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A Child’s Capacity to Feel Good on Father’s Day

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Father’s Day celebrates the relationship between a father and his child(ren), a relationship that is very generative —-of good or evil, of love or hate — depending on the relationship. Some are blessed with great fathers, e.g. John Paul II and Therese Martin.  Others are cursed with fathers who generate hate, as was the case for most of the founders of The National Organization of Women (NOW).  I have read the biographies of six of them and the pattern is the same in all. Each had fathers whose treatment of them and their mothers would generate hatred of them in any human being. The same holds for Shulamith Firestone (not a founder of NOW but maybe even more intellectually influential in the long run).

While the erotic nature of male and female is nurtured at the breast of the mother, its capacity to unfold that eroticism in a flourishing heterosexual relationship is found in the relationship with the father (for both son and daughter).  The sexual choices that the child’s parents made (sex within or outside of marriage) have a huge amount to do with that peacefulness — not everything to do with it, but much to do with it — as this chart from the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent to Adult  Health shows:

Here adolescents rated the warmth of their relationship with their fathers (in 1996).  The numbers speak loudly for themselves. Living with one’s biological father in an always-intact married family makes a huge difference.

There clearly is much room for improvement even in the intact family.  Back in the Bush II Administration, the Dept of Health and Human Services (HHS) sponsored a fatherhood ad campaign in conjunction with The Ad Council.  It had big effects.  My brother-in-law who was a shipping broker in New York City told me of one pretty powerful effect:  within a year or so most married financial services professionals (finance, shipping, wholesale, insurance) who used to treat clients visiting New York to dinner, as standard practice, ceased doing so because, as a result of the campaign, it became a cultural norm in NYC that fathers should be home for dinner with their children rather than out on the town with clients. What an impact!

That  Administration’s Secretary of HHS was Dr. Wade Horn, a clinical psychologist who knew his “stuff” and knew, more than anyone else in the history of HHS, how to wield his power for good.  But he ran up against the hatred of NOW (remember those foundresses) and hate drives out love. Another project he wanted to pull off was a joint project, not with the Ad Council this time, but with the National Council for Family Relations (NCFR), the publisher of the premier research journal, the Journal of Marriage and Family. A deal was struck to build a publicly available database of findings on the effects of marriage on children and on society.  It was moving forward when suddenly it was derailed by an internal revolt within NCFR: a coterie of radical feminists put an end to it.  The details of that revolting incident have never been made public, nor a great investigative story ever pursued by any of the top newspapers or magazines. It still awaits an enterprising reporter (and editor).  

The influence hate-inspiring fathers continues down through the generations as does the influence of self-sacrificing fathers in the continuing battle between love and hate.  in what family structure does hate most reside?

Consider the following:

When I (an older white male) feel slighted by a the somewhat over hostility of a young black woman (e.g. in the manner of response at a retail store) I immediately think of what she likely endured in her family of origin, given the unprovoked slighting:  she likely was raised in the family structure to the extreme right and likely carries the sexual scars for the rest of her life, depriving her of the capacity to form a loving, enduring relationship with a man who could become the loving father of her children.

We see all around us the battle between love and hate and the body count mounts.  While all of us blessed enough to celebrate Father’s, let us remember that many (most?)  US children cannot. Let us pray and work to have the nation challenge itself to give to every child its universal, most basic of human rights, the father it needs: a loving father, in a loving marriage.

In the end only love makes the difference we all say we want.

For the good of the child, the future of America,

Pat Fagan

PS: If you know of stories of great fathers do send them or the link to them to MARRI. Stories of fathers who generate hate will be occasionally useful too, though we need much more of the good kind.

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