay a penny of any entitlements and also better be good planners, because they won’t get any entitlements either. Of course rights and lefts will both pay for the care of disabled, sick and injured, but that’s another matter. The rights, however, will pay for the costs that their ideas and decisions foist on society (wars, unneeded weapon systems, etc.), and the lefts will not be charged in this area. The rights say no terminating of pregnancies, because you might infringe on the rights or the soul of a zygote or tiny not-yet-human fetus! (This one is so silly that it’s hard to believe they’re serious. But they claim they are, so . . .)
The fundamentalists say no terminating of pregnancies, because you might infringe on the rights or the soul of a zygote or tiny not-yet-human fetus!
From week 5 to week 7, a human embryo looks like a tadpole, then a seahorse, then an infant salamander, and it is not until week 8 (fetus) that there's even the slightest resemblence to a human being but it could be any primate at week 7.
So the rights will make sure that they all follow this rule, jailing those who break this rule. But they’ll also pay, as a group, all the money for all the raising of all these mostly-unwanted children, including nannies, education, food, shelter and decent houses, etc., until the kids reach the age of 18. One wonders how many of these people would be so anti-choice if they had to take full, economic responsibility for their personal "moral" decisions which they’re perpetually trying to force on the rest of us. They won’t be able to weasel out of this economic responsibility by saying they don’t believe in welfare payments. They will be forced (the only language they understand) to realize that it is only because of their forcing women to bring all pregnancies to term that there are any payments to make, so they need to make the payments to put their money where their mouths are, instead of the cowardly act of trying to make people pay for raising kids they didn’t want in the first place!
If they’re so damn concerned about those kids, let them prove it! Talk is cheap! In addition, both groups will be taxed heavily for jail costs, since the one group’s foolish permissiveness is what got half the cons there and the other group’s foolish authoritarianism is what got the other half there! They’ll both also be heavily taxed for psychological therapy costs, because each group is driving its people nuts with unnecessary parenting errors and ridiculous, easily-disproved misconceptions. The rights can also have the opportunity of rebuilding all abortion clinics that ever get destroyed in any way for any reason, as well as paying a million dollars per injury of any type and 100 million dollars for any deaths.
One wonders if such a rule would temper their careless, hateful, violence-inciting rhetoric that creates the ultimate hypocrisy: mothers who are trying to be responsible about family planning (and the professionals who help them) killed or maimed because some jackass believed that a few cells that haven’t even reached the evolutionary level of a tadpole were more important than the human beings in the clinic! Get a life! Again, the rights like RESPONSIBILITY so much—let them finally take responsibility for their beliefs, words, rhetoric, demagoguery, and policies. (This was written in a negative tone to express the emotions each group feels for the other.)
One supposes that the idea above won’t turn into policy anytime soon. But it should be a required thought experiment in all high-school civics classes. Would the new system actually work? Would it make people rethink their priorities? One can only hope . . .
Anyway, the above gets to the core of the fatherlessness issue. Lack of fathers comes from divorces and bad welfare policies, and lack of faith in fatherhood comes from the taint still on fathers because of the authoritarian, patriarchal, punitive, sexist, biased, closed-minded males who have often filled this role in the past and present. It’s getting better. But there’s still a problem, made worse by right-wing extremists and such groups as the Promise Keepers who want to turn back the clock and act in sexist and naďve ways to restore their authoritarian powers, regain obedience, put women in their place, keep kids in line by use of threats and punishments, and basically take us back to the obsolete Second Wave paradigm relying on low quality coercion power rather than Third Wave knowledge power.
In this book, Blankenhorn is torn between the authoritarian Old Father model and the democratic New Father model. He mitigates the good that anyone but the biological father can do, ignoring, as conservatives are apt to do, the real science that conflicts with this mitigation. He calls fatherhood the simple concept of a father for every child. We concur. (As long as the father/father figure the kid has is not the only guy the kid can go to if he needs fathering but his father is not really relating well to his kid, so the kid needs to locate one that works for him. This should always be possible.) But the author sounds like he wants people to quit divorcing even when a marriage is lousy, and like he also wants men to start acting more manly (authoritarian, sex-role defined, dominant, etc.). He says the New Father is forced to choose between being a father and being a man. It’s the old, patriarchal, male-dominance thing again, only disguised as social science.
But when all is said and done, no matter how one defines manhood and fatherhood, the father problem will always be there as long as the divorce problem persists, and the divorce problem will always be there as long as the current practices of steep-gradient spousal relationships, steep-gradient nurturance of children, social isolation of individuals and families, disconnectedness, and careless, crude and ignorant parenting/relationship/communication practices persist. Remember, the Tofflers never said they wanted the divorces and serial monogamy they see in our future. They simply predicted it. And we all know what divorces do to our kids. So if we wish to guide that future in more benevolent directions, we merely need to engage in a little proactive action to address the roots of this dilemma. It’s our choice.