Last Sunday morning, my daughter Penny helped me make breakfast for her dad. He likes it simple: coffee, OJ, a bowl of cereal with raisins. We assembled it all on a tray, complete with the newspaper and a card: "Happy Father's Day I love my dad" in 4-year old block letters. While I was retrieving her little brother, Penny snuck away and climbed into bed with her dad and shouted, "Wake up! I made you breakfast in bed!"
According to recent sociological studies, this scene is less usual than it used to be. One in three children in the United States live apart from their biological fathers. Moreover, according to a recent piece in The Atlantic, our Father's Day breakfast may have been insignificant to Penny's development. Pamela Paul asks, "Are Fathers Necessary?" She cites evidence that lesbian couples are the most effective parents, and she concludes: "The bad news for Dad is that despite common perception, there's nothing objectively essential about his contribution" (my italics). Scenes such as the one described above might be subjectively essential, but apparently the data doesn't support my sense that Penny's relationship with her father is a crucial one. Paul isn't suggesting that single-parent households are best for the kids. She's just saying that fathers in particular don't matter. My husband might just as well be replaced by another woman. Our kids would be fine.
Bruce Feiler, author of Council of Dads, responded to Paul's article in the Washington Post: "Science can't prove fathers matter. That doesn't mean we don't." He writes, "if social science has not proved that having dads present is helpful, it has demonstrated that not having them around is dreadful for the kids." He cites a host of statistics that imply the ...1
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