“The End of Fatherhood Means the End of Civilized Society”

No other quote on fatherhood has stuck with me quite like this one.

It’s ballsy and over-the-top and it takes for granted how mothers are far more likely to be in their children’s lives. But, there’s a burning truth in it that brought silence to an entire classroom of criminal justice majors.

The course years ago at Penn State Altoona was actually about the history of organized crime. We watched documentaries and read books and discussed how the crime is portrayed in the media. The violence of the crimes often took center stage but one student saw the quiet thread that seemed to weave through most criminals we studied: they came from broken homes. Correction: they came from fatherless homes.

The one student who always sat up front but rarely said anything had something to say after one particular film when the professor asked if there were any questions that could begin our discussion:

“It seems like, maybe I’m wrong here, but it seems like when families break down, when… it seems like the end of fatherhood means the end of civilized society.”

He wrestled with the words and they seemed to wrestle with each other as they came out. But when they came out the rustling of notebooks and the tapping of shoes and pens came to a halt. Most of the students were young men and, it turned out, many of us (including myself) had selected criminal justice as our major in part because we had some daddy issues to deal with. A discussion unraveled, generally, about how breakdown in the family have become the clichéd story of most people serving time in prison. But nothing more was mentioned about fathers specifically. I viewed this generally as well even though I myself was being raised and supported in a single-mother household. The following week’s discussion was about Al Capone and so the quote on fatherhood was left alone.

The quote didn’t resurface in my life until the release of my own memoir. Emails from readers poured in and I still receive a few each week that, wouldn’t you know it, nearly always are from men who could relate to my story because their father wasn’t around either, because they found themselves turning to drugs or martial arts, to crime or literature, or to a host of other seeming dichotomies all in an attempt to fill the void. Within the first few pages of President Barack Obama’s memoir The Audacity of Hope is this quote:

“Someone once said that every man is trying to either live up to his father’s expectations or make up for his father’s mistakes, and I suppose that may explain my particular malady as well as anything else.”

The quote can likely apply to any child-to-parent relationship, but, in the context of America’s mass incarceration problem, which is primarily made up of men, and the statistics and information below that are from this PDF of the 1998 US Department of Justice report titled, “What Can the Federal Government Do To Decrease Crime and Revitalize Communities?” we have much work to do on fatherhood and fatherlessness:

Many of our problems in crime control and community revitalization are strongly related to father absence. For example:

- Sixty-three percent of youth suicides are from fatherless homes.

- Ninety percent of all homeless and runaway youths are from fatherless homes.

- Eighty-five percent of children who exhibit behavioral disorders are from fatherless homes.

- Seventy-one percent of high school dropouts are from fatherless homes.

- Seventy percent of youths in State institutions are from fatherless homes.

- Seventy-five percent of adolescent patients in substance abuse centers are from fatherless homes.

- Eighty-five percent of rapists motivated by displaced anger are from fatherless homes.

Without fathers as social and economic role models, many boys try to establish their manhood through sexually predatory behavior, aggressiveness, or violence. These behaviors interfere with schooling, the development of work experience, and self-discipline. Many poor children who live apart from their fathers are prone to becoming court involved. Once these children become court involved, their records of arrest and conviction often block access to employment and training opportunities. Criminal histories often lock these young persons into the underground or illegal economies.

How to break the cycle? The Good Men Project’s Robert Duffer highlights a few worthy initiatives already underway in his article What They Don’t Know: The Dad Movement Has Never Been Stronger. A movement. Yes. This is exactly what we need.

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–Photo: cmogle/Flickr

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About Cameron Conaway

Cameron Conaway is a former MMA fighter, an award-winning poet and the 2014 Emerging Writer-in-Residence at Penn State Altoona. He is the author of Caged: Memoirs of a Cage-Fighting Poet, Bonemeal: Poems, Until You Make the Shore and Malaria, Poems. Conaway is also on the Editorial Board at Slavery Today. Follow him on Google+ and on Twitter: @CameronConaway.

Comments

  1. I think that the loss of fatherhood operates on two different levels. There is the absence of particular good fathers and their positive role modelling and support for their growing children. However, in many quarters of society there is increasingly also the loss of fatherhood as a role for men to aspire to. This is far more troubling and dangerous in the long term. Men without the cultural role of fatherhood to aspire to will often pursue masculinity in far less healthy ways.

