- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 6, 2009

A few years ago, the National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI) surveyed about 700 dads about their lives.

Last week, NFI came out with a survey from 1,500 moms, and compared notes.

It turns out that both moms and dads agree that America has a “father absence” crisis.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the solution.

When asked if “there’s no involved father in the home,” can a mother can be just as effective in preparing a child to be a well-adjusted and productive adult, more than half the dads (53 percent) said yes.

That’s not the best answer, guys.

When moms were asked a similar question, 55 percent of them said yes, too. Insert big sigh here.

Almost as bad, when dads and moms were asked if there wasn’t an involved father around, could a male role model, such as a teacher or family friend, be an “adequate substitute” for a father, even higher numbers said yes — 57 percent of men, 68 percent of women.

In other words, a large number of moms and dads can see how a father can be replaced by (a) the mother or (b) another male.

I understand pragmatism. I understand that sometimes someone has got to go.

But when half the parenting population thinks a child’s father is replaceable, we are in dire straits.

Why? Well, I don’t see people rushing to say that mothers are replaceable. Why devalue the fathers?

Hundreds of interviews over the years have shown me that from the children’s point of view, neither parent is fully replaceable.

Maybe that sounds a little lofty, so let me explain.

I have often talked to children in foster care and been quietly stunned to see their unwavering devotion to their parents. All the adults in the child-welfare system may have concluded — with good reason — that a mom is no good, but the children will still hunger for the day when they could return home to her. I’ve seen that same longing for fathers too, even if they are behind bars.

Also, with adoption, I have met numerous adoptees who dearly love their adopted parents and are happy with their lives, but still have an inchoate yearning to know about their birth parents.

Many adoptees search for years, even decades, to find their birth mothers. (The International Soundex Reunion Registry, which helps adult family members search for each other, just held its 15th annual “RegDay.”)

Should the adoptees succeed in finding their birth mother, the next person on their list is their birth father.

Certainly, part of the quest is to find out the reasons for their adoptions, but it seems most adoptees are driven by a deeper need: They want to find their biological parents because they are looking for themselves, their roots, their origins.

The NFI study, “Mama Says: A National Survey of Mothers’ Attitudes on Fathering,” released recently at an event at the Brookings Institution, is filled with good information. Key findings, for instance, are that dads perform best when they are married to the mothers of their children, and home life would be much improved if work and home were more balanced. Hear, hear to these things.

But this one statistic — that many moms and dads think fathers are replaceable — stops me cold.

It is my strong impression that children want two things above all: They want their mom and dad to love each other, and they want their mom and dad to love them.

As the American culture rebuilds itself around these simple truths, I think our people will rediscover the stability, contentment and happiness that comes from active, positive commitment, especially in marriage.

Grievous calamities may always rob some children of their own mom and dad, but the nation can only benefit by insisting that “father absence” become a thing of the past.

Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at [email protected]

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