*I recently listened to Elayne Bennett speak about her book on the dangers facing girls and young women in contemporary American society. One of her main points is that fathers are necessary to successfully raise daughters in particular but kids in general. Despite this being one of the premises for her book, she openly acknowledges that children can do well without fathers.
That acknowledgement reveals a basic flaw in her argument and her fundamental bias. Bennett, as conservatives often do, is basically promoting the traditional family structure of father, mother, children. There is nothing wrong with that version of the family; I myself am a father raising two daughters with my wife. The problem is when conservatives, as they often do, claim that this traditional family structure is the only structure that can be successful.
It is far more accurate to say that children are successful when there are adults in their life who are supportive. At least emotionally supportive but probably financially supportive and a whole more other specifications I won’t bother to think of and list here. The supportive adults in a child’s life can be parents, step-parents, grandparents, foster parents, or adoptive parents. Or siblings, or cousins, or aunts, or uncles, or teachers, or religious leaders, or co-workers, or bosses. These people can be men or women; they can be in relationships with each other or not; they can be (it is important to point out in today’s society) heterosexual or homosexual.
Conservatives would have us believe that there is only one way to skin a cat. But the important thing is not that the children live with their parents, it’s that if they live with their parents then their parents are advocate for their best interests.
There is an underlying assumption in Bennett’s argument that kids who grow up in a traditional family structure have parents who always push those kids in the direction of success. I’m not sure that’s correct. There are plenty of people who struggle against a negative influence from parents who are willing to settle for getting by instead of pushing for more.
Beyond that it is hard to agree on what success is for different groups of people. Bennett is a published author. I doubt she would define success as young girls marrying in their teens and baring children – yet there are people of specific religious backgrounds that view that as a successful life for women. In this case the presence of a father would reinforce that version of success.
Furthermore there are plenty of children who grow up in traditional family structures where their parents are abusive or put the children in situations that are obviously not positive.
Lastly there are people like Denver Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried (most would agree becoming an NBA player is achieving some level of success) who became a professional basketball player coming from a family structure of two lesbian parents; or people who grew up in single parent households; or people who grew up with their grandparents; or people who were adopted; or _________ (fill in the blank with whatever success story you’re familiar with).
Dan Savage runs an item at his blog called Every Child Needs a Father and Mother basically chronicling instances where biological parents have dropped the ball (usually tragically and fatally) in rearing their kids. But we don’t have to emphasize the negative. I think the fact that Dan and his husband are raising a son is far more persuasive as to why fathers in the traditional family structure aren’t always best, but two loving parents make all the difference.
Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War. His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.