Why Fathers Count

Interview:  with Wade F. Horn
Dr. Wade Horn is a clinical child psychologist and President of the the National Fatherhood Initiative.
"Fatherlessness is our most urgent social problem," says Wade Horn of the National Fatherhood Initiative.
Nearly 23 million American children do not live with their biological fathers. And 40 percent of the kids of divorced
parents haven't seen their fathers in the past year. These statistics aren't just disturbing, they are alarming, says Wade
F. Horn, Ph.D., a child psychologist and director of the National Fatherhood Initiative, a new organization that promotes
fathers' rights and responsible fatherhood. "Over the last three decades we have engaged in a great social experiment to
determine what will happen if large numbers of children are reared without their fathers. And the conclusion is children
suffer greatly," says Horn, former U.S. Commissioner for Children, Youth and Families in the Bush Administration. "I don't
believe it's possible to significantly improve the well-being of children without first reconnecting them to their
fathers." We talked with Horn recently about why fathers count.
What effect does fatherlessness have on children?
If you look at any measure of child well-being, you see that kids are placed at great risk when they grow up absent their
fathers. They're more likely to have psychological problems, abuse drugs and alcohol, live in poverty and fail in school.
Seventy percent of kids in state reform institutions grew up without their fathers.
Some might take that as a criticism of the ability of single mothers to raise their kids correctly.
This is not a black mark on single mothers. There is an increasing number of children growing up in single-father
households, and it seems the outcomes for those kids aren't very rosy either. What we are saying is that children really
need both a mother and a father.
But we know a lot of people who were raised by only their mothers after their fathers died, and they turned out just fine.
That's about the only father-absent situation where a child isn't at risk. And it's because the father's memory is
typically kept alive in very positive ways as opposed to a divorce situation where the father is generally not revered -
you know, where the mother says, "Oh, your father's a bum; we don't need him."
Why do we need fathers? Why do they count?
Fathers parent differently than mothers do. For example, we know mothers tend to be more verbal with their children and
fathers much more physical. Particularly with boys, fathers engage in rough-and-tumble play. What we're discovering is that
this serves as practice for boys to develop control over their aggression. So, it's a combination of the father's tendency
to challenge achievement combined with the mother's typical nurturing that creates happy kids. Now, fathers play an extra
role when it comes to daughters. They give girls the experience of having a relationship with a man who shows that the
definition of love is "I care more about you than myself." That's important, because when girls start looking for mates, if
they have the expectation that a man should be like Dad, they will be more likely to hold out for that positive model.
So how do you fix the problem of so many children growing up in fatherless homes?
First, we have to recognize the importance of fathers. Right now we say they are money - breadwinners or child-support
checks. Well, that's nonsense. We have to understand that fathers provide something unique and irreplaceable. Second, we
have to change our minds about marriage. We've communicated that marriage is an impermanent institution. But if we
reconnect marriage with a sense of permanence, then when you hit the rough spots, you'll be more willing to work through
them, and that has a direct impact on children.
Admirable goals, but you're always going to have divorce. What can a man who's divorced or facing a divorce do now to make
sure he plays that essential role in his kid's lives?
Settle the question, "How am I going to stay involved with my children?" Make that the first issue the court must focus on.
If you find yourself post divorce and are having trouble with visitation, go back to the courts and ask them to enforce it.
If you don't have visitation rights or if you have meager ones, go to court and ask them to renegotiate them. But go armed
with the argument that what you want is to ensure that your children have the opportunity to benefit from your involvement
in their lives.

If you need help, contact the Wisconsin Separated Parents Helpline 

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