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(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

“Family values” may have become a code phrase for a two-parent household, but the words can still have meaning and merit beyond political usage, as journalist Richard Louv shows here.

Louv, a SAN DIEGO UNION syndicated columnist and PARENTS magazine contributing editor, wrote about children in his previous book, CHILDHOOD’S FUTURE. His follow-up is an elaborate expansion and supplement to his views of the future, the family, and parenting.

Society suffers from a severe lack of fathers—their influence and even their presence, Louv concludes after dozens of interviews with parents, kids, and child-care professionals. Studies and statistics on teenage crime, suicide, and learning disabilities show some connection to fatherlessness, Louv claims, adding that men’s too-typical lack of involvement in children’s lives also is detrimental.

In addition to the numbers are the anecdotes, heartfelt stories about troubled teens or Louv’s own boys that are affecting and effective. He successfully humanizes an abstract notion.

Besides the abstract, there’s a concrete connection possible between fatherhood and manhood in an ideal Louv calls “fathermen.” That state can be realized by focusing on five interconnected areas, he says: breadwinning, nurturing, community building, finding a place in time, and spirituality. Concentrating on any one area, such as breadwinner, might require sacrifices in the other four dimensions, Louv says. For instance, being a good provider is important, but by itself is limited, unsatisfying, and ineffective.

To realize new participation and new power, and to reconnect manhood and fatherhood, Louv suggests slight but significant changes throughout society: in the workplace and by employers; in the law and in the media; in social service agencies and their missions; and in community helping organizations: schools, hospitals, and churches.

Resistance might be inevitable, but a relentless confrontation by families and small groups of fathers will prevail, Louv says.

“We must bring fatherlove home,” he writes. “Real men fight for all our children. The great good news is that an enormous payoff awaits the culture.”