This probably isn't a good week to defend the traditional American family. After all, Andrea and Russell Yates were about as traditional as they come, especially if you look for role models in, say, Tabaqat Fahl, circa 345 A.D.
Andrea was perennially pregnant, stayed home with five children and home-schooled them, while Russell worked as a NASA computer specialist to provide sustenance for his brood. A fundamentalist Christian family, they might have been the perfect poster couple in certain circles. Instead, you know the rest.
Still, I'm still unable to swallow the latest swill from the alternative-family fringe, which more or less asserts that lesbian moms beat dads. That's essentially what Peggy F. Drexler, a California psychologist - you just knew it, didn't you? - and scholar with the Institute for Research on Women and Gender at Stanford University, said in an article published recently in the Los Angeles Times.
Drexler's thesis, proffered in the spirit of balancing fears among those knuckle-draggers still hung up on the "Fathers Knows Best" family model, was based on interviews with lesbian couples. She cited recent census figures that only 25 percent of U.S. families are composed of a father and a mother. She also noted that 7.2 percent of households are headed by unmarried women, and that gay families are proliferating.
Her contempt is palpable as she describes conservative advocates of "family values" (her quotation marks), who admit that the nuclear family has problems, "but they pronounce the presence of a strong male figure to be vital to a child's development. ... Without Ward Cleaver coming home from work at 5 p.m., how will sons know how to be men?"
Oh, please. Nobody comes home at 5 p.m. anymore. And why are family values always in quotation marks, and how come only conservatives are advocating them? I know some perfectly decent liberals who believe in unpunctuated family values.
Meanwhile, Ward and June are no more the prototype of the family-values crowd than Russell and Andrea Yates are typical of home-schooling Christian families. Which is to say, the sometimes failing nuclear family does not the sanctification of lesbian motherhood make.
I'm sure there are some lovely lesbian couples out there rearing perfectly nice children. But to suggest that conservatives are just silly ninnies for insisting that dads are necessary to children's lives - and offering lesbian couples as the pudding's proof - insults while it disregards human history. Boys and girls have always needed fathers for reasons that no longer should need explaining - the very same reasons Drexler eschews as tired statistics that, inconveniently, are supported by a vast body of research, i.e.:
Children without fathers tend to have more trouble in school, to become involved in crime, to become sexually promiscuous earlier, to experiment with drugs. In other words, name an adolescent pathology and find the absent father.
Yes, but, says Drexler. These afflicted children are being reared by (START ITALICS)single(END ITAL.) mothers who may be poor, uneducated or disadvantaged in some other way more common among divorced or never-married women. By contrast, women in lesbian couples are usually both employed, tend to be more prosperous and tend to share more equally in child-rearing duties.
One can easily concede Drexler's point that lesbian couples, as a subset of the women-rearing-children-without-men group, may be more stable than some divorced or never-married mothers. But that doesn't mean that all mothers all the time are just as good as a mother and a father - the conclusion Drexler clearly implies.
Drexler refers to these lesbians as "social mothers," the sexual equivocation of which forces her to write like this as she defines the term: "the parent who has no genetic connection with the son (daughter) she is raising, and who may or may not have a legal relationship with him, but who has established an emotional, even fatherly (motherly) bond with him (her)."
She quotes Jason, the heterosexual 10-year-old son of social mothers Nicole and Astrid, to drive home her point: "It was Nicole who taught me to play basketball," says Jason. "So when I get to play in the NBA, I'll invite her to the games."
Well, there you have it. If you teach a boy basketball, why should he miss having a father?
I'm not at all worried about Jason's sexuality. I'm convinced that you either are or you aren't, and even the terribly curious aren't going to pretend to be homosexual for very long. I'm also not worried about whether Jason learns basketball from a woman, many of whom are as capable at coaching sports as males are. But I'm exceedingly concerned when we begin to be soothed by wordsmithing and coddled by educated titles into believing guano is really paté
Fathers are necessary to children's well-being, just as mothers are, just as we've always known. And though the worst lesbian couple will always be better than the Andrea and Russell Yateses of the world, extremes never tell a whole story. More likely, they cancel each other out.