The historical focus in this commentary is on how Fatherlessness got to be such a vastly wide-spread and accepted norm and why the recommendations of this report are so critical.

In 1996, 23,000,000 children (30% of 65,000,000 children) will live without their fathers' parenting influence and guidance for significant periods of time (Kids Count Data Book, 1995.) Nearly a third of these fatherless children will not have ANY physical contact with their father for over one year (Horn, 1995.)
Fatherlessness gained recognition as a national crisis when social workers , working with teenage delinquents, noticed the correlation between fathers' failure as economic providers and teenage problems. Today, nearly 80% of teenage delinquent males are from father-absent homes. Positive male parenting brings social values, acceptable community standards and self restraint to children in the family home. We cannot put a dollar value on positive father parenting.
In September, 1995, The Economist featured the American Fatherlessness crisis , calling it the worst in the world. Another recent publication, Fatherhood and Family Health (Virginia Dept. of Health, 1995) provides a chilling index of child maladies caused by or associated to the phenomena of Fatherlessness.
The effect of Fatherlessness on the well-being of children and their subsequent adulthood calls for a national social services legislative agenda to understand and reverse this phenomena.
Fathers who are hands-on parents, being role models, nurturers, mentors and protectors are not valued as they once were. The contributions that fathers can give to their families in other ways than financial resources receives little value in our divorce society and social services system.
The more limited definition of work for fathers of the last century -- one which does not include child rearing responsibilities -- in combination with more recent welfare system and other government policy, lies at the core of the increasing trend of Fatherlessness in America.


The Fatherlessness that children experience can be observed in three different family demographics: the divorced, the un-wed, and married families. The third category should not be much of a surprise: everyone knows there are married men who spend endless hours at work, including overtime and weekends, and other fathers who spend most of their leisure time "divorced" from family. Thus, the emotionally absent father can and should be included in the description and discussion of Fatherlessness, because the devastating effect on children is similar.
Children are born to unmarried parents nearly a third of the time. Thus, this one third of children are the most likely to experience Fatherlessness. Among unwed families often the father does not know he is a father until he is contacted by the state to pay child support. At that time, more fathers than not seek to have parental involvement with his child. While the divorce rate has dropped from 60o/o to 50% for first-time marriages, the increase in single-parent households has risen dramatically.

In both divorce and un-wed families, fathers who demonstrate significant interest and involvement with their children usually begin to "disappear" from their children's lives a year to two following the birth or divorce.
However, fathers are not to be automatically blamed for abandoning their children -- in fact, the opposite may be true. Fathers are more typically driven into exile by other factors ranging from social prejudice and pressure, to direct court injunction.


The rush to blame is typical of our current political and social times. The Father - - who has traditionally held the role of the party responsible for the family -- has become the unjust and easy target for blame for the decline of the status of the American family. Witness the sensationalist media campaigns which unfairly rail against "Deadbeat Dads" as in the Newsweek's article of May 4, 1992 and the USA Today article of August 1993, which only blamed fathers for their absence from family life -- without any appreciation for other social causes that have contributed to their absence.
Educator Barbara Johnson spoke directly to the "blame the father" bias in her article Honoring Fathers in Exile:
FATHERS ARE among the most misunderstood people in our society. We send them messages in so many ways that they are simply monetary providers and then wonder why they don't get more involved in their children's lives. All too often we send them the message that they are expendable and then turn around and place the role of the single mother" on a pedestal.
Once divorced, the man who was once highly praised and valued as "the good family man," becomes voided. Hours spent as coach, mentor, teacher, friend and role model are no longer valued.
Even the word "father" or "dad" -- once spoken with respect, honor and dignity -- suddenly becomes "your father" or "your dad." It is as if overnight, with that one additional word, the same man becomes someone who is no longer to be treated with admiration, honor and respect.
There is no other instance in our society when a person is robbed of so much of his identity and basic role than in a divorce, when the man is no longer encouraged to be anything other than a means of support. How can a society tell men that their role as fathers is needed so desperately and then toss them aside when there is a divorce? We need to send a message to women who discourage their former husbands from continuing involvement in their children's lives that this will no longer be tolerated.
We need to STOP BLAMING MEN, who are in many cases guilty of nothing more than divorcing their children's mothers. Like racial slurs, we must no longer tolerate blatant anger, hostility and prejudice toward fathers. I'm not referring to the abusive father or husband or situations in which the father needs counseling.
Many men have always been there for their children, encouraging and guiding them. Many still believe the responsibility of fatherhood is more rewarding than their next promotion. These are the men who are never late with their monetary obligations and yet are stripped of the basic role we once praised them for -- being good fathers.
Ironically, we send these men the message that because of divorce, they have relinquished their role as "the good family man," and must give up their role as "the good fathers." Time after time we have seen these men, once cherished by the neighborhood, exiled from participating in their children's lives. Tell us, how is it that a man once highly respected as a father is suddenly no longer in possession of his fathering skills, simply because of a divorce?
We then thrust labels on many of them such as "deadbeat dads " 'absentee fathers," etc., without waiting to sort through the facts. Well there is another label, one these good men much deserve: "fathers in exile." This most accurately describes the place society has designated for these men, who suffer in silence, not wanting to cause more turmoil in their children's lives.
If you know a father going through a divorce and is involved with his children -- you must encourage the relationship. We as a society can no longer toss wonderful, valuable men aside in the name of divorce. (emphasis added)

