Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Psychology of Fatherhood

The folks at Hallmark are going to have a very good day on June 17. That's when more than 100 million of the company's ubiquitous cards will be given to the 66 million dads across the U.S. in observation of Father's Day. Such a blizzard of paper may be short of the more than 150 million cards sold for Mother's Day, but it's still quite a tribute. What's less clear is whether dads--at least as a group--have done a good enough job to deserve the honor.

Worldwide, 10% to 40% of children grow up in households with no father at all. In the U.S., more than half of divorced fathers lose contact with their kids within a few years. By the end of 10 years, as many as two-thirds of them have drifted out of their children's lives. According to a 1994 study by the Children's Defense Fund, men are more likely to default on a child-support payment (49%) than a used-car payment (3%). Even fathers in intact families spend a lot less time focused on their kids than they think: in the U.S. fathers average less than an hour a day (up from 20 minutes a few decades ago), usually squeezed in after the workday.
This from Time Magazine, Photo by Barbara Peacock / Corbis

1 comment:

Jim said...

Being a non-custodial father who is fighting the court system in order to stay in contact with my daughter, I'm disappointed that this is such a one-sided story published in what I would normally consider a very non-biased magazine.

The study quoted in the "research" is over 13 years old, and was based on studies that took place in the 1960's. A lot has certainly changed in the last 40 years.

That research also was based entirely only on custodial mothers' views--the fathers were never asked. As directly felt in my case, I doubt many fathers would feel their angry ex-wives are a particularly accurate source of information about their bonds with their children.

The study also did not distinguish between divorced dads and never married fathers. When the study later separated the two groups, they found that divorced fathers were more than twice as likely to have retained contact with their children as never-married dads.

Arizona State University researcher Sanford Braver, who conducted the largest federally-funded study of divorced dads ever done, points out that there are many problems with the research quoted in the Time article:

Braver's study found that--by either parent's account--90% of fathers had contact with their kids in the past year. Of those who lived within 60 miles of each other, there was virtually universal contact.

Moreover, Braver's research found that to the degree that divorced fathers' contact with their children is infrequent, the cause is very often not the fathers' lack of desire, but instead attempts by mothers to push their ex-husbands out of their children's lives.

According to the Children's Rights Council, a Washington-based advocacy group, more than five million American children each year have their access to their noncustodial parents interfered with or blocked by custodial parents. We get no sense of this enormous social problem from the TIME article.

One more point--since noncustodial mothers' default rate on child support is higher than that of noncustodial dads, the "child support vs. car payment" statistic which is used to vilify fathers also applies to mothers.

Please, please, people. Can we stop bashing all dads, and start using common-sense over knee-jerk reactions and sensationalism? The suicide rate of men who are divorced with children is over 4 times higher than men in even very bad marriages. We need to start addressing the problems, not stand and point fingers.