Boys Need Dads, But…

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Photo by spazbot29 via Flickr
Photo by spazbot29 via Flickr

The absence of fathers has long been blamed for boys’ problems in society. Boys who lack regular interaction with a caring, loving, living-in-the-same-house adult male, the thinking goes, will become troublemakers.

Dads are hugely important. Research studies, anecdotal evidence and common sense consistently show that dads’ involvement is positively correlated to academic success, cognitive development and social development. Kids who have involved fathers are more likely to delay sex, to have good self-esteem and to do well in life.

But can we please stop assuming that divorce and single parenting means uninvolved dads? recently ran a provocatively titled article, “Boys Growing Up Without Dads Remain Boys Too Long.” The article is based on some pretty sketchy research, research that was commissioned by Nickolodeon to promote a new cartoon. The article states (without citing a source for these conclusions):

Boys raised by men who are committed and faithful to their wives and show them consistent affection and respect; who demonstrate love for and interest in their sons; who discipline those sons wisely; and who simply spend ample time, the greatest of all gifts, with their boys, produce sons whose confidence, self-restraint, curiosity, kindness, and sense of responsibility prepare them well not only for life generally but marriage specifically.

Yet this preparation is sadly lacking in millions of American homes. According to FRC’s Marriage and Religion Research Institute, “Only 46 percent of American 15- to 17-year-olds were raised with both their biological parents married to one another since before or around the time of their birth.”

…Put simply, boys without dads have a tougher time learning to be and act like men. They are less well-equipped to be husbands and fathers.

Whoa, whoa, WHOA! This article, and many like it, make a quick leap from “number of kids raised or living with both biological parents” to “boys without dads” AND THEN proceeds to imply that boys who grow up without both biological parents in the same home “have a tougher time learning to be and act like men.”

According to this article, my boys are screwed. Their dad and I separated five years ago; we divorced four years ago. But their father — and many, many fathers who do not live with the mothers of their children — is not uninvolved. To say or imply that my boys or other boys of divorced or unmarried parents do not have a dad is to ignore the very real contributions of very many very real fathers.

 Yet the presumption that unmarried parents = uninvolved father is made all too frequently When I spoke to Sheldon Smith of the Dovetail Project about fatherhood, he said that one of misconceptions that plagues the black community is that “African American fathers don’t take care of their children or aren’t involved in their children’s lives.” He said:

I personally don’t believe that if you don’t live at home with your children, you’re not a great dad. It just may not have worked out with the mother of your child.

I agree with him. Fathers are absolutely important to the well-being of their children, and it’s high time we stopped making unnecessary and harmful assumptions about boys based on the marital status of their parents.

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