Leonard Pitts Jr. / Syndicated columnist
Children still need fathers
I'll tell you when I decided — apologies to Ricky Ricardo — I had some splainin' to do.
It was a few days ago, when I got an e-mail informing me that I am an "anti-gay bigot." Which would be a shock to the system at any time, but seems especially ironic coming as it does a few weeks before I am supposed to receive an award from PFLAG — Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.
The source of this ire? A column I wrote about Mary Cheney, who is a lesbian, pregnant, and the daughter of the vice president. I thought it was a bad idea for Cheney and her life mate, Heather Poe, to have a baby and I noted that this is an opinion I share with Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family fame.
Which caused a few folks to fire off scandalized notes wondering how I function without benefit of a brain. Or a heart.
I suppose you can't blame them for going nuclear at an expression of solidarity with Dobson, who is not known for his enlightened attitude toward gays. For the record, had he couched his objection in terms of antipathy toward gays, I'd have happily torn him a new orifice. But he did not. What he said was something I have often said myself: Children need fathers.
That argument, for me, at least, is not about sexual orientation. My objection to Cheney and Poe is precisely the same one I have to heterosexual single women who decide to conceive children without benefit of a stable and involved father. I believe that our slide toward a fatherless society, a society where the male parent is considered optional, irrelevant or interchangeable, is toxic for our children.
That concern is buttressed by a growing body of research — UC Santa Barbara, 1996; University of Pennsylvania, 1997; Princeton University and the University of Pennsylvania, 1998; London School of Economics and Princeton University, 2002 — which tells us the child raised without his or her biological father is significantly more likely to live in poverty, do poorly in school, drop out altogether, become a teen parent, exhibit behavioral problems, smoke, drink, use drugs, or wind up in jail.
So dad's involvement would seem vital to a child's well-being. And in reading those e-mails, I was repeatedly struck by the blithe way people disregarded that fact, by how eagerly they assured me fathers bring nothing to the table that cannot be replaced by an uncle, a coach, a family friend or other "father figure." As one woman put it: "To say that chromosomes or genitalia dictate the chances of happiness or success ... for a family really makes no sense."
Actually, what makes no sense is to pretend that you can remove a father from a child's life and have the child not notice. I mean, can you imagine anyone daring to make the argument that children lose nothing if their mother abandons them, that the emotional support, nurturing and unqualified love she brings to the home can be readily replaced by the friendly lady down the street?
Of course not. That some of us so airily make that exact argument about fathers speaks volumes about our lack of respect for — and understanding of — fatherhood itself.
I have nothing against father figures. I had one. I am one. But a father figure is not a father.
I also have nothing against gay adoptive parents or mothers left single by tragedy, divorce or abandonment. I admire them.
But as 16 percent of white kids and a whopping 51 percent of black ones grow up father-free, facing all the difficulties that portends, I definitely have something against the idea, whether advanced by straight women or lesbians, that father is unnecessary, that so long as there's some uncle around to show a boy how to hit the mark in the toilet, everything is hunky dory.
A woman has the right to use her body as she sees fit. I don't argue that.
But it seems to me her child has a few rights, too.
Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts Jr.'s column appears Sunday on editorial pages of The Times. His e-mail address is: firstname.lastname@example.org
2007, The Miami Herald