    The loss of fatherhood is easily blamed on male failure. The claim that men are ultimately responsible for the loss of fatherhood is definitely not without a large measure of truth to it. However, they are certainly not the only ones responsible. I think that it is only natural that fatherhood is being lost, given the sort of things that our society values and the sort of things that it dislikes.

    Our society celebrates independence and autonomy. However, the father figure represents authority, a figure that to a far greater extent than the mother, from whom we were born, stands over against us. A society that values fathers values authority and a social order to which we are called to submit ourselves, within which we can become more than we already are. Given the common distrust and hatred of authority, the strong father figure will not be viewed in a positive light.

    The whole fathering function within society in general has fallen into bad repute, stigmatized as ‘patriarchal’ and repressive. We are told that society must take on a more nurturing and affirming aspect, celebrate self-expression and autonomy, and do away with the institutional, authoritative, and normative dimensions of its life. As men and women reimagine themselves as detached individuals, the strong father figure and the fathering function of society comes to be perceived as a threat to women, as a society that values this function will make it difficult for women to compete with men in many areas of its life.

    In the society that results from the downplaying of any fathering function, fathers tend to be reimagined as the support staff for the mothering function, muted figures who have limited role of their own, but exist as ancillaries to their wives. These figures are portrayed as belovedly incompetent, relatively passive, childish, bumbling but affirming sidekicks to the women in their lives, demoted to the position of handservants to the feminist dream of women having it all. Frankly, this is an emasculating role to which few men aspire.

    The father figure is also one who can be depended upon. He provides, protects, and supports. However, such a figure is once again a threat to people who value independence over all else. In championing the independence of women, the feminist movement has systematically undermined this father figure. A larger government and welfare system has been created to protect women from having to depend upon their fathers and the fathers of their children. Where such dependence still remains, the father has increasingly been robbed of dignity and agency as his support and provision is treated as something to which the women is merely entitled and can just demand in a way that presumes upon him, leading to the denigration of the dignity of the act of giving it freely as a willing assumption of responsibility. Fearful that we might say anything that might reflect badly on single mothers and concerned to create a society where such mothers and their children are provided for, we have – to some extent unwittingly, but to some extent determinedly – created a society where willing and personally committed fathers are presented as dispensable. If we want to create a society where women do not see themselves as dependent upon men, we shouldn’t be surprised if that society is increasingly fatherless (nor should we be surprised that it has a burgeoning government function in people’s daily lives and welfare).

    Respect, honour, and agency are extremely important things for men, just as they are for women (one might even argue that men are often more motivated by a desire for honour and respect than women are, as certain other things can be slightly more important to women’s feeling that they have worth and value). As we have diminished the fathering function within society, celebrating values that are antagonistic to it, we have reduced the role of fatherhood to something with much less dignity and to something that is largely dispensable. Is it any surprise that many men now see marriage and fatherhood as emasculating traps and pursue masculinity in less responsible ways?

    Such a fatherless society, which denigrates the fathering function and fatherhood, can be far more abusive. Without models of responsible masculinity in fathers, men can seek masculinity in crime, misogyny and predatory sexuality, conspicuous consumption, loutishness, and in mere irresponsibility and risk-taking. Daughters are also far more vulnerable to abuse. A girl who is not affirmed and accepted by a father figure will be much less secure in her identity and much more driven to seek affirmation and acceptance from other men, many of them abusive (who can often stand in for the father who failed to affirm her). Also, the way that a faithful father and mother daily model a loving relationship between the sexes to their children is invaluable. Without a father’s presence we can all be poorer off.

  2. Interesting that the inverse proportion of fathering to criminality is one of the initial these of the film Courageous which, while at times heavy-handed, is an intriguing illustration of the many layers of fathering. I’ve been doing it for less than 2 years. Still so much room for improvement.

  3. “The End of Fatherhood Means the End of Civilized Society”
    If that is the case then I would say that not only do most people not seem to care about the end of civilized society but a lot of them are actively trying to bring about the end of civilized society.

