The Ancillary Parent

Everyone knows about the Sydney Opera House. Some people vaguely recall Yahoo Serious. But did you know that Australia has a three-day Fatherhood Festival? This past summer’s was the third, and featured locally produced short films about fathers and families.

Someone should’ve done more research, because, apparently, they’re wasting their time.

‘…psychologists have recently set out to challenge the idea that fatherless boys are bound to fail as men as a fallacy rooted in antiquated and idealized notions of family. Parental gender, they say, is irrelevant. Rather, all kids need is at least one parent who is a responsible, loving and steady caregiver.

…In a 1999 issue of the journal American Psychologist, Louise Silverstein and Carl Auerbach of Yeshiva University in New York published a study called “Deconstructing the Essential Father,” in which they concluded…that the available data “do not support the idea that fathers make a unique and essential contribution [emphasis added] to child development.”

Earlier this year, Peggy Drexler, a Cornell University psychology professor, took this position one step further in her book Raising Boys Without Men. She asserted that, all things being equal, boys often fare better without a male influence in the home.’

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There are times in everyone’s life when we rediscover what it means for something to be ‘essential’. College. The year after graduation. The first year of marriage. We discover what we need, and what we can do without. We learn to compromise, and we learn to get by.

I certainly like to think that I play an essential role in my son’s life. The ten million single-mother households in America, however, prove otherwise. As a father, I am not essential. And I thank God for that. If I were gone today, Ian could grow up to be a content, well-adjusted young man. Given his wonderful mother, family, and friends, I’m fairly certain he would. If parents were ‘essential’, our children would have a very hard time of it.

But is being inessential the same as being irrelevant? Perhaps, if we measure fatherhood by the standards of Ms. Drexler:

‘”The boys in my study were not sissies or mama’s boys,” she says. “…They were thoughtful communicators who were caring and sensitive, but they were just as willing to engage in boyish activities like skateboarding and roughhousing.”‘

Motherhood is care and sensitivity. Fatherhood is skateboarding and roughhousing. If these are the extent of a man’s role as father, why do we care when he leaves? If we reduce fatherhood to skinned knees and hand-eye coordination, why are we surprised when he does?

Fathers are not essential, but we are unique. Our role is significant and distinct, and is more than X and Y. If it weren’t, this blog wouldn’t exist. Children can survive without their fathers. They can get by. But no parent wants their child merely to get by.

I think what bothers me most is that the goal of Peggy Drexler and her ilk seems not to be reassuring single mothers that their children will be healthy, but to convince the rest of us that fathers are redundant and, in some cases, malignant.

Carol Gilligan, the ‘gender scholar’ featured prominantly on Ms. Drexler’s website, asserts in her book The Birth of Pleasure that ‘a child’s inborn ability to love freely and live authentically gets thoroughly squelched by patriarchal structures.’

Tell that to my son the next time he gives you a hug.

If, as Ms. Drexler claims, ‘parenting is not anchored to gender’ and ‘not male or female’, if this assertion is the heart of her study, then why isn’t her book called Raising Boys Without Parents?

2 Responses

  1. OperaDaddy
    OperaDaddy at | | Reply

    Boy, this really irks me. I agree with you that it sounds more like dismissing fathers than praising single mothers. Wouldn’t you think a child would do better with two wonderful, loving, engaged parents rather than just one? Oh well, I guess this means I can go back to drinking beer and watching sports with all my free time and let my wife do all the parenting since it doesn’t matter anyway. Ugh.

  2. Julian
    Julian at | | Reply

    Clearly, Peggy Drexler has a skewed perception of fatherhood.

    Many women I know have shared that they get along better with their fathers than with their mothers. Some of them downright despise their mothers and see their father as the only stabilising element in the home

    So, what can we surmise from this ‘available data’? That mothers do not make any meaningful contribution to child development, apart from bearing them?

    Should there be an accompanying tome on Raising Girls Without Women?

    I have two girls and possibly one more on the way. Therefore, I am a father regardless of the gender of my children and I deeply resent the implied suggestion by Ms. Drexler that my participation as a father amounts to only a hill of beans.

    It’s amazing why she didn’t just come right out and call her book Raising Children Without Men!

    It seems she has some hidden bias against men. If that is indeed the case, what qualifies her to dispense advice on raising boys?

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