(San Francisco Chronicle,Op-ed page, June 16, 1995)


Blankenhorn (Fatherless America, 1995): has identified three confluent trends as the root cause of the Fatherlessness phenomena a.) the cultural breakdown of extended families and the decline of the institution of marriage; b.) poorly thought out government policy on families such as AFDC; and c.) excess economic pressure on fathers to be breadwinners without direct family connections.
In the 175 years since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, America's economic, social, spiritual, institutional and cultural forces inadvertently worked to fuel the phenomena of Fatherlessness. The cause for extreme Fatherlessness and the breakdown of traditional family life can first be traced to the changes in social and economic realities which, by virtue of the changing work-world, began to separate and alienate the father from family life.
Griswold's Fatherhood in America explains these historical developments. Previously, fathers were at the center of family life (with mothers). Mothers and fathers both worked in the broadest sense, on the homestead and in the villages and towns. Older children, along with mothers, worked side by side with fathers either in the fields or artisan shops to produce the family support. Fathers and children worked beside mothers in the home -- bringing in water, food, wood, and other staples. Children learned about the world from their fathers; developed the work ethic under tutelage of their fathers and cultivated survival instincts.
The children knew how hard their fathers worked, and sacrificed, and what activity they engaged in to support the family. This observation of father activity included the means for solving problems facing the family. The children also learned from their fathers at night. Fathers read the bible and taught its lessons of honesty, virtue and trust. Fathers also discussed the outside world its interactions and values. Fathers' work included both the physical and spiritual needs of family members as they were fully intertwined under the nobility and umbrella of work. Fatherhood meant a man for all seasons, a man for all family responsibilities. In every sense of the word, work meant family. There was no separation between breadwinning and family responsibility.
Once regularly working under the throes of the Industrial Revolution in factories or businesses away from the children, fathers were unable to pass on traditions and craft skills to their children, especially their sons. Both the number of skilled trades and the number of craftsmen declined markedly (Barron, 1984).
Have fathers really stopped supporting families in the old sense? Fathers are collective inheritors of social and economic changes that had substantially redefined fatherhood. Fathers were increasingly compelled to identify themselves and their parental role as "father" solely with the capacity to earn an income to support his family.


