Why Aren't We Discussing Fatherlessness?

Here we are at the beginning of an election year. We've had over a dozen debates between the Republicans and the Democrats. We've had plenty of drama. We've had surprising dropouts and upsets. But we have not heard any discussion of fatherlessness.

Perhaps it seems like an odd complaint, wanting to talk about dads when we have so many other problems. Besides the huge foreign policy issues of American action abroad and immigration policy on our borders, we face depressing domestic issues such as the lagging economy, rising health care expenses, the ballooning federal budget, and flailing educational achievement. But those domestic issues are actually the reasons I wonder why we are not talking about fatherlessness.

Fatherlessness is on the rise. It is causally linked to an array of social risk factors. While there are success stories in single-parent households, children raised without a father in the home are more at risk for dropping out of school, using drugs, having emotional problems, and becoming involved in crime, just to name a few.

Each of these individual risk trends can impact health care expenses, education, the budget and economy as well as public safety. Taken together they look like the root problem for many of our societal ills. The body of research confirming fathers' importance grows. We even have studies looking at the stunning public cost of fatherlessness. Yet our politicians do not discuss fatherlessness as a policy matter.

For the Republican side, I have a theory: the "War on Women" smear hovers ominously over all Republicans, especially men. Republican politicians have been threatened to within an inch of their funding if they mention anything that could be turned into a sexist trope. But claiming that dads matter isn't at risk of becoming a sexist trope, it is a favored sexist trope. Feminists have been turning dads into patriarchal, sexist abusers for decades. Granted, this is falling out of favor among younger feminists. Older, Boomer feminists hide their anti-male assumptions behind pro-woman rhetoric; only the younger feminists don't like the sleight of hand. Feminists as a group, however, are just realizing their gender gap and trying to come to terms with it. While they sort that out, our politicians remain cautious. They are too afraid to discuss fatherlessness beyond personal stories.

Still, the truth remains: dads matter. They matter personally and they matter on a public policy level. So perhaps it is time that we stop avoiding the issue.  Former Rep. George Radanovich (R-Calif.) called helping fatherless children "the last trump card for conservatives" in The Hill a while ago:

Statistics show that success in the pursuit of happiness is far more difficult without a solid foundation built by a child’s biological parents from the beginning of life. Statistics also show that children who are fortunate to have this foundation are less of a burden on government. Chattanooga is proving that the private sector can strengthen families by reducing fatherlessness, unwed pregnancy, and divorce. This is where the path to less government begins.