    Over on the facebook like to this someone commented about men seem to be able to walk away from children scott free it’s seen as a major character flaw when women do it.

    What that person didn’t mention for some reason is what’s on the other side of that coin.

    There are cases where mothers are on charges for crimes against their own children and others will defend them with claims that “No woman, especially a mother, would do that to her own child.” I recall one case a few years ago where a woman in Florida had neglected her daughter so badly that at the age of ten she was still in diapers (meaning no potty training), could barely speak, and could not use utensils to eat solid food. You know what happened? The mother was able to make a deal where she would agree to give up custody in exchange for a lighter punishment.

    So if people are going to get all riled up about how it’s so unfair that women get judged harshly when they choose to leave their children on (relatively) good circumstances then when are they going to speak up on how unfair it is that women get judged so leniently when they do harm to their chidren.

    On that same side of the coin where mothers get the kid gloves when it comes horrible parenting fathers are getting the boxing glove for daring to want to be an active part in their children’s lives. I was reading a story last night about a military couple that was going through what appeared to be some tough relationship problems. Husband gets shipped to another state. He goes ahead of time to set things up for the wife (who is pregnant) and their son. During that time she goes and puts the baby up for adoption behind his back, even though his consent should have been needed for the adoption to proceed.

    And that’s not just a one off anomoly as you can see stories like that at Fathers and Families on a regular basis. For some reason adoption agencies (especially ones in Utah for some reason) have no problem proceeding with adoptions where the mother has actively decieved the father about the whereabouts of the child.

    Oh but for some reason these women are not being treated like that have some major “character flaw”. No usually they are allowed to walk away with nothing even resembling justice for the fathers (and sometimes adoptive families) they decieved. On the other hand we keep hearing about how dads are so terrible and how they are free to walk away from children. Well maybe if their fighting to stay in their children’s lives was actually acknowledged they wouldn’t be so “free” to walk away.

    (Bonus questions: Since fathers have it so easy….
    1. When it comes to parenting when’s the last time a mom got the cops called on her because she was at the mall in the play area taking pictures of her own children?

    2. When was the last time a mom had someone call her a child abuser because she was at the park watching her kids?

    3. And to take the spotlight off parenting for a bit when was the last time a woman was kicked off a flight because of a policy that says women can’t fly next to unaccompanied minors?)

    Simply put folks we can’t have it both ways. We can’t one hand complain that fathers aren’t doing their part while at the time actively denying them the chance to do their part. If they are so worried about the link between fatherhood and civilized society then they need to start doing their part to fix the link.

  4. David Currie says:
  5. Revo Luzione says:

    Excellent, insightful article, and superlative comments from all 3 commenters so far. This some good stuff here, I would recommend this read to fellow men and especially to young and new fathers.

    There are parts of the GMP, an archipelago in a sea of blue-pill mainstream thought, that gleam like diamonds (in the eyes of aware, turned on “red pill” men.) this is one of them.

    Thanks, Cameron. You clearly get it. I mean that, and I appreciate this work more than you can know.

  6. True, very!

  7. David Currie says:

    Search and read – ‘we are all in the same boat’:
    Please help us if you can or forward this message onto anyone who you know that will be able to help.

    http://www.mortimers-removals.co.uk/ukfathers.htm

  8. Richard Aubrey says:

    “The father figure is also one who can be depended upon. He provides, protects, and supports.”

    Alastair. Correct. But. You don’t need to “depend” on someone if things are going well. You don’t need anyone to protect you if there is no threat. You don’t need anyone to support you if you are supporting yourself or someone else is. IOW, the t things you mention imply some difficulties. The man must be capable of managing a threat. He must be dependable, which means there is something going on you can’t handle yourself, which means it’s not necessarily a picnic for Dad.

    Further IOW, a fathet must have capacities for dealing with difficulties. Such capacities are not Right for the twenty-first century man. The latter must collapse in the face of difficulty, or he’s not emotionally available, or he’s patriarchally repressed. Being prepared to deal with violence, actual or potential, means he’s a Neanderthal or possibly a gun nut, or knife nut, or violent psycho. Being able to provide means having, if necessary, a soul-sucking job and not complaining, which would never get him a column gig on men.