In this century, a father's identity has became primarily focused on the ri ors of locating and maintaining employment and providing financially. The definition of father's work has shifted from meeting the needs of a father-inclusive family - to meeting the needs of family that have become less and less inclusive of direct paternal parenting.
Ironically, the more that fathers worked for their children's financial needs the less that fathers had direct parent/child contact. In earlier years, children stayed home into their 20's and even 30's waiting for marriage and a new home. In today's new world fathers are faced with increasing numbers of children first leaving home and then returning, and needing continued financial support. The renested family is now recognized family form (Bigner 1994). Children's growing dependence upon fathers' financial support for college trade schools or buying a home, meant successful fathers had to work harder with the result that they became even less of a "dad".
Today, fathers and families are expected to consume at greater rates. Families are expected to have multiple vehicles; cars, boats and trailers, and one or two vacations per year. Children ask for $5O to $100 for tennis shoes. Children pressure parents for dozens of trendy goods. Parents find it difficult to meet these expectations and maintain viable parent/child relationships because increased economic pressure separates them from their children more and more. Subsequently, with a lack of guidance children get in trouble, and the effect of the absent-parent lifestyle is painfully obvious. Society now is holding parents totally accountable for the misdeeds of their children.
Sadly and inevitably, many fathers find that satisfying their families' needs is beyond them. In the industrial world, being the economic provider for the family presents its own prejudices, problems, and pressures. Plagued by layoffs caused by mechanization, seasonal downturns advancing age, business vicissitudes, or personal sickness or injury, many unemployed men become depressed, anxious, and embittered their sense of manhood destroyed by their inability to support their wives and children (Griswold, pg. 46). Their emotional and psychological pain goes unnoticed. Financial failure for men is seen as unsuccessful fatherhood, no matter how hard fathers explain their economic situations and the predicaments the face. Increased financial pressure pushes fathers to the breaking point, which contributes to the increasing numbers of fathers with emotional and psychological problems as demonstrated by frustrated action against his family.
For the separated fathers in default on child support payments (Newsweek & USA Weekend), we see the inability to survive as well. Many of these men gain employment in two or three jobs but cannot seem to get ahead and support a new famil as well as the old family. For many of these men. a sense of family connection with work has been totally broken. They have work and plenty of it, as they understand their parental responsibility, but they have minimum time and little involvement with either family, especially with the children. Government officials have no policy on father involvement as the only pursuit of fathers is on strict enforcement of financial support . This narrow policy fails to improve child outcomes.
A new study published in the Journal of Marriage and the Family 2/96, on the effects of child support enforcement offer insightful comments on full effect of punitive enforcement. One of the myths of current child support enforcement is that non-paying fathers are high income dads hiding their loot:
"on the other hand, the generally low to modest income evidenced here do not lend support to the stereotypical portrayal of non-payers as wealthy men who simply refuse to support their children."
Modern culture has redefined or shifted the role of the father, while it has broadened or expanded the role of the mother. Mother's work, which, in the 20th century has included the children's education, discipline and social guidance, has expanded to nearly all the decision making for the family while the father is away with his employment. The work of mothers today, especially with the current degree of father-absence, is to care for the family and children as well to generate financial support. Mother has been empowered to take the traditional " provider" role of father, and still to keep the identity of "mother". She "mommy-tracks." Father lost his role in the family starting with the industrial revolution, and his fatherhood was largely defined by his ability to provide financially for his family. Now that role is diminished because of the changing economy, the change in consumer values, and the new role women play in providing for the family. Men are seeking a return to the hearth of the home, but after centuries of exile, they are now institutionally and culturally bound to the outside of family life.
In millions of families, the state steps in to assist the mothers' "generating financial support" and as such, the state acts as the father. Entitlement policy indirectly dictates that fathers cannot have the same definition as mothers in regard to the direct care of children. Government social welfare policy first enacted in 1935 and then expanded in the 1960's has all but declared fathers to be non-involved parents. Mothers applying for aid must state that there is no male breadwinner sleeping at the family home. There is an insidious financial incentive for father absence. The government has stepped into the role of breadwinner and family supporter. The 1988 Family Support Act put into policy the definition of family as only mother and child. Out of these policies rises the circular assumption that fathers do not care because they are absent physically, and so all that can be expected from them is financial support (and thus there is no emphasis on keeping the father in the home/family).
We finally may be seeing the end of unbridled freedom of the Industrial Revolution, a development that took total economic control of families for 175 years. While the work ethic and increased personal responsibility are necessary virtues for survival, the concept of family and family togetherness with a greater emphasis on the connection between employment and importance of father parenting in on the rise. Two major social movements are trying to redefine fatherhood for the post-industrial era.
Football stadiums are being filled with groups of Christian fathers known as Promise Keepers. These Christian husbands and fathers pledge to actively maintain and promote family values and respect for mothers of their children. Fathers are challenged to place a greater investment in family life and personal relationships. The point is made that employment alone is not fulfilling the full sense of manhood. Many of these Christian fathers are married, however, they are not spending enough time with their wives and children. They pledge to change their ways and resist anti-family, pro-work pressures. The unstated challenge to these fathers is to redefine fatherhood for themselves and see that family time and involvement is in their self interest and children's best interest. This means enabling themselves to avoid the excess pressures from Wall Street to purchase the newest of everything.
The Million Man March in October of 1995 in Washington DC brought black fathers together to "atone" for their sins of male violence and father absence. They reflected the same concerns as the Promise Keepers regarding the dignity and importance of fatherhood, expanded male responsibility, and increased commitment to the mothers of their children. These black fathers have many of the mothers of their children on welfare. Strikingly, these men of the Million Man March did not call for any government aid or programs. Rather, March leaders called for social recognition of their importance as men and fathers, and that most black men want to be seen as socially responsible men with family values. These black men are 15 years below white women on the life expectancy scale. They die from loneliness and no vision for a future having lost their families to un- and under-employment. For many, fathering a child may be the only sense of real achievement they will ever experience in adolescence. These fathers are clinging to what may be their only chance for respectability, some kind of life with a woman and child, for however long it may last. Most of these fathers see fatherlessness as an expected outcome - sooner or later.


