From Father Knows Best to "No Father Is Best"

by Cecil Maranville Estimated reading time: 8 minutes. Posted on 29-Jan-2000
Psychologists have asserted that fathers are not essential to the healthy development of children. Do fathers do more harm than good?

Father Knows Best was a television program in the 1950s. At that time the father was widely viewed as the necessary and fixed head of every family. But times and families have changed. In June the American Psychological Association published an article asserting that just the opposite is true—that fathers are not an essential factor in the healthy development of children. In fact, they claim, fathers do more harm than good.

The American Psychologist ran as its June lead article a piece titled “Deconstructing the Essential Father” in which the authors argued that fathers are nonessential.

Psychologist Wade Horn, in his Washington Times column of July 6, 1999, takes issue with the APA’s reasoning and conclusion. “The authors begin their first argument by stating that their ‘research experience has led us to conceptualize fathering in the way that is very different from the neoconservative [read: anyone who thinks fathers matter—Dr. Horn’s comment] perspective.’

“While acknowledging that ‘the presence of a father may have positive effects on the well-being of boys,’ two paragraphs later the authors come to the conclusion that ‘the empirical literature does not support the idea that fathers make a unique and essential contribution to child development.’ ”

The premise of the APA article appears to be that many of today’s fathers do such a poor job of raising their children that their children would be better off if they were absent from their children’s lives.

“The authors warned, for example, of ‘the potential costs of father presence,’ and especially their propensity to fritter away family resources on ‘gambling, purchasing alcohol, cigarettes, or other nonessential commodities’ thereby ‘actually increasing women’s workload and stress level.’”

Should family be redefined?

What is so wrong with the normal home of the Father Knows Best era? The parents of today’s parents were born and raised in that environment. Why haven’t the values of yesterday passed along to today’s parents? Should normal be redefined to suit our era? Or should today’s world seek to redefine itself?

Joseph A. Califano says it’s the latter. Mr. Califano, a former secretary of health, education and welfare, is president of the National Center of Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. His group found, like the psychologists mentioned above, that a teenager who has a poor relationship with his father in a two-parent household is at a higher risk for smoking, drinking and illegal-drug use than one with a strong relationship with a single mother.

But his group’s study went further and reached a different conclusion. It found that fathers are irreplaceable in helping children to become and stay drug-free.

“We want fathers to wake up tomorrow morning, whether their kid is 3 years old or is 17 years old,” said Mr. Califano. “Parent power [fathers and mothers working together] is the most important weapon we have in dealing with substance abuse with our children. This problem is going to be solved across the kitchen table” (William P. Bulletin, “Relationship With Fathers Affects Teens Use of Drugs, Study Finds,” Chicago Tribune, Aug. 31, 1999).

“Every father should look in the mirror and say, ‘How often do I eat meals with my children?’ ” Mr. Califano declared.

Fatherless boys and their morals

Michael Gurian, author of The Good Son: Shaping the Moral Development of Our Boys and Young Men, concluded after studying 30 cultures in many lands that “American boys have the least moral development of any boys in the world.”

Mr. Gurian attributes this discouraging phenomenon to the breakdown of family, which he defines as a threefold system: the nuclear, expanded and communal family. He notes that our society causes us to end up “with kids being raised with one parent, no extended family, and going to a school with 2,500 kids. That means less chance for moral development” (Brad Knickerbocker, “Mapping the Journey From Boy to Man,” The Christian Science Monitor, Oct. 13, 1999).

“Boys are really hungry for male attention. That’s primal, and that’s natural. I find it in every culture. As a boy hits puberty, he starts looking to men, and it’s the culture’s job to provide him with men. That means his dad, but it doesn’t just mean his dad ... A boy can become a male adult, physically and socially, but he isn’t a man until he has become loving, wise, and responsible.”

When asked what boys need to become good sons, and eventually good men, Mr. Gurian responded that the most important factor is “the bond or attachment between the primary caregiver and her son—I say ‘her’ because it’s generally the mom. We would cut down on a lot of [school shootings] if in the first two years of life we had better attachment between our infant boys and their caregivers ...”

He added: “All sorts of studies show us what happens when a boy is not attached to his dad, how he’s more likely to live in poverty, more likely to end up in jail, do drugs, and so on. So we just have to say, ‘Look, if we want moral sons we’ve got to have fathers.’ And by father I also mean the ‘second father,’... an uncle or a grandfather.”

Daughters need fathers too

What Mr. Gurian says about the need for fathers in the life of boys is no less true for the development of girls. “It is said that the best thing a father can do for his daughter is to love her mother,” notes syndicated newspaper columnist Kathleen Parker. “A girl lucky enough to observe her ‘first man’ [her father] demonstrating affection and respect for the woman with whom she most strongly identifies [her mother] grows up with confidence and high self-esteem. More likely than not, she’ll set her standards high when seeking her own mate.

“Now, new research published in the August issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that there’s more fathers can do: Be there” (“A Father’s Best Gift? His Presence,” Oct. 3, 1999).

The research found that girls who had fathers as active caregivers entered puberty later and therefore were slower to develop sexual interests—and attendant problems. “Apparently, girls’ biological clocks are tuned not only to their physical environment but to the emotional atmosphere as well.”

It is good for children, sons and daughters alike, to have fathers! That is not to ignore the reality of our present dysfunctional society. Fathers who are cruel, abusive, immature and selfish do serious harm to the development of their children. But the solution is not to excise the fathers from the lives of their children.

Fathers need to be godly men, aware of their profound responsibility to their children, and to conduct themselves accordingly. “And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord,” wrote Paul (Ephesians 6:4). He added, “Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged” (Colossians 3:21).

That it was necessary to inspire this instruction tells us that adult males are not inherently sustaining fathers, rather that they need to choose to become such. Further, we—our society—need to train boys in the qualities of fatherhood. An invaluable part of that training, of course, is regular contact with exemplary adult males, especially their own fathers.

A solution

Many people can see that our families face serious problems. Responsible people wrestle with possible solutions. The proposal by some people to redefine families without “a father presence” is put forward as a plausible solution because they are convinced their concept is better than the present reality.

There is, however, a proven solution, one that is avoided by many professionals because they are used to distancing themselves from the words of God. They, like so many parents who have not absorbed the values commonly embraced by the past generation, have decided to live without the God of the Bible.

A prophecy of a world so degenerate and corrupt that God warns He may be forced to eradicate it entirely enjoins us to “remember the law of Moses, My servant” (Malachi 4:4).

A key component of that law is to “honor your father and your mother” (Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16). One cannot carve the position of father out of the home and think that has solved the crises assaulting our society. How dangerous, considering that the Creator finds it necessary to contemplate the destruction of a society that fails in its relationships between fathers and their children (Malachi 4:6).

Thankfully, the dark cloud of Malachi’s prophecy has a silver lining, foretelling a spiritual work in the end time that will “turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers” (Malachi 4:6). The Good News is pleased to have a part in it. GN

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