    Last IOW. The modern man must not have the capacities you mention as necessary to successful fathering.

    I exaggerate slightly. Or not at all. Depending on whom you read.

  9. Fathers are paramount in raising well adjusted children. Thank you for foster discussion on this important topic!

  10. Mark Sherman says:

    Clearly, the main focus here is situations in which there had been a father present in the home, but that either he left, or there was a divorce and he either showed little interest in being involved with his children, or was given little opportunity to be.
    But what about an increasingly common cause of fatherlessness, namely, women are voluntarily becoming single mothers — via sperm donation (or sometimes adoption)? I have no idea how well these children will do — it’s kind of too early to tell, since voluntary single motherhood on the scale we see it today is a rather new phenomenon.
    The article doesn’t specifically say these problems only exist for boys, but the fact that the author says most of his classmates were male, and he quotes something from a 1998 U.S. Department of Justice report saying, “Without fathers as social and economic role models, many boys try to establish their manhood through sexually predatory behavior, aggressiveness, or violence,” clearly implies that while fatherlessness may be bad for all children, it may have particularly negative consequences for males. Given the incredibly high rate of imprisonment in America’s male population, and how some of this may indeed tie in to fatherlessness, there is particular reason to be concerned when a boy or boys grow up without a father in the home.
    Intuitively, it would seem different, and not as bad, when a woman voluntarily has and raises a child, boy or girl, on her own. But still one would wonder if this is an ideal situation for the child.

  11. Fatherless homes tend to be homes with far too little BOUNDARIES.

  12. “However, they are certainly not the only ones responsible” How about the feminists who have done everything in their might to remove any right for the father to be involved in his childrens lives? How about the women who refuse to allow the father to see his children or who does what she can to reduce their contact with him. How about the women who get pregnant but do not inform the man she got pregnant with that she got pregnant with his child and is going to have it? How about the feminists who have relentlessly argued that fathers are irrelevant and that a woman can do just as good a job on her own? How about the women who have their children through artificial insemination from an anonymous sperm diner? How about the women who, because they hate their ex husband, teaches her children to be angry with and hate the father? What I see in my own life and what I see all over the internet in various forums is fathers FIGHTING to be involved in their childrens lives. They have to fight because of the WOMEN that try to prevent their involvement and because of the feminists who try to remove any formal right for the father to be involved in his childrens lives. WHere I live there is nothing that can stop a mother who does not want to let her childrens father exercise his right to see his children from doing so which in reality means a man can only be involved in his childrens life if it is approved by the mother but not the other way around.

    You can add into this that 70% of divorces are initiated by women and that women hold 100% of the power to decide wether to have a baby when she has gotten pregnant but is not in a relationship. The prime cause for fatherlessness is WOMEN and more so than any others is FEMINISTS. GIve me equal rights to my children and then we can BEGIN to talk about the responsibility in the mess of fatherless homes that women created (it was not a problem before feminism remember).

    • I really don’t think that the blame for fatherlessness can be laid simply or even primarily at the door of women, or feminists for that matter. There is responsibility there, but hardly sole or even necessarily primary responsibility. In the same way, the fact that women are more likely to initiate divorces does not mean that they are more responsible for marital breakdown. Perhaps they are being abused by their husbands and need to get out. The party that initiates divorce is arguably more often than not the cheated or abused party, rather than the adulterer or abuser. If this is the case, then men would be more responsible.

      I think that ‘equal rights’ can be an extremely unhelpful approach in these areas. Mothers and fathers have a different sort of relationship to their children and we should honour that difference. Men and women should be treated equitably, but not equally, because we are different. Men did not bear or give birth to their children. They didn’t nurse them, nor do they experience the same costs to their careers on account of them. While valuing fathers, we need to recognize and defend the peculiar bond that exists between a mother and her child.

      Bitter and resentful attempts to shift blame are not the solution here. Rather we need to recognize the broader shape of the problems that we are facing and our own complicity and deal with those problems in all of their aspects, without establishing a single party as the scapegoat.

