Rich Lowry

Dad is countercultural. If he is responsible, loving, and married, he might seem boring and a constant provocation to his eye-rolling teenage children, but he stands at the ramparts of a movement to save the country from the most destructive trend of the past 30 years: father absence.

The proportion of out-of-wedlock births rose 600 percent from 1960 to 2000, and the divorce rate more than doubled between 1965 and 1980. Roughly 24 million children now live in homes where the biological father is absent ? about one out of every three children. This is a social disaster. Children need their fathers, and they need them in the home, which, as a practical matter, means their fathers have to be married to their mothers.

This is a thoroughly commonsensical notion, but so retrograde that almost no one dared utter it for a couple of decades. Not anymore. Even left-leaning intellectuals like Isabel Sawhill of The Brookings Institution and Bill Galston of the University of Maryland are forthright supporters of intact married families. But much of the Left still can't muster enthusiasm for fathers as anything other than the men who should, if circumstances warrant, be forced to make child-support payments.

The evidence for the importance of traditional fatherhood is overwhelming. "Children who grow up in father-absent homes are more likely to suffer from child abuse, poverty, low academic achievement, drug use, emotional and behavioral problems, and suicide," according to a report from the influential National Fatherhood Initiative (from which most of the data in this column is drawn).

As anyone who has ever had a father ? i.e., all of us ? should know, a father's love is irreplaceable. Research shows that withdrawal of love by either the father or mother is equally important in predicting a child's well-being. So much for only mothers being the "nurturing ones." And nothing so endangers a child's reliably receiving the love of a father than family breakup.

Twenty years after a divorce, one-quarter of girls and less than a third of boys say they are close with their fathers. In contrast, 70 percent of children of intact families say they have close relationships with their fathers. Half of children living without their fathers have never been in their fathers' homes. In one study, only 27 percent of children older than 4 saw their nonresident father at least once a week in the past year, and 31 percent had no contact whatsoever.

Rich Lowry

Rich Lowry is author of Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years .
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