(HOST) With Father’s Day fast approaching, commentator Cheryl Hanna is concerned that not all American families will be cele- brating. She shares her thoughts on why this might be so.
(HANNA) Father’s day can be bittersweet for many American families. For some children, their dads are away, serving in the military or serving time in prison. What’s even more troubling is that more than 10 million American children have no contact with their fathers at all.
Many kids who grow up without fathers manage to excel in life, but they do so by beating the odds. All the emerging research on families shows that having a reliable and meaningful relationship with one’s father, or an equivalent male, is crucial to a child’s life. Children without fathers are more likely to fail school, to end up in poverty and to commit suicide. Boys without dads are far more likely to get in trouble with the law, and girls without dads are more likely to be sexually abused.
In contrast, kids who have good relationships with their fathers tend to have higher self-esteem, do better in school and self-report as being happier. What’s strikes me is that, while the evidence supporting the importance of fathers provokes no disagreement, the discussion about how we can help more men become better dads has become highly controversial.
Sadly, fatherhood has now become a partisan issue. Ever since Dan Quayle’s remark more than a decade ago about the immoral- ity of the television character Murphy Brown becoming a single mom, if one talks about the importance of dads, it’s assumed one is anti-woman, or anti-gay, or part of the right-wing conspiracy.
Social conservatives have co-opted this issue and tied it to a larger agenda. But it doesn’t have to be that way. No political party should claim ownership of this issue. All of us, no matter where we fall on the political spectrum, ought to be concerned about the state of fatherhood in America, and we ought not to be afraid to raise the issue for fear of political repercussion.
One thing liberals and conservatives share is a desire to give every child the best chance for a successful life, and having a dad a- round – although not determinative for every child – can really improve the odds. Someone once said that any man can become a father, but it takes someone special to become a dad.
This Father’s Day, I hope we will both celebrate all those special someones who are great dads and recognize that there are plenty of men out there who, in their hearts, want to become better fathers but need some help to do so.
The best Father’s Day gift politicians could give us is a commit- ment to develop policies that avoid the pitfalls of partisanship, at the same time promoting meaningful fatherhood for all of our nation’s dads.
This is Cheryl Hanna.
Cheryl Hanna is a professor at Vermont Law School in South Royalton.