The decline of fatherhood is one of the most devastating social trends of the past 50 years, but not all dads are deadbeats or absentees. If only our culture celebrated the everyday dedication and sacrifice of the millions of American fathers who lovingly fulfill their vocation.
Instead, we celebrate Bill Clinton. Last week, the former president and serial adulterer received a "father of the year" award from the National Father's Day Committee. The culture seems deeply confused abogbut what it means to be a good father. To be father of the year, don't you have to keep your promises to your children's mother?
One argument Mr. Clinton has on his side is that at least he is present in his daughter Chelsea's life and married to her mother. That's more than millions of other fathers can say.
Forty percent of children are now born to unmarried parents, including a majority of children born to women under 30 years old. A recent study found that in Richmond, Va., 60 percent of families have just one parent, usually the mother, at home. Among black residents, 86 percent of homes are single-parent.
Our single-mom crisis was recently underscored by a Pew study estimating that women are the primary breadwinners in 40 percent of American households. The finding was hailed as an achievement for women's equality, even by the president. But the reality is far different. A majority of these "breadwinner mom" households are made up of single moms who averaged just $23,000 in income annually. That compares to $80,000 annually for intact families. America's income gap isn't evidence of economic failure. It's evidence of family breakdown.
Many men aren't only failing at marriage. They are also abandoning other fundamental social institutions, including employment, as well as religious and civic participation.
No wonder, then, that fathers aren't appreciated as much as mothers. A recent study in Britain found that children spend three times as much money on their moms on Mother's Day as on their dads on Father's Day. Are we that hard to shop for?
Men are often depicted negatively in the popular culture. Australian university professor Jim Macnamara examined thousands of mass-media depictions of men and found that they were portrayed mostly as cheaters, perverts or villains. In fact, 69 percent of the portrayals were negative, according to Mr. Macnamara's study, while just 12 percent were positive.
Let's not forget that fathers can be heroes, too. I think of the example of Joseph Welch. While on a recent canoeing expedition in a Florida wildlife refuge, Mr. Welch's six-year-old son, Joey, fell into the water and was scooped up by an alligator. Mr. Welch immediately plunged into the water, punching and wrestling the alligator long enough for his son to escape with only minor injuries.
I also think of the example of David Anderson, who, while visiting New York City's South Street Seaport with his family in 2011, heard the screams of his two-year-old daughter, Bridgette, who had slipped through the railing and fallen nearly 20 feet into the water below. Without hesitating, Mr. Anderson dove into the freezing waters of the East River, coming up with his daughter safely in his arms.
I also think of the example of Thomas Vander Woude. One day in 2008, Mr. Vander Woude was doing yard work with his son, Joseph, who suddenly fell through a small piece of metal covering a septic tank in the family's yard.
Mr. Vander Woude immediately sprang into action, descending into the waste, and holding his son up in order to keep his head above the sewage. The father and son had been in the tank for 15 minutes when rescue workers arrived. Mr. Vander Woude was pronounced dead at the hospital, but his son survived.
Thankfully, few dads will be required to engage in Superman-style rescues of their children from wild beasts, swirling waters or raw sewage. What is required of us is the quiet heroism of being "crazy" about our children. We need millions of dads willing to keep their promises to their children and their wives. We need more fatherly hugs and lovingly delivered discipline. We need men willing to put their families first. It isn't easy, but without that day-to-day heroism, our children and our country are in trouble.
Gary Bauer is president of American Values and chairman of the Campaign for Working Families.