Protect, Support Fatherhood

Father’s Day is a day society sets aside to celebrate the concept of Fatherhood. On Father’s Day, we recognize those men who chose to be fathers. Yes, Fatherhood is a deliberate choice made by a man, who may or may not be a biological parent. Each of us has a male biological contribution to our existence, but that doesn’t make the contributor a Father. Fatherhood has a much richer ideological dimension, that undergoes continuous cultural metamorphoses. It is not enough for society to define the status of Fatherhood, more must be done. Our institutions, both public and private, must nourish and support Fathers.

Our society’s concept of Fatherhood is disparate, so much so that there is not a clear consensus among us as to what societal role a father should play. The law defines a father’s role in biological and legal terminology, while the church uses religious and metaphysical terms to define a role for fathers. In the gap between the church and the courthouse, controversy and political rhetoric reign. Society needs to articulate a clearly defined role for fathers and actively support that role.

Society’s disparity over this issue is reflected in our individual conduct. For some men, Fatherhood is an important avocation, for others it is only a biological side-effect of sexual gratification. Women are no less diverse in their views and conduct. Many women manifest a traditional view. These “traditional” women regard Fatherhood as being “adjunct” or “an extension of” Motherhood. Other women reject this traditional view of Fatherhood and choose a modern option for meeting their destiny with Motherhood, an option that does not include a role for the biological father.

In Alabama, 27 percent of children under age 18 live in single parent households. For the “biological only” fathers of these children, Fatherhood is irrelevant. Why is Fatherhood irrelevant for so many men today? An answer might be found in our history. History informs us that man wasn’t cognitive of his biological role in procreation until about 10,000 years ago. Yet, the concept of Fatherhood existed among the earliest hunting and gathering societies. In those societies, a man would establish a bond with a woman and provide food and protection for her and her children. Children were accepted by the society as a gift from the gods and all of society felt responsible for their upbringing. It was in this metaphysical context that the concept of Fatherhood first emerged.

Once man became aware of his biological contribution to the procreation process, his concept of Fatherhood changed from a metaphysical to a physical dimension. With this change came the notion that children were the property of the man. This notion of property rights required changes in the relationship between men and women, as well the individual and the society. These changes made children the primary responsibility of an individual man and lessened the responsibility of society. This changed the concept of Fatherhood, from a divine to a societal status.

As Fatherhood changed to a societal status, the responsibility for taking care of children shifted from the society to the parents. Today, in our society, the very essence of Fatherhood is how well an individual takes care of his children. This places an economic value on Fatherhood that many men cannot afford. For these men, Fatherhood is not a viable choice. To maintain the status of Father a man needs a job.

In this economic capacity, the political process has failed. Congress does not seem to be able to legislate an economic policy that will cultivate strong family values. Lets face it, for a man to manifest traditional Fatherhood attributes, he must have a job that pays enough for him to take care of his children.

Government has a responsibility to these men. People consent to be governed in exchange for certain benefits, not the least of which is the right to earn a livelihood. For example, during the depression, the government established many programs that provided work for men with families. Today, we are in a serious recession. Jobs are hard to find and job programs are even more scarce.

For certain groups, however, there remains an array of government subsidy programs that provide economic assistance without degrading men and their families. I am referring to the farm subsidy welfare programs. Why is it that we can find the political will to legislate financial support for farm families which supports traditional family values, while we remain unable to enact a similar urban welfare assistance policy? Could it be the demographics of our legislators or the demographics of the two constituent groups?

I think that there is a racial dimension to the legislative grid-lock that stalls any meaningful, family-oriented, welfare legislation. Let’s look at Secretary Jack Kemp’s Housing Ownership Program. Under the plan, Secretary Kemp proposes allowing public housing residents to use their housing grants to purchase their homes from the government. This plan would make homeowners out of public housing tenants. This program would be pro-family, because as private residences, men could live at home with their children without the economic penalty that the system currently imposes on married couples. Secretary Kemp’s program is only one of many pro-family programs that Congress seems unable to enact because of this racial dimension.

Presently, attitudes about Fatherhood are dispersed between the metaphysical or divine status and the physical or societal status with a political dimension, affected by demographics in the middle. On the physical side of this debate, stand those members of society that maintain Fatherhood is an irrelevant consequence of procreation and sexual gratification. Standing on the other side, are those who believe a child is a gift to society. They see Fatherhood as a divine status. Then there are those of us somewhere in the middle who see Fatherhood as a valuable aspect of our society. We want politicians to enact legislation that will strengthen our families. We can’t allow perceived racial issues to stall needed changes that impact us all. It won’t matter what race we are when all fathers become irrelevant.

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Originally Published: 19 June 1992, Montgomery Advertiser

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