Well Dads, I hope you had a great day with your families yesterday; because amongst all of the Father’s Day coverage out there, this piece from The Atlantic magazine might feel a bit like a slap in the face.
The opinion piece, entitled “Are Fathers Necessary?”, was based on a study published a few months ago in the Journal of Marriage and Family. Theresa focused on one aspect of the study earlier this year in a blog entitled, “Are two mommies as good as a mom and a dad?” However, the Atlantic writer takes the analysis a step further and wonders whether fathers are necessary at all.
In it, Pamela Paul writes:
“The bad news for Dad is that despite common perception, there’s nothing objectively essential about his contribution. The good news is, we’ve gotten used to him.”
In other words, she says, we all like dads and the help they provide while we “cling” to a traditional and “deeply embedded notion of what a father is”; there’s just no research that proves fathers are necessary.
“Dads, we tell our husbands, are essential influences on children, the source of unique benefits.
“There’s only one problem: none of this is proven.”
Paul notes that “our ideas of what dads do and provide are based primarily on contrasts between married-couple parents and single-female parents.” With that data, she writes, you cannot distinguish between the influence of the father himself, the influence of the income he provides or the mere presence of an additional parent in the family.
Paul suggests that the better “father” might be a lesbian mom, who spends more time on average with her children than fathers do, according to the study. She writes:
“…The quality of parenting, Biblarz and Stacey (the authors of the Journal of Marriage and Family report) say, is what really matters, not gender. But the real challenge to our notion of the “essential” father might well be the lesbian mom…
“According to Stacey and Biblarz, “Two women who chose to become parents together seemed to provide a double dose of a middle-class ‘feminine’ approach to parenting.” And, they conclude, “based strictly on the published science, one could argue that two women parent better on average than a woman and a man, or at least than a woman and man with a traditional division of family labor.”
Clearly, families come in all different shapes, sizes and styles, and what works for one family might not work for another. I do agree that the quality of parenting is ultimately what really matters in a child’s life. That’s why I find it difficult to believe anyone can scientifically measure the contribution – and “necessity” — of virtually half of the parental population, based on their gender. Or argue that a lack of scientific measurement disproves a parent’s (of any gender) essential role in their children’s lives.
Is the Atlantic writer’s statement a shocking one that will elicit many people to read her opinion piece? Yes. Is it also a divisive assertion and an unnecessary assault on dads throughout the world who work for and try their best to give their children the best they can? In my opinion, yes.
There are some really bad fathers out there — just as there are some really wretched mothers. Some are tuned out of their children’s lives, some don’t parent well, and some, sadly, are just downright mean. But for the most part, fathers and mothers –married, single, straight or gay – have their children’s best interests at heart.
Not every family has a mom and a dad (or two parents at all), but can you really call the efforts of one parent essential and the efforts of another unnecessary just because that parent happens to be a father? In my own family, I know we would be lost without Dad.
What do you think of the Atlantic opinion piece? Are fathers necessary, or do you think we keep them around because, as the opinion writer says, “we’ve gotten used to him”? Do you think Dads offer unique benefits or influences on children?
How has your own father influenced you – or your children’s dad influenced them?