Fatherless America: Confronting our Most Urgent Social Problem
is a political nonfiction book by David Blankenhorn. Published in 1995 by Harper Perennial, the book discusses the impact absentee fathers have not only on individual family units but on the entire US. The book was generally well-received, however Blankenhorn himself is a divisive figure. He is the founder and president of the Institute for American Values and once campaigned against same-sex marriage. He later established the nonpartisan group, the National Fatherhood Initiative, and served on the National Commission on America’s Urban Families at the request of President George H.W. Bush.
Blankenhorn bases his argument on the idea that children have a right to be raised by two parents, a mother and a father, and absent fathers are depriving children of basic human rights. He now acknowledges that these parents can be of any gender, however he focuses exclusively on traditional families for the purposes of Fatherless America
Blankenhorn expresses dismay at the lack of concern over disappearing and absent fathers. He notes that, while many Americans believe children only need one parent and they don’t lack anything by losing a father, this is preposterous. The aim of Fatherless America
is to show how vital fathers are for a thriving, healthy, fully-functioning American society.
The book is divided broadly into three parts, each which makes different arguments concerning the nature of fatherhood. Blankenhorn first looks at the historical problem of absent fathers before analyzing how we fix this. He believes there is hope for America if we start equating fatherhood with traditional masculinity, which is something we’re failing at right now.
Part I of Fatherless America
takes us back to the 1800’s, when fathers stood at the center of a family unit. He compares this position to now, where men leave their families or never marry to begin with. Blankenhorn blames this on no longer seeing good parenthood as a sign of a good man. Too many men shun their responsibilities and adopt a more “toxic” masculinity. He argues things will only get worse if we don’t acknowledge where the problem stems from.
Something that worries Blankenhorn is that fathers are no longer teaching their children to become fully-functioning, adjusted adults capable of looking after their own families. Without the central father figure, children end up directionless and irresponsible, and they lose respect for authority.
When children don’t get the love and attention they’re entitled to, in this case from two parents, they look for it elsewhere, which explains the rise in drug dependencies, teenage pregnancies and youth violence. Blankenhorn stresses that a father dying is not the same as a father leaving, and children don’t experience this same sense of neglect and anger.
In the second part of the book, Blankenhorn argues that fathers are breaking America by leaving their children behind, starting new families and ignoring the old, and avoiding marriage altogether. Children lack the stability and security they should be able to take for granted, and they’re all entitled to this love that they’re not getting. Blankenhorn vehemently argues against downplaying the role of fathers in a child’s life—he’s very critical of scholars who argue children only need one parent.
We must consider why we’re rejecting the importance of fatherhood, and Blankenhorn assumes it’s because men no longer fit the mould of old paternal figures. We reject patriarchy and—rightly—argue for equality, but we’ve forgotten to look at what this means for family life. We need to find a way to make fatherhood important and healthy again.
Blankenhorn also considers stepfathers and more transient men in a child’s life, such as a mother’s boyfriend. He explains that these men are poor role models for a child because they often leave without warning and leave the child feeling vulnerable and insecure again. Children are also often “secondary” to these relationships and may be left feeling unloved and undervalued. It’s also not enough that divorced fathers visit their children—they need to be a constant presence in the child’s life.
However, Fatherless America
is not all about despondency. In fact, Blankenhorn knows of many men who see fatherhood as a virtue and believe it’s taken for granted. He thinks what we must do is find a way to equate fatherhood with our new understanding of masculinity which is less patriarchal and chauvinistic. We also need better moral values, which includes divorcing less—for many, this point is still very controversial.
Blankenhorn acknowledges there are others who disagree, because they grew up fatherless and go on to become productive, well-adjusted individuals. However, for Blankenhorn, this is not the norm, and it’s best we return to a more traditional family unit. Ultimately, he believes this is best for the child, but he doesn’t explain how this affects families where fathers are abusive or problematic.