      I have strong disagreements with standard feminist positions, but feminists are responding to areas where men have genuinely been cruel and abusive and ways in which women have consistently been marginalized and mistreated in wider society. And men bear the primary responsibility for these wrongs. Without being driven by a morbid guilt-ridden impulse to assume responsibility for things that we are not responsible for, or to accept all of the other tendentious claims that come with feminism’s protests, we should have shoulders broad enough to assume culpability where it exists, and to work towards a more equitable order.

      The women in my life are good women and I want to be a man who treats them with the respect and honour with which they treat me. I don’t see resentment driven approaches getting us anywhere. At some point one party has to take the initiative and be gracious, loving, and forgiving, giving people the honour that they deserve, even if they don’t return the favour. I want to be the sort of person who can do that.


      • Men did not bear or give birth to their children. They didn’t nurse them, nor do they experience the same costs to their careers on account of them. While valuing fathers, we need to recognize and defend the peculiar bond that exists between a mother and her child.

        The problem is this is not happening. As it stands on one hand there is plenty of talk over not penalizing women for bearing chilren while at the same time denying men that are doing the very “stepping up” that is being asked of them.


        Bitter and resentful attempts to shift blame are not the solution here. Rather we need to recognize the broader shape of the problems that we are facing and our own complicity and deal with those problems in all of their aspects, without establishing a single party as the scapegoat.

        I can agree with that. Look at the mess that things are now after so long of trying blame men as a collective.


        I have strong disagreements with standard feminist positions, but feminists are responding to areas where men have genuinely been cruel and abusive and ways in which women have consistently been marginalized and mistreated in wider society.

        And it’s good that they are. But the problem is there are those that have no problem egaging in the single party blame that you mention (or at the least have no problem capitalizing on the imbalances when they work in their favor).


        I don’t see resentment driven approaches getting us anywhere.

        I think the problem is a cycle has been initiated where the “solution” to the issues has been to shift blame to someone, anyone. And when that party gets resentful they “solve” it by shifting to someone else. So at this point to a lot of folks feminists have shifted the blame over to us and now they are turning around and asking us to hot be resentful.

        As you say it’s ultimately unhealthy. The resentment is hard to fight because it leaves people in spot where they seen as being the ones to blame. What makes this difficult to fight through is that it’s not necessarily true that no one is trying to blame them and they are only imagining it in their minds.


        At some point one party has to take the initiative and be gracious, loving, and forgiving, giving people the honour that they deserve, even if they don’t return the favour.

        A noble goal. I am often able to do that but in the gender discourse I tried doing this with feminists and frankly it got me nothing but a knife in the back so to speak. And thus resentment grew.

        The key to this for me has been to recognize one thing. And this is VERY crucial and VERY painful truth.

        Some feminists are just not worth dealing with. Now I know full well this is hard to deal with because the ones that bring pain to the table are not just no name random feminists but those with names popularity and have influence in the movement. Chances are they will never be held responsible by others for the pain they have wrought and more than likely they will never take responsibility for the pain they have wrought.

      • “I think that ‘equal rights’ can be an extremely unhelpful approach in these areas. Mothers and fathers have a different sort of relationship to their children and we should honour that difference. Men and women should be treated equitably, but not equally, because we are different. Men did not bear or give birth to their children. They didn’t nurse them, nor do they experience the same costs to their careers on account of them. While valuing fathers, we need to recognize and defend the peculiar bond that exists between a mother and her child.”

        This is all bullshit. What you are repeating here, Aaastair, is the doctrine of the Golden Uterus. This is simple sexism. If women are the natural parents, then they really can’t be spared from that responsibility, so they need to stay around the home. See how that works?

        But that’s not the real problem with that formulation. The real problem is the warping effect it has on children to center mothers over fathers as parents. It distorts the entire culture. For one thing it puts women inot a position as the first moral judges a child experiences, with lifelong ramifications, and we see these in society all around us. For another it centers womenover men in the home, with implications for boy’s understanding of their connection as men to the home.

        It’s just generally sick all the way around.

        • Michael Philp says:

          I think you have blown his statement way out of proportion. He hasn’t stated his opinion, he’s stated a fact, and I think you should pay attention to it. Women have a different relationship to their children than men do, you can’t deny that. He’s not asking you to favor a mother-centric view of parenthood, he’s asking you to acknowledge that women go through a hell of a lot for their children, some of which men physically cannot experience. For goodness’ sake, childbirth alone should tell you that.

