In 1949, “Father Knows Best” debuted on NBC Radio. In 1999, “A Father’s Book of Wisdom” by H. Jackson Brown Jr. was first published.
In 2009, a new Twitter account opened that soon earned its owner a book deal and a short-lived sitcom. The name: “S—- My Dad Says.”
You’ve come a long way, daddy?
By now, you’ve probably seen the statistics documenting how fathers have fallen down on the job of being dads. Another batch of figures was cited this past week in a new report by the Urban Institute.
Back when “Father Knows Best” first aired, just 2 percent of white children and 16 percent of nonwhite children were born out of wedlock. By the time “S—- My Dad Says” hit Twitter, that was the case for 29 percent of whites, 53 percent of Hispanics and 73 percent of blacks. American kids are about three times as likely to live without their dads now as they were a half-century earlier.
Much of the commentary about these trends has focused on the effect government welfare programs have had on the family, by providing a financial excuse for dads to leave home (or never show up) and for moms to let them go. But what if this development also owes to the way society treats men more broadly, as useless goofballs who say a lot of sh…tuff on the one hand, and as “bad guys, ready to rape, pillage, beat or abuse women and children at the drop of a hat” on the other?
That’s the provocative argument made in “Men on Strike,” a new book by Helen Smith. The Knoxville-based psychologist surveys the state of family law and paternity law, the classroom and the job market, and concludes men are being given every incentive to withdraw from their traditional and expected social roles. In short, to go on strike.
“The war on men is suicidal for our society in so many ways,” Smith writes, “and treating men like the enemy is dangerous, both to men and to the society that needs their positive participation as fathers, husbands, role models and leaders.”
Anyone who saw the success Democrats had talking up a “war on women” in last year’s election campaign may be dubious of Smith’s “war on men.” But it is the invariable emphasis on women’s issues that Smith cites as the reason men’s problems are being ignored. The latest data show men account for 80 percent of all U.S. suicides but barely 40 percent of all college enrollees and graduates, while last summer the percentage of working-age men who have or want a job fell below 70 percent for the first time.
“Imagine that women were taking flight from the nation’s universities and colleges; we would have a national uproar,” Smith argues. “When men flee, it’s worth a mention every once in a while and there is a bit of hand-wringing over what effect their apathy will have on women. Who will they date? Who will they marry? Will the men be good enough for them?”
Those questions do matter, particularly in the context of what it means for society more broadly. Which brings us back to those troubling, long-term trends of declining fatherhood.
Most likely, a number of factors have contributed to this trend, and it will take a long time of various efforts to reverse it. Men have a big part to play, of course. But if Smith is right, Father’s Day is a good time for everyone to start treating fatherhood as something more than a punch line.