Monday, June 17, 2013

Examining Fatherhood

The day after Fathers Day might be a good time to ask, what is a father?  A couple of stories in the news lately give examples of fatherhood at its worst.   The first is about a 33-year-old man who fathered 30 children by 11 women over 14 years.  He can’t make child support payments plus support himself on his minimum wage job.  The last paragraph of the same article refers to an NFL player, 5 years his junior, who runs a close second with 10 children by 8 women.  Although child support is likely no problem for him, the lack of responsibility in both cases is glaring.  Those 19 women are no less guilty.  It does take two, and they apparently fell into bed with these charming or famous men with no thought about the future consequences of their behavior, or perhaps; in the NFL case, with the intention of using the baby as a meal ticket!

That NFL player is not an isolated instance.  Another article resulting from the same Internet search asks why the NFL isn’t cracking down on this kind of player behavior and lists several others in similar situations.

Thinking about this in terms of behavior and consequences, especially societal consequences, setting aside the (NFL) role model and morality issues, such behavior shows problems in responsibility with an immediate economic burden on the whole society. 

The irresponsibility is very clear in the first case, but this is just one extreme example of the behavior of many.  A man with only a minimum wage job has not earned the right to father one child, no less 30.  We are not a society of animals where the urge to procreate trumps the resultant responsibilities.  In some species, the males mate and then leave the mother to raise the offspring.  Others lay eggs and walk away, leaving the hatchlings to fend for themselves.  Responsible humans raise children to adulthood.  Sorry, that’s the way it works – or the way Nature intended.

These men seem to think they can walk away, leaving the women to raise the children often with the government acting as the surrogate breadwinner, using taxes collected from responsible Americans.  Even if they can provide the financial support, they avoid an obligation that results in society living with the consequences.  Many studies show that “children who grow up apart from their biological fathers do less well, on average, than children who grow up with both natural parents. They are less likely to finish high school and attend college, less likely to find and keep a steady job, and more likely to become teen mothers.”  Other research concludes:  “Children in father-absent homes are almost four times more likely to be poor” and show higher levels of aggressive behavior.  We also are confronted with statistics about food insecurity among children with private and public agencies forced to provide (or subsidize) breakfasts, lunches and summer meals to keep the children nourished and relatively healthy. The fathers’ irresponsible behavior leaves their families at risk and society to pick up the pieces.

Don’t let the women off the hook.  Family instability results from the behavior of both parties.  Some women have decided to have “a child on their own rather than settle for a man who isn’t likely to be a good and loving husband or parent.”  This is not limited to those who can financially support the child.  Despite what the Single Mothers by Choice organization might imply, the US Census Bureau reports that nearly 40% of non-marital births occur in households with an annual income less than $25, 000.

The most troubling thing about the situation is that society seems to ignore and enable the situation.  The man who fathered 30 is getting attention from interviewers, and the article seems to treat the whole situation in a lighthearted way, as if this guy set some kind of record.  It’s not treated as a problem.  Perhaps he gains some notoriety, but the fact that he promised to stop four years and nine children ago shows that he feels no shame – not surprising in a society that puts so much emphasis on self-esteem that shame is a no-no.  What he has done is not against the law, and it’s pretty futile to try to legislate morality; but how do we provide all those children a means of escaping the cycle of poverty? 

A review of a recent book on the subject summarizes the dismal conclusion:  “Single parents are here to stay, and their worsening situation is tearing at the fabric of our society. It is imperative, the authors show, that we shift more of the costs of raising children from mothers to fathers and from parents to society at large. Likewise, we must develop universal assistance programs that benefit low-income two-parent families as well as single mothers.” [Emphasis added.]  In other words, the Harvard/Princeton authors, “based on four national surveys and drawing on more than a decade of research” endorse burdening society with the consequences as the only solution, thereby enabling the continuation of this reckless behavior.

It all comes down to individual responsibility.  I’ve written in the past that giving up responsibility leads to more government regulations and loss of freedom.  This issue has a different twist where other’s lack of responsibility leads to a continuing cycle of deeper government dependence for some, supported by the taxes of the rest – a bad outcome for everyone.

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