- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 9, 2009

This month marks the 100th anniversary of Father’s Day, and a big celebration is planned for June 20 at the Lincoln Memorial. I figured it was a good time to ask a local lawyer who is active in family court, child support and gender issues about what he sees facing boys and men at this milestone.

To begin with, President Obama’s recognition of the importance of fatherhood is very welcome, said Ronald K. Henry, a child-advocacy attorney in the District.

“We’re very excited about the administration’s determination to create some visibility and some action to strengthen and restore fatherhood,” he said.

But there’s a lot of work to be done. For instance, it’s time to figure out how to reduce the number of men and boys who end up in prison.

“The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world. What are we doing wrong?” Mr. Henry said. The U.S. incarceration rate is 751 per 100,000 residents, with Russia having the second-highest rate, 627 per 100,000.

“It can’t be that our population is genetically inferior to the rest of world,” Mr. Henry said. “What are we doing wrong that contributes to the incarceration rate? Is it the fatherlessness problem? Our government ought to be looking at prevention rather than incarceration.”

Another issue is education.

“We ought to be looking at why boys are disengaged in primary and secondary education such that they never get to college. What is it about our school system that turns off the boys so that by the time college comes around, they’re not in the equation? What is it that is causing boys to have lower academic aspirations than girls?” Mr. Henry asked.

Other topics:

• Domestic violence, which is a national issue with an office of its own when it’s against women, but an invisible issue when men are the victims.

• The gender gap in health-insurance coverage, in which men are more likely to be uninsured than women. (The current gender breakdown among uninsured, nonelderly adults is 54 percent male and 46 percent female, the Kaiser Family Foundation says.)

Even social science has come to view men as abnormal or ill subjects.

“Men as men are almost completely unstudied,” said Mr. Henry. “There is a lot of blaming and a lot of pathologizing, but almost nobody has looked at what is it to be a man, how boys become men, what is expected of a man, what is demanded of a man, what does a man want, how does the man live, how does the man feel about himself, how does he feel about being treated the way he’s treated, how does he feel about walking down the street and noticing people become defensive because they’ve been taught to be afraid of males?”

This fear of men is “something that black males feel with enormous intensity,” added Mr. Henry.

It’s often been written about how when a black male walks down the street, people move to the other side. “Well, that happens to all guys. It happens more visibly and intensely to minority guys, but it happens to all guys,” he said. “Even a guy taking his own kids to the playground can feel the suspicion and defensiveness around him.”

Still, the Obama administration seems to be offering fresh hope, and the “renewed focus on the importance of family, importance of fatherhood and the need to restore fatherhood” are all welcome changes, he said

• Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at [email protected]

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