        • wellokaythen says:

          Sure. I’d be willing to accept that giving birth to a child and nursing a child with your own breasts would create a particular bond between a parent and child. And, since men can’t really do those things, the male connection to children may be different.

          But, I think this difference is really overstated. First of all, if it’s true then that means that adopted children fed milk with a bottle will have the same relationship with their adopted dad as their adopted mom. What if neither parent gave birth to that child or fed that child with a breast? What if the mother raising that child is not the biological mother? This is a really depressing and insulting way to see adoption, widowers, blended families, second marriages, and fatherhood itself.

          (And it’s a pretty harsh message to women who, for whatever reason, don’t breastfeed. Inflamed, scabrous nipples? Too bad, honey, you gotta keep up that “special bond.”)

          Second of all, there are plenty of single parent households in which the parent does “both roles,” or parents in which the roles are “reversed,” for lack of a better word. I think we can all agree that there are families out there where the children are in better hands with the father than with the mother.

  13. “The article doesn’t specifically say these problems only exist for boys”

    Boys in fatherless homes do worse than girls in fatherless homes. There are probably several reasons for that but one alarming factor is that the mother prioritise their girls over their boys. Research shows that mothers provide more “parental investment” to girls than to boys when there is no father in the home but provide a more equal distribution of parental investment when there is a father in the home. So it is not just about the absence of a father to provide something unique to the boy it is also about how the presence of the father influences the behavior of the mother.

  14. Michael Philp says:

    I have been watching season 4 of The Wire recently, and it deals with the school system and the young people affected by the drug problem in Baltimore. The trends cited in this article are present there. Just about every single young person on the show comes from a broken home, and now I see that the writers (mostly Ed Burns, I think) did that deliberately. Not because it adds to the dramatic power of the show, but because it’s the honest truth behind the problems Baltimore is facing. That is why I love The Wire, and that is why this article so deeply affects me.

  15. Richard Aubrey says:

    Someplace, I referenced the SciFi short, “The Cold Equations”. Found it amazing that it was in a high school lit anthology, because it teaches–most heart-wringingly–that when you meet arithmetic, arithmetic wins. Every time. No matter what you think of the result. Not what they’re teaching these days to kids–see the last election.
    And here we see the arguments about historical guilt, group guilt–for some but not others, of course–different parenting styles, and…ignoring the fact that arithmetic wins.
    Because arithmetic’s results may be inconvenient, some think other issues are more fun to discuss and maybe we can ignore the math a little longer.
    The math says kids from fatherless homes do worse than kids whose homes included a father.
    Period.

  16. Have you seen this Volkswagen commercial?

    http://youtu.be/FjTQV6CjAPE

    How insulting is this to the idea of fatherhood, yet how commonplace is this theme of “Father as Doofus” in the media?

  17. This article, and many of its comments, vastly oversimplifies the situation. Yes, it would be of great benefit to a child to have both a father and a mother committed to its well-being at home. But the mere presence of a male parent isn’t enough. Is the father functional (e.g. not engaged in substance abuse or criminal activity and able to contribute to his household/society)? Is he non-abusive (emotionally, physically, verbally) to the mother and children? Does he demonstrate enduring commitment to his marriage/family? Does he demonstrate a loving, caring and respectful relationship to the child’s mother? And does she to him? If mistakes are made by either, are they admitted, forgiven, worked on? It takes a lot of very difficult emotional work to keep a relationship/marriage and family functioning, by both parents/partners. There are unfortunately too few men who can commit to this work, especially as far as the relationship with the mother of the child goes – but if the father and mother can be better parents by not also trying to be partners (e.g. child is not being raised in an angry house where its mother and father can’t get along), then it’s far better they split and coparent. And if the father (or mother) of a child is non-functional, abusive, etc., it’s far better that s/he leave the child’s life and let it be raised by a more functional parent or guardian…

  18. Tom Brechlin says:

    “….. they came from broken homes. Correction: they came from fatherless homes.” Why did you correct the statement?

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