Human Events, vol. 58, no. 13, 8 April 2002, p. 14.

The Real Responsibility of Men


In addressing a recent conservative conference, Oliver North argued that “the biggest problem I see in this country today isn't winning the war against terrorism - the biggest problem . . . is men not being responsible for the children they create.”

This is an astonishing statement from a man who speaks with enormous authority on military matters. If Col. North feels this strongly about the importance of fatherhood, then we should try to understand why. And he is undoubtedly correct, though perhaps not precisely in the sense he may intend.

Societal Consequences

The problem of fatherless children is indeed serious. Some 25-million American children - about 40% - live in households without their fathers. Moreover, every major social pathology is strongly linked to father absence, including violent crime, drug abuse, truancy, unwed pregnancy, and suicide.

In attributing this to irresponsible men, however, we must be careful. President Clinton used to claim that fathers hounded by his administration, “have chosen to abandon their children.” Yet in research described by FrontPageMagazine as “the most important work of conservative social science in a decade,” Arizona State University psychologist Sanford Braver demonstrated that very few fathers voluntarily abandon their children. Braver found that mothers, usually without legal grounds, file two-thirds of divorces. Other studies put the proportions at 85-90%. Mothers, not fathers, are leaving marriages in droves.

Moreover, what some see as irresponsible fathers is in reality an abuse of government power. The moment a mother files for divorce, the government seizes effective control of the children. With no evidence of wrongdoing, the father’s contact with them is from that point criminalized. The forcibly divorced father can then be evicted and plundered by a powerful machine of judges, lawyers, psychotherapists, and enforcement agencies, who all have a vested interest in encouraging divorce and separating children from their fathers. Windfall child-support awards subsidize divorce and fatherless homes and encourage more mothers to divorce.

Some now predict two-thirds of marriages will end in divorce. About 80% of the 1.5-million divorces yearly are unilateral, and about three-fifths involve children, more than a million annually. It would seem then that at least 700,000 parents are involuntarily divorced every year, whereupon control of their children, finances, and private lives is taken over by the government.

Conservative silence on the depredations of the divorce industry is ironic, for they vindicate every prophecy concerning judicial activism, bureaucratic tyranny, and family destruction.

Bureaucratic regulators raise business costs. But many more fathers are reduced to servitude by bureaucratic courts and bureaucratic police who set the very child-support guidelines they adjudicate and enforce and which they have an interest in making as onerous as possible. Crushing burdens that may consume a man’s entire salary create instant “deadbeats” and generate demand for an ever-larger bureaucracy with ever-more intrusive powers.

Criminalizing Fathers

Private behavior is criminalized through sexual-harassment laws. But many more fathers are criminalized and many children lose their fathers through protective orders issued without any evidence of wrongdoing. These orders cannot protect anyone, because they criminalize not violence (which is already criminal) but a father’s contact with his own children. Ironically, the children are then subject to the physical and sexual violence that is much more common in single-parent homes than intact families.

Were policymakers sincere in their sympathy for children, they would curtail the power of the divorce industry to rip apart their homes in the first place. Even the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) has recognized that the most effective antipoverty plan is an intact family. That this would benefit vastly more children than futile crackdowns on allegedly irresponsible fathers is precisely why the iron triangle of family courts, enforcement bureaucracies, and organized feminism won’t permit it to happen. Rather than standing up to these dangerous interests, it is easier for some conservatives to attack fathers.

Family Cohesion

In a larger sense, therefore, Col. North is profoundly correct and his comparison with terrorism especially apt. It is highly irresponsible of men to leave our nation’s children unprotected against abuse and exploitation by government officials.

A popular joke holds that within the family Mom makes the minor decisions, such as how to raise the children, while Dad concerns himself with important questions, like how to achieve world peace. This joke is now grimly writ large in public policy. Male policymakers allow their attention to be monopolized by a terrorist attack, while consigning family issues to what they perceive as the sphere of women, where special interests hijack the agenda and perpetrate a reign of government terror against parents and children. President Bush tells Americans that in the war on terrorism, “We defend . . . the freedom of people everywhere to live and raise their children free from fear." Yet that is precisely the freedom that is under attack at home.

Dr. Baskerville is professor of political science at Howard University.