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Fatherless America

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Blankenhorn, the founder and president of the Institute for American Values, has produced a thought-provoking work. His book offers five distinct benefits. First, it offers statistical information about fatherlessness in the United States. Next, it sets out a typology of fathers, or—in Blankenhorn’s language—the paternal “characters” who dominate the American cultural narrative. The book presents a rounded theory about masculinity and the place of fatherhood in the shaping of male character. Blankenhorn also offers a list of twelve concrete proposals for redirecting American public policy as it touches on fathers and families. Finally, his book exemplifies a literary style blending scholarly and popular modes of writing. Every step in the generally conservative argument Blankenhorn develops, however, is controversial.

The dimensions of the problem of fatherlessness are staggering. Blankenhorn claims that within this decade, “the total number of father-absent homes created by unwed childbearing will surpass the number created by divorce. In this respect, unwed parenthood will soon become the nation’s principal cause of fatherlessness.” For some father-free child rearing is a voluntary matter: Nearly 10 percent of all births deriving from artificial insemination by donors (some three thousand births per year) are to unmarried women. The very fact that women are choosing to rear fatherless children indicates that inherited norms regarding family and fatherhood have shifted in profound ways.

To Blankenhorn, the unruly nature of male passions results in an all-or-nothing understanding of the paternal station. Either one is fully a father or one is a single male, living in a quite different moral world. By his definition, fathers are continuously present to their children. They subscribe to the “fatherhood code,” the ultimate expression of which is the ideal of the Good Family Man. The core values of this ideal are provision, protection, nurture and sponsorship, and such values are fulfilled differently by males. All of them are aspects of paternal love, which is different from—though complementary to—maternal love. “This difference takes us to the heart of the matter,” Blankenhorn asserts.

Sources for Further Study

The Christian Century. CXII, May 17, 1995, p. 546.

Commentary. XCIX, April, 1995, p. 60.

Contemporary Sociology. XXIV, September, 1995, p. 653.

The Economist. CCCXXXV, April 8, 1995, p. 79.

Futurist. XXIX, September, 1995, p. 61.

Los Angeles Times. March 8, 1995, p. E1.

The New York Times Book Review. C, February 19, 1995, p. 13.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLI, December 12, 1994, p. 56.

Reason. XXVII, August, 1995, p. 52.

The Wall Street Journal. February 16, 1995, p. A12.

Fatherless America

(Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

The cacophonous cultural debate about “family values” has not gone unnoticed in the academic community. On the contrary, a huge literature on family life, manhood, fathering, parental roles, divorce, and family policy has arisen. Were David Blankenhorn’s chapters worthless, his “Notes” section—running more than eighty pages—would rescue this book. They provide an extremely useful indication of what one might find in scholarly sources such as Demography, Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, Population Studies, Family Relations, Media & Values, and Psychology of Women Quarterly.

Yet Blankenhorn’s chapters are the very opposite of worthless. They offer the reader at least five distinct benefits: statistical information about the nature and extent of fatherlessness in the United States; a typology of fathers—or, in Blankenhorn’s language, the paternal “characters” who dominate the American cultural narrative or “script”; a rounded theory about masculinity and the place of fatherhood in the shaping of male character and satisfaction; a list of twelve concrete proposals for redirecting American public policy as it touches on fathers and families; and a literary style that blends scholarly and popular modes of writing. Every step in...

(The entire section is 2,448 words.)