Bill Harrington, Commissioner:

American fathers are in a quandary. Many biological and cultural forces are at work on the fatherhood role in our society today. As men continue to be driven to father these powerful biological and cultural forces work even harder to undermine the long term commitments to the family unit. Fathers and mothers each have a harder time to be effective parents than did parents just two generations ago. Instead of continuing the criticism heaped on today's parents, I feel we need to better understand their predicament's and work with them in more positive ways.
The President of the United States and all members of Congress need to take a fresh look at existing policies and practices through the eyes and experiences of non- custodial parents. We must recognize that maybe, we have reach d the maximum effectiveness of financial child support collections through punitive enforcement measures. The only conclusion available today, to increased child support collections, is to start anew with positive appeals to parenting. The Census Bureau statistics on child support collections show that when fathers have shared custody and participate in parenting their children, support payments are in the 90% range. This is the key factor. These numbers compare to less than 40% payments when fathers have no written legal rights to their children and do not have established parenting schedules. We have positive choices to effect voluntary increased financial child support collections. What we are lacking is the political will to shift from punitive measures to positive father parenting options.
The President, working with the White House Domestic Policy Council should activate the proposed White Hose Council on Father Involvement, and offer Congress new legislation which assures more effective parental cooperation, through father- friendly welfare and family policy options.
Congress needs to hold hearings to make itself aware of the volumes of new research on non-custodial parents, and specifically fathers. In the U.S. Senate, the Senate Finance Committee, the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate Labor Subcommittee on Children and Families can take a fresh look at custody and child access issues submitted in the Final Report of the U.S. Commission on Child and Family Welfare.
In the House of Representatives, the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Resources along with the House Judiciary Committee can take a fresh look at our legal/social services system. We can attempt to separate the myths of "Absent Fathers" from the reality of public policies that more often than not work to create "Absent Fathers."
Before any new legislation is enacted, Congress must define for itself the value to be placed upon emotional and psychological child support offered and available from each parent. Previously, the only federal recognition was of financial child support and the federal budget support is around $5 BILLION per year. The social cost to fatherless children of unmarried teen moms is estimated at $29 BILLION. If Congress wants BOTH PARENTS involved, we need new policies and new budget priorities.
To be effective in any way, new family policy MUST challenge the high rates of divorce and children born to unmarried parents, MUST be Father-inclusive MUST be sensitive and realistic about the economic "survivability" of both parents following separation, and finally, new family policy MUST be more positive to the large majority of fathers and mothers struggling against enormous odds to be positive and responsible parents.
I am optimistic that America can and will successfully reverse our social decline but only with a legitimate emphasis on positive father parenting and support for the Recommendations I have offered. This is our first policy step into the 2lst Century. Let us work together to make them steps of lasting consequence.


"Man Out Of The Home" rule which I have made reference to in this minority report. Additionally, this legislation contains father friendly provisions in paternity establishment, expansion of the parent locator service, and start-up funding for the first ever Access Enforcement Programs to benefit non-custodial parents.

The Access Enforcement Provision is itself historic in that the Federal Government will, for the irst time, fund enforcement of parent-child relationships. Previous Federal Funding has been exclusively available only for enforcement of court ordered financial responsibilities. One sided national public policy has not worked to the benefit of the majority of the affected children. This long overdue yet timely legislation is but the first step on the long road to balancing national public policy.
Fathers, however, continue to be the major missing element of welfare legislation, at both the national and state levels. Congress and the President are correct in saying that the best way to help children is for children to be with a working parent. In the past, fathers as working parents have been ignored. Two-thirds of all fathers of children on welfare are employed full time with annual incomes over $15,000.00. This is the missing welfare statistic. Discrimination against these working fathers has resulted in their children being restricted to dependency lifestyles. Time limits imposed in this new legislation offer fathers and paternal family members new opportunities to directly support their children in their homes when mothers can not or will not do so. In these cases, fathers offer the best solution to reduce welfare caseloads and prevent the starvation of some 2 million children living on our streets.
I congratulate our Congress and President Clinton for enacting this essential legislation that will lead our nation down the path to reclamation of 50 percent of the missing parents to our less fortunate children. Future welfare legislation must continue this trend and address the father friendly provisions I have recommended above. To do so will promote the general success and happiness of our children, which in turn, will build stronger families and guarantee our nation's future.


"Dad is Destiny. More than virtually any other factor, a biological father's presence in the family will determine a child's success and happiness."

(U.S. News & World Report
February 27, 1995 pg. 39)

ORIGINAL SIGNED                July 1996
Bill Harrington,
United States Commission on Child and Family Welfare

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