This conference was called by Governor Wilson because of the widespread concern about crime, educational failure, drugs, social decay, etc. and the perception that these are connected with family breakdown, in particular with the erosion of the weakest link in the family, the father's role.
Anthropologist Margaret Mead has emphasized that, unlike the mother's role, which is biologically based, the father's role is a social creation. Male dogs and cats have no reproductive importance after their minuscule sexual performance is over. The emergence of a similar male rolelessness in the inner cities was becoming apparent some decades ago and is now becoming obvious in the larger society.
At present the law appears to be less concerned with how to strengthen families than with how to provide for ex-families or fatherless families created by illegitimacy. It is becoming better understood that these fatherless families breed most of the criminal and underachieving classes. Many politicians think the problem is one of punishing the male criminals generated by such fatherless families — building more prisons, hiring more police, passing "three-strike" laws, squeezing money out of ex-husbands ("deadbeat dads") for the purpose of subsidizing ex-wives or ex-girlfriends and "their" children.
Success in providing for these fatherless families means there will be more of them, that fathers will become still less needed and less motivated, and in consequence there will be further weakening of families and more of the resulting pathology this conference is concerned about. The weakening of male motivation means less male productivity, less male willingness to undertake family responsibilities, more fatherless families, more fatherless children, more crime, less economic growth. A society which cannot motivate its men to be family providers will deteriorate, as ours is doing. A society which threatens husbands with a fifty percent divorce rate combined with virtually automatic loss of children and home and property is forfeiting this motivation.
It is too little understood how male motivation is related not only to family and social stability but to the economic growth of society. Thanks to family stability and the male motivation it created, the twenty years following World War II were a period of astonishing, indeed unprecedented, growth. America's industrial plant, already the wonder of the world during the war, doubled during those twenty years, the Gross National Product grew 250 percent and per capita income increased 35 percent between 1945-1960 — as much as it had during the previous half century. Joseph Satin could say, "Never had so many people been so well off." William Baumol could say, "The future can be left to take care of itself." That was when families were stable — and headed by fathers. America's prosperity was based on growth, not on trying to pinch budgets here and there, to squeeze one program in order to finance another, to borrow from next year's revenues.
As family stability eroded, so did the growth. In 1989, 'Sixty Minutes' ran a program called "New York Is Falling Apart", showing streets sinking into the ground, bridges collapsing, Mayor Koch closing the Williamsburg Bridge on the grounds that it is "better to be inconvenienced and safe than to be convenienced and dead."
Judith Wallerstein says only half of the male students she followed in her study of divorced families completed college, forty percent of the young men were drifting — on a downward educational course, out of school, unemployed. When so many of them have seen their fathers expelled from the homes they bought for their families, when they themselves face the same fifty percent chance of divorce and the loss of their children and their role, they wonder why they should work as their fathers and grandfathers did in the years after the War.
If you ask a man why he works at his job, he will bring out his wallet and show you pictures of his family. This motivation has been weakened even for the lucky fifty percent who still have families. Males have lost confidence that society wants them to be heads of families rather than providers for ex-families. This is what men hear when President Clinton tells them, "We will find you. We will make you pay."
Most men still would like to be fathers, but our society is giving them little assurance that they can have families — that they will be able to spend their own paychecks to provide for their own families rather than to subsidize ex-wives and pay for other things judges and bureaucrats deem proper.
Adults Created By Fatherless Families
A judge will try a divorce case in the morning and place the children in the mother's custody. He will try a criminal case in the afternoon and send a man to prison for robbing a liquor store. The chances are three out of four that the criminal he sends to prison grew up in a female headed household just like the one he himself created that morning when he tried the divorce case. He can't see any connection between the two cases. The reason he can't is the time lag. The children he placed in the mother's custody were perhaps toddlers who would not yet rob liquor stores or breed illegitimate children. But they will grow older. They will become teenagers, boys capable of committing crimes of violence, girls capable of breeding illegitimate children. And then the chickens will come home to roost.
In 1980, crime increased by a startling seventeen percent. L.A. Police Chief Daryl Gates was flabbergasted. Nothing in the economy, he said, could account for such an increase. What did account for it was the huge increase in divorce and illegitimacy in the mid-1960s — plus the anti-male bias of the divorce courts which changed the father headed families into female headed families. The judges who placed the children in these families hoped they could force the fathers they exiled to subsidize the families they destroyed — to pay to have their children brought up in female headed households where they were more likely to be abused, neglected, impoverished, delinquent and sexually confused. They would like to blame the fathers for their own inability to create an alternative to the family.
The welfare system is equally responsible for subsidizing (therefore creating) female headed households. Like the divorce court judges, welfare bureaucrats would like to make biological fathers pay. They fail to understand what Margaret Mead explained, that fatherhood is not a matter of biology but a social creation. If these (merely) biological fathers are to pay, they must become (or be allowed to remain) real fathers in Mead's sense, men with a role such as that taken away from ex-husbands by the divorce court. They need to be given better motivation than "We will find you. We will make you pay." This latter motivation will not create real fathers. Real fathers must be created, as Mead says, by society. Our society is doing the opposite — destroying millions of fathers through its divorce courts and its welfare system.
Much of the social breakdown now going on is the result of the attempt to find taxpayer-funded alternatives and ex-husband-funded alternatives to fatherhood, the creation of which must always be one of society's primary responsibilities. The anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski said that if the family ever ceases to be the pivotal institution of society, we shall be confronted with a social catastrophe compared to which the French Revolution and the Bolshevik Revolution are insignificant.
There is no substitute for it. We should stop trying to find one and recognize that the weakness of today's family is the consequence of society's failure to support the father's role, the role most in need of society's support. The biological weakness of the father's role is not a reason for throwing fathers out of the family but a reason for strengthening their role within it.
A Georgia judge named Robert Noland routinely places children in the mother's custody when he tries a divorce case, and justifies what he does by saying,
"I ain't never seen a calf following a bull. They always follow the cow. So I always give custody to the mamas."
The reason Judge Noland never saw a calf following a bull is that cattle don't live in two-parent households. If we want to live like cattle, Judge Noland has the right idea.