November 7, 2005
Maybe Anthony is a good father.
Maybe we need more fathers like Anthony.
And maybe we need more sports heroes to be the kinds of fathers and husbands, like Anthony, who step up to the line of scrimmage and run a touchdown when it comes to being the best kind of dad a kid could want.
Maybe. But Marleen doesn’t think so.
Marleen read the story about Anthony and how he turned down a pro-football contract to fulfill his responsibility to an unborn child who became his son. She read how he built a strong, healthy marriage with his teen girlfriend. She acknowledges that Anthony took responsibility as a husband and father. And while she finds his example…well…exemplary …she wrote me to complain.
“The problem is not with fathers abandoning their children,” says Marleen, “it is with bad public policy forcing them out of their children’s lives.” She goes on to list the laws we have on the books to try to provide for America’s children: child custody, child support, visitation requirements, and shared custody agreements.
Marleen chides me. She claims the number of “bad men who truly do abandon their children” are “statistically insignificant.” Citing fathers who are “forced” to pay child support and those who are “jailed for non-payment,” Marleen aims her final shot at me. “The problem is not with fathers, it’s with the father-unfriendly policies in the U.S.”
While I can agree with Marleen that solutions to father absence are imperfect, she misses the most obvious solution at hand. She misses the entire point of telling Anthony’s story. She sees the trees…every oak and pine and aspen…but she misses the forest.
Every one of the 1.5 million births in 2004 to unmarried women produced a child in danger of growing up without a father. More than 4 in 5 births to teens were to unmarried girls. In 2004, more than 35 percent of births were to unmarried women.
This is not the kind of problem that is “statistically insignificant.” Nor is it a problem that can be met by public policy “fixes.” No child was ever hugged by public policy.
The fix to the problem facing our children and grandchildren lies in the hearts of the adults today, their parents and grandparents, who must face some hard truths. We must look in the mirror and ask what we could be doing differently.
What would the future look like if children were encouraged to see sex as the behavior belonging to adults who committed to each other in marriage? What would marriage look like if we taught teens and young adults effective tools to keep relationships healthy and positive? What would divorce look like if we had a culture that encouraged couples through the hard times with counseling and support?
This is not an impossible dream. This is the set of expectations that ruled the world for thousands of years. These expectations succeeded not because they were public policy, but because individual people understood and accepted the importance of sacrificing personal momentary pleasure for the long-term benefit of mutual happiness.
When we teach young men and women to value intimate relationships as a sacred trust, and when we teach them that sex is the ultimate gift of this trust to be fulfilled inside of marriage, we will set the stage for them to care enough to abstain from unmarried sex. This is the foundation of reversing statistics on unmarried births. It is the beginning of bringing fathers back home again.
Will life be perfect? Is life perfect now? If we use the imperfections of today to disqualify any attempt to teach our children a better way, we are justifying failure.
Yes, Marleen, we can treat failure with public policy. But we will never overcome failure with public policy.
No child will sleep better tonight, hugging a public policy manual. Public policy has never mended a broken heart. And most importantly for the children we love, no public policy will ever make a vow to love, honor and cherish them till death us do part.
The Story of Anthony and Mary Ann
October 17, 2005 – Fatherhood Is More than a Paycheck
April 23, 2004 – m…m…Married?
See Archives for more past editorials.