Date Posted: October 2012
Recent marriage and family structure statistics and developments are raising questions about the implications of absent fathers. According to a 2007 Census update, about 87% of all lone-parent households consist of mothers with their children. Research further indicates that fewer than 30 percent of non-residential fathers will see their children weekly, and that poor and minority communities experience father-absence to a disproportionate degree. This paper considers both the warrants for and the constraints conditioning the law’s entry into the subject matter of fatherhood. It summarizes briefly the current data concerning the interactions between involved fathering, co-parenting with mothers, and the welfare of children, parents and society. All relevant areas of research have room for development; still, extant data is indicative. Relying on such data, the paper concludes that fathers contribute measurably to their children’s well-being, both alone and in tandem with mothers, and that children make reciprocal gifts to their parents. It offers both legal and cultural proposals to promote involved fatherhood and co-parenting. It considers the variety of risks associated with the continuation or exacerbation of fathering trends, not only for the individuals involved, but also for culture and the polity. These include a declining willingness among public and private institutions to accommodate the needs of parents, the growth of the notion that men and women are incapable of overcoming their intrinsic differences – even to care for their children -- and the continued widening of the achievement gaps between the wealthy and the poor, and between majority and minority racial groups. At the same time, the paper recognizes both the legal and the cultural constraints upon a “fatherhood” agenda. These include the strength of the “privacy” norm in the area of intimate relationships and childbearing, concerns about re-gendering the law, and concerns about taking intimate partner violence seriously.