December 3, 2017 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Lately, the truth is considered to be dubious and dangerous. Indeed, it can get you fired as James Damore at Google, Evergreen College’s Brett Weinstein, Wendy McElroy, Laura Kipnis and countless others have learned to their detriment. In the continuing fight among humans to decide whether we’re going to honor faith over science or vice versa, faith is, for now, winning. Elites who form the zeitgeist have adopted certain narratives and faith in those narratives rejects all contradictory evidence. So the fact that numerous qualified and reputable scientists backed up Damore’s statement as scientifically sound made no difference either to Google or to his vilification in the press.

Within that cultural context comes actor Denzel Washington to comment on our system of criminal justice (NY Daily News, 11/23/17).

[W]hen asked about the prison-industrial complex, the “Malcolm X” star offered a surprising take.

“It starts at the home,” he told reporters at the film’s downtown New York premiere. “It starts at home.”

When prodded to expand on his answer, the 62-year-old Mount Vernon native replied: “It starts with how you raise your children. If a young man doesn’t have a father figure, he’ll go find a father figure.

 “So you know I can’t blame the system,” he continued. “It’s unfortunate that we make such easy work for them.”

Those are all perfectly sound and frankly uncontroversial points. Washington is right. Needless to say, prisons have many flaws that cry out for reform, but, in context, Washington’s remarks were spot on. That the Daily News writer felt compelled to call them “surprising” says much about that person’s ignorance of the subject (or his/her acceptance of the cultural narrative on crime), but nothing about Washington’s take on the matter.

Crime is strongly associated with fatherlessness. We’ve known this for many decades. And when other variables – like race, sex, age, income level, religion, geographical location, etc. - are controlled for, the absence of a father stands out as the one constant predicting criminal behavior. It’s a fact that screams for public policy reform, but, at least since Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s jeremiad in the late 60’s, the screams have gone unheard.

Now, I doubt that Washington is fully knowledgeable about the issue he raised, because, accurate as he was, he didn’t go nearly far enough to cover the problem of fatherlessness. To begin with, he refers only to young men who suffer the absence of a father, but girls do too. They suffer a range of emotional problems, plus early first menarche, early sex, teen pregnancy and childbearing.

And Washington doesn’t delve into the process by which fathers come to be absent from their children’s lives. The popular narrative, peddled by all and sundry, including presidents of the United States, is that men are feckless louts uninterested in their children or the women who bear them. That narrative of course fails to survive even casual scrutiny, but, as so often happens, the narrative carries the day sending truth into retreat.

The Fragile Families and Child Well-being study has been underway for almost 20 years now. It’s the most reliable and complete dataset on marginal families ever accumulated in this country and analyses of that data tell us much about how kids become fatherless.

It turns out that mothers have a lot to do with it as do long-held notions about mother-child relationships. What happens, according to research by then-Harvard professor Kathryn Edin (now at the University of Pennsylvania), is that unmarried mothers tend to have multiple partners, which results in the marginalization of the father of the child. Dad may want to see the child, but Mom’s new boyfriend considers him a threat and wants to see less of him, and Mom is of the same mind. So gradually, Dad is phased out.

That happens regardless of the fact that Dad, even if he’s in his teens, has a passionate desire to play the role of father. Indeed, for many of single, underclass men, the role of father can seem like the most important one available to them anywhere, any time. They’ll never have a good education or any but marginal jobs; the streets are violent and dead end in prison. Fatherhood looks like their chance at being a real, valuable human being.

Militating against that is Mom’s desire and ability to play the role of gatekeeper. If she wants Dad to play a role in the kids’ lives, he can. If she doesn’t, he can’t. Poverty of course prevents him from going to court, proving his paternity and establishing his legal rights. Plus, the mother-child dyad is seen as unassailable. Edin calls this a “package deal,” i.e. mother and child as an inseparable unit.

So, the truth differs hugely from the cultural narrative about fatherlessness. Even the poorest, least educated fathers want to play that role, but often are prevented from doing so by mothers and the realities of poverty. That truth lurks behind every word Washington said.

But, as I’ll show next time, the zeitgeist didn’t take long to hit back at Washington’s simple truth.

 

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National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Along with Shared Parenting we advocate for fair Child Support and Alimony Legislation. Want to get involved?  Here’s how:

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#fatherlessness, #DenzelWashington

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