Shat  terd



The hidden half of domestic violence


How to have eternal life

Children Raising Themselves




Sir, - Mary Eberstadt writes wistfully on the crisis of families from a

mother-centered perspective typical of academia, one that is part of

the problem instead of part of the solution. She is certainly correct that

there is a "cultural code of silence" on issues raised by the movement

of mothers into the workplace in the last 30 to 50 years, but she herself

is curiously silent on the equally important issue of a previous movement

of fathers into the workplace in the last few centuries, as mankind

(particularly in the West) shifted from a family-centered Agricultural Age

to an Industrial Age where most of the "work" of mankind was concentrated

in factories and offices. What we have been witnessing in family policy in

the past 30 to 50 years is mostly the effect of a shift to a post-Industrial

Age, in which women are equally qualified for most jobs, as artificial

energy sources increasingly replace the need for human muscle-power

in providing for the material needs of mankind.


In this light, the deepest force driving the crisis of families is not

cultural evolution or minor technical advances like the birth-control

pill, but the laws of free-market economics. As for the pill, mankind

has known about and practiced various forms of birth-control since

the dawn of human history. The pill may be convenient and relatively

safe, but abstinence remains the best form of birth control ever devised.

Abstinence is also the basis of stable families and a core issue of morality,

a common sense observation on which Eberstadt is also curiously silent.

Eberstadt dances around this issue in expressions of concern about

unsupervised latch-key children experimenting with sex and the influence

of pornography on the internet. The whole point of her article is concern

about the need of children for adult guidance, but she herself is unwilling

to stake any claim to the moral authority that is the only possible

justification for adult guidance of children.


It may be that the traditions of academia properly emphasize

"professional objectivity" over its antithesis of moral authority, but the

fact remains that adults generally have more experience of life than

children (most of it hard-learned). A cultural evolution that places

barriers of time and distance between parents and their children can

only impede transmission of hard-learned lessons of life to the next

generation, and appears to be part of the process of breakdown of

social order and a descent into barbarism that we are witnessing. If

the cause of this process is primarily economic, guilt-tripping mothers

to stay home with their children is unlikely to have significant impact

on decisions mothers make.


But a more significant factor that Eberstadt's analysis remains

almost silent on is that the post-Industrial Age also offers opportunities

for fathers to reengage with their children, as the drudgery and exhaustion

of factory and office life are replaced by a decentralized economy of

individual initiative, many of whose functions can be performed full- or

part-time by computers from the home. While Eberstadt's mother-

centered analysis appears to be "progressive" in a certain sense, at its

core lies the chauvinistic assumption that mothers are the primary source

of civilizing effects on children. Her comments about "maternal instinct"

indicate awareness that mothers have an important role to play here, but

she appears oblivious to the possibility that fathers might have equal

"paternal instincts."


Indeed, in her comment about "problematic 'male instinct' " and

fatherhood as a "social construction" in the following passage, she

is speaking about fathers almost as if they were aliens on this planet:

   "Much has been made, particularly in an era enamoured of

    evolutionary psychology and related reductionist theories, of

    the "social construction" of fatherhood - meaning the way in

    which cultural norms must step in to fill the gap between

    problematic "male instinct," on the one hand, and what society

    believes to be proper paternal care of one's offspring, on the

    other. Perhaps something unexpectedly profound has come

    to be taken for granted here."


In the view of the American Coalition for Fathers and Children, we don't

see any "problematic male instinct." Most fathers are still doing what

they have always done since the dawn of human history, going out into

the world to bring home the bacon and protecting their families as best

they can from the slings and arrows of fortune. If any problem exists,

it is mostly in the minds of the radical feminist movement, with its

glorification of women and paranoid disconnect from the ordinary reality

of most men, as well is its disconnect from the ordinary reality of most



If any problems exist in potential malfunctions of "male instincts," they

are certainly no more severe than comparable malfunctions of "maternal

instincts," where mothers sometimes drown their children in bathtubs,

or by driving into a lake. But fortunately the overwhelming majority of both

mothers and fathers are not mentally ill, and these extremes don't tell us

much about ordinary reality for either gender.


The radical feminist movement is primarily an artifact of the Industrial

Age, in which the demands of factory and office life separated fathers

from their families for long periods of time, and broke channels of

communication between mothers and fathers, as much as it broke

channels of communication between fathers and their children. In the

Agricultural Age that preceded the Industrial Age (and that still dominates

most of the Second and Third Worlds), a mother knew perfectly where the

father of her children was: out in the fields near home working to feed his

family. The older children were out there, too, or home with their mother

cooking and weaving. At times of high labor demand such as harvest,

the whole family would be out in the fields together, including mothers

and young children. The modern radical feminist movement was

impossible in the Agricultural Age, because most women knew too

much about the reality of the men in their lives to fall into the paranoid

vilification of men. Even today, although most women (as well as most

men) support equality for women in the workplace, most women (as

well as most men) reject radical feminism as "going too far."


Most men regard the claims of radical feminism with a kind of mild

amusement, because they can't believe that any intelligent person

would take it seriously, and because they simply don't have time to

waste talking endlessly about the "oppression of women." They are

too busy working to support their families.


Meanwhile, an elephant is sitting on the table that Eberstadt fails to

notice, namely that the most serious problem of latch-key children is

not mother-absence, but father-absence. By far the greatest untapped

resource for much needed increased contact between parents and their

children is fathers. Until we grant fathers comparable rights to be in the

family that we have granted to women in the workplace, we should not

expect to see the current slide of Western culture reversed.

David A. Roberts


American Coalition for Fathers and Children

Arnold, Md.

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