Fathers and Families

Commentary by Pete du Pont

Published In: The Washington Times

On this Father's Day, let me restate an obvious truth: The presence of a father is critical to a child's health, safety and upbringing. If children are to have productive lives and play positive roles in society, Fathers need to step up and be more active in raising their children.

Statistics tell the tale: Violent crime, drug abuse, teen pregnancy and suicide are often associated with being raised without an involved father. Nearly two-thirds of adolescent murderers are from fatherless homes. Seventy percent of juveniles in state reform institutions and 60 percent of America's rapists grew up without fathers in their homes.

In fact, a boy raised by both parents is about half as likely by 30 to be incarcerated for committing a crime. And children raised by both parents are a third less likely to use illegal drugs, tobacco or alcohol than children in single-parent homes.

Children in two-parent families are less than half as likely to suffer from physical abuse or neglect, and less than half as likely to have emotional or behavioral problems than children raised in single-parent homes.

Of course, it is not just the children; mothers need the fathers too. Mothers who never marry are more than twice as likely to suffer from domestic violence as mothers who are or have been married. A mother who gives birth and raises a child outside of marriage is 7 times likelier to live in poverty than a mother who raises her children within a stable married family.

Fathers not only share child-raising duties, but also share the financial burden. In fact, 70 percent of never-married mothers could escape poverty if married to their children's father.

Decline of marriage and rise in divorce and out-of-wedlock births are key forces separating fathers from their children.

For example, marriage is disappearing in Scandinavia, according to Stanley Kurtz, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution. Extending marital rights and benefits to unmarried partners in the 1990s drastically reduced Scandinavian marriages and increased out-of-wedlock childbirths.

Between 1990 and 2000, the out-of-wedlock birthrate in Norway rose from 39 percent to 50 percent and Sweden's rose from 47 to 55 percent. About 60 percent of first-born children in Denmark now have unmarried parents. Out-of-wedlock births are up in Britain, too. Forty percent of children in Britain are born to unmarried women.

Similar legal reforms are proposed in the U.S., seeking to equate marriage and cohabitation. If they are adopted, we can expect similar results. Already, nearly a third of U.S. children live with one parent. More than half do so because of the break-up of a marriage. Another 35 percent of these children live with a never-married parent, mostly mothers. Less than 10 percent do so due to other reasons, such as a parent's death.

But there is another important factor regarding fathers and children. Too many men duck and run from the responsibilities of fatherhood. If you are a dad, that son or daughter is your responsibility, your challenge and must be your priority. Your wife, and/or their mother, has a responsibility and so do you. You can't duck, Dad. There are too many men who do not rise to their responsibilities as fathers. As the saying goes, "Any man can be a father... it takes a real man to be a dad".