I signed a commitment card on May 24, 1995 to support fatherhood and to do my part to reverse the trend of fatherlessness in America. I was moved by the testimony of the men and women present at a reading by David Blankenhorn, author of the blockbuster book Fatherless in America, (order on-line) during a National Fatherhood Initiative presentation at Seattle University. This event was sponsored by the Washington Family Council whose "mission is to equip and encourage Washington state citizens to create communities where families are valued and strengthened."
Author Blankenhorn has carefully documented the problems we face in America today, such as youth violence, teen pregnancy, domestic violence, and child sexual abuse, and their high correlation with father absence from the home. He quickly acknowledges that low income, racism, and crime are factors, but he says that none of these factors is as significant as growing up without a father. Quoting from his book, he reminded us that 40percent of all American homes are father absent and the percentage rises to 60percent in African-American homes. Overall, 50 percent of our youth live in a father-absent home sometime between birth and age 18.
Blankenhorn claims that growing up without a father will be the most decisive factor dividing us 50-50 into two Americas. There will be the America of have-nots who grew up without a father, and the haves who were raised in a father-present home. He could not predict whether or not we can reverse this trend and avoid disaster, but he felt that he had to be part of an effort to try.
Blankenhorn emphasized the importance of developing a grassroots support for father involvement as a part of a new national consciousness. He teaches the important contributions of fathers to their sons, who, he says, are the most out-of-control of todayís youth. He said that fathers teach young men moral and spiritual maturity such as a work ethic, personal responsibility, honesty and integrity. Fathers also encourage their sons to strive for excellence and to become engaged in activities for the welfare of their community.
The speaker most optimistic about our ability to overcome this threat was Harvey Drake, Jr., an African-American man accompanied by his son and head of the Emerald City Outreach Ministries. His organization teaches leadership skills empowering men to honor and serve others.
Another man spoke about the "fatherhood party" that he gave at which each manís gift to the expectant father was a brief story or concept about fatherhood. He felt that fathers need to see themselves as more than just sperm donors and wallets.
Although representatives of several menís and fathersí rights organizations were in attendance, Blankenhorn and his hosts did not want to hear anything from them about our societyís injustices to men and to fathers, in particular. Several men testified about their desire to be good fathers to their children, but said that they were prevented from even seeing their children by a collaboration between their ex-wife and our "family" court system. Blankenhornís response was that first a cultural change of direction is needed, then a political change can take place. He has a point, but how can these absent fathers be reunited with their children unless the laws are changed now?
Seattle M.E.N. Executive Director James Smethurst set out a stack of the June issue of M.E.N. Magazine with the front-page article "Honoring Our Fathers" by George Parks, but the vice president of the Washington Family Council removed them. The vice president later explained that the magazines had not been reviewed and approved for distribution. This cautious behavior by the Washington Family Council stands in sharp contrast to the practice of welcoming the display of literature from other organizations at gatherings sponsored by Seattle M.E.N., M.E.R.G.E, NOCIRC of Washington, and Menís Rights, Inc. This exchange suggests to me that a significant gap exists between the Washington Family Council and menís organizations.
Trying to promote ways that the various groups could come together, I lamented to the Washington Family Councilís Vice President that not one menís or fathersí rights organization was listed in their resource directory. He invited us to submit some of our literature to them for consideration. Later I suggested to James Smethurst that Seattle M.E.N. send copies of M.E.N. Magazine to the menís organizations listed in the Washington Family Council resource directory and invite each organization to list their activities in the M.E.N. Magazine calendar section.
I believe that the National Fatherhood Initiative offers some excellent suggestions to get fathers reconnected with their families. However, I suspect that many men will feel as uncomfortable as I would in the heavily Christian atmosphere accompanying the programs of many organizations currently connected with the Washington Family Council. Where can these men turn for non-sectarian, male-positive support groups, courses, hot lines, networks and educational material on good fathering?
Fortunately some educational materials on good fathering already exist. Browsing in the Seattle Public Library revealed several excellent books, including The Measure of a Man: Becoming the Father You Wish Your Father Had Been by Jerrold Lee Shapiro, Ph.D., Order on-line Between Father and Child: How to Become the Kind of Father You Want to Be by Ronald F. Levant, Ed.D., and FatherLove by Richard Louv. However, non-sectarian, male- positive individual support and networking resources for fathers are sadly lacking.
I encourage Seattle M.E.N. to step into the breach and develop a fatherhood program. Involve fathers and non-fathers. Give fathers and those concerned with fatherhood a place to come for support and nourishment. Give them an opportunity to share their wisdom and energy with others. Educate the community about fatherhood. Offer to work with other groups to promote mutual concerns. Anyone interested in participating in such a project, please contact me at Webmaster@Mens-Rights.org.