For the first time in a long time, the news about fatherhood in America is pretty good. True, millions of American children still grow up without ever knowing a dad like I had -- a solid, loving, reliable fact of family life, always there when you need him, and even sometimes when you wished he was not.
But after 40 years of growing worse each year, it looks like the epidemic of fatherlessness caused by unmarried childbearing and divorce has stopped getting worse. Divorce rates appear to continue a mild decline, while the proportion of children born out of wedlock has stabilized at around one-third. The result? The flood of fathers from homes has been stanched, at least for the time being.
It's about time.
Alongside the fatherless child, the detritus of the sexual revolution has produced another, less recognizable staple: the unfather.
Abortion is typically characterized as a women's issue. But the fact that here, in the midst of abundance more splendid than human beings have ever known, a million or so babies are aborted each year produces over time quite a few men like Alan Close, an Australian poet, author and editor of the anthology "Men Love Sex." His essay, "Voyage Around My Fatherhood," is reprinted in the current issue of Human Life Review.
"I have been the father of several terminations, all but one of which were clear mutual decisions -- as much as any can be. That one exception was my girlfriend's last-minute choice. She had been my partner for several years, but our relationship was in turmoil after we had become involved with other people."
Alan is 47 now and childless. The turmoil and the drama of that long-ago time have faded. The agony and the ecstasies are over. He's left with memories of what will never be: a boy they had already imagined, named Jack.
"He would have been 13 this month. I can imagine, too easily, his gangly cockiness, the sullen, aggrieved tone of his voice and, also too easily, the frustration and fierce protectiveness this arouses in me as his father."
For a long time, a metaphor of postmodern fatherhood, Alan contented himself with imagining the children he might have produced as a sperm donor (he gave at the age of 24).
"For me the acid truth that I have probably squandered my children in terminations and contraception is etched by that small, weak beacon of hope, the itch of desire, the sharp stab of pain that this is not the case."
"... Who might fatherhood have made me?" he poignantly asks. Quite possibly someone less solipsistic, someone more solid, more real, more reliable, more loving?
How do men grow into that magnificent thing, a good father, except by taking on the challenge? The most interesting thing about the new hit "Finding Nemo" is that it depicts, simultaneously, both a boy's journey toward manhood and a man's journey toward fatherhood. In defending his son, Marlin becomes someone bigger, better, stronger, more admirable and reliable than he had ever imagined possible.
He becomes someone who knows how to love and is loved. And admired. And emulated. To all the men who have made that journey, a Father's Day salute.
Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist, a leading voice in the new marriage movement and co-author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially.