Responsible fatherhood is once again fashionable. Look no further than the 2012 Presidential election to see candidates on stage surrounded by their children. Polling research shows the public prefers electing candidates who are faithful spouses and effective parents. When whispers concerning Herman Cain’s alleged infidelities reached a crescendo Cain was finally forced to make campaign appearances with his wife and children. When it was proven John Edwards fathered a child apart from his wife, Elizabeth, his attempt to move into the Oval Office was effectively over. After the messy Monica Lewinsky affair, it took daughter Chelsea Clinton, literally walking hand-in-hand between her parents on the White House lawn, to begin attempts at public restoration. In politics, paternity is powerful.
Mitt and Ann Romney raised five sons. Four of them often appear on the campaign trail with dad announcing, “Our son Ben would be here as well, but he’s busy at Medical School.” Not to be out-fathered, Rick and Karen Santorum sometimes appear with all eight of their children. Polling among women voters reveals the loving attention Santorum lavishes upon his special needs daughter, Bella, has endeared him to mothers everywhere. On the other hand, voters have mostly disapproved of Newt Gingrich’s marital history. After second wife Marianne, accused Mr. Gingrich of advocating for an “open marriage” during their time together, it took Newt’s two adult daughters, appearing at their father’s side at press conferences, to defend their dad and beat back the media firestorm.
Good fathers make good leaders. Even Scripture advocates for choosing effective dads to place in leadership positions. The Church leader Paul wrote to Timothy concerning the qualities to look for in a leader: “He must handle his own affairs well, attentive to his own children and having their respect” (1 Timothy 3:4, The Message.) Barack Obama, raised by a single mother, scores well with the public in his role as a father to his two daughters, Malia and Sasha. Obama’s effective fathering is an especially helpful role model in some African-American communities where fatherlessness rates often reach 50 – 60%.
We all remember learning about the bravery of George Washington and our country’s founding fathers. Americans are correct to equate healthy fathering with good governance. Writing in his ground breaking work, Fatherless America: Confronting our most urgent social problem, sociologist David Blankenhorn notes, “…men are not ideally suited to responsible fatherhood. Although they certainly have the capacity for fathering, men are inclined to sexual promiscuity and paternal waywardness.” Healthy, intact families form the societal glue that holds citizens together in a free market system. While fatherlessness may be a hot topic in this 2012 election cycle, Daniel Patrick Moynihan was ahead of his time in 1965 when he penned these prophetic words, “A community that allows large numbers of young men to grow up in broken families, dominated by women, never acquiring any stable relationship with male authority, never acquiring any relational expectations about the future – that community asks for and gets chaos.” Since the time of that controversial quote, the number of children living in single parent families has skyrocketed, and the resultant cost to cities, schools, and health care agencies have borne the economic brunt of this downward spiral in fatherlessness. To combat this destructive trend entire organizations have sprung up including the policy making National Fatherhood Initiative in Washington, D.C. and the evangelical National Center for Fathering in Kansas City, Missouri.
In addition to six dollar per gallon gasoline and the winding down of the war in Afghanistan, the most pertinent question of the 2012 race for the White House may end up being, “Which candidate both demonstrates and advocates for responsible fatherhood?”
Dr. Paul Pettit
President & Founder