Roe is gone. Now, thinkers on the right and left are jockeying to interpret what this moment requires of our politics. There are often intractable differences between the two camps, but unfortunately both are attempting to determine the future of post-Roe America without reference to fathers and their role in forming strong families.
On the left, Tressie McMillan Cottom of the New York Times voices her indignation in considering that women have been denied freedom and will gravely pay. But she makes no mention of the liberty owed to or the costs experienced by fathers in regard to abortion. Also at the Times, but on the right, Ross Douthat surveys the uncertain political surroundings of abortion — without mentioning fathers. More comes from Kathryn Lopez for America, writing on the urgency to support pregnant women post-Roe. Still, no mention of the role of fathers.
These are telling omissions. That many forget half of the parenting unit in discussions wholly concerned with children signals how much even reliable writers on the right, such as Lopez and Douthat, seem to have internalized the Left’s individualistic mother-child axis in discussions of parenting. This should prompt alarm, as pieces like the above set the tone of the response to Roe’s overruling and attempt to form a cast of the future. Achieving the restored sense of motherhood towards which the Court’s decision points requires, in part, greater attention to fatherhood. We must recall that abortion also destroys a father’s child and is a knife to the heart of the family.
A father’s presence improves a child’s life in many respects, including socio-economically, as described in a recent report from the Institute for Family Studies. A young man who has a father in his life is more likely to graduate college, avoid prison, and be less idle (defined in the report as referring to 20-somethings not in school or working).
This isn’t surprising, and it shouldn’t be. It’s sensible that a father who is present provides ongoing structural support for his child. Even his mere presence affects a child’s outlook. But children need involved fathers more than just present ones. How a father communicates his love of family matters. A loving, kindly, and courageous man opens a world of play and spirit to a child.
But too few men today fill this vital role. Considerable weight lies in the disposition a man adopts, which stems from his own understanding of the value of a father. The work, then, must be reciprocal: Fathers must give themselves to their families, and they should receive reassurances in return — from family and from society — that bolsters their efforts, not merely out of utility or in search of the best social “outcomes,” but in recognition that a father is the best thing a man can be and a son can have. In Christianity, even those men who take on a spiritual vocation are fatherly to their flocks; many are explicitly referred to as “fathers.”
Within the father-daughter dynamic, too, fathers make a difference. A father’s emotional connection, or lack thereof, to his daughter determines how she interacts with men. A basis of warm, open communication will positively influence how she approaches male peers, authority figures, and the like. And her father can have a strong bearing on how she views God and undertakes religion.
For mothers, too, present fathers foster well-being. Married women simply are happier than those who are unmarried, and the potential for depression dwindles among married parents. Partnership gives crucial emotional support for parents — especially mothers, who by default generally adopt most child-rearing responsibilities — as they manage their children’s and their own lives. But spousal unity only inaugurates man’s purpose in marriage; children, granted they are given, provide form and a heroic aim.
Without an involved father, the family cannot approach the perfection of which it is capable, and it is no secret that America suffers from nearly system-wide fatherlessness. In response, we must do everything in our power to recapture, reignite, and recommit to the expectation of fatherhood as a vocation, a calling in life. We should encourage men to love the positions in which the responsibility of fatherhood places them, rather than reinforce them in their negligence.
As for family policy, we agree with the conservatives mentioned above that post-Roe America needs it. But it also demands a family policy to reinstitutionalize marriage and reintegrate fathers. Anything less follows the Left’s divorce of the woman and child from the fullness of the family.
The point of any true endeavor is to create a third thing, separate from oneself, and raise it in participation with the good and just. We can’t expect to make any serious resolutions towards achieving a pro-life society without addressing the whole of family structure. Omitting the father’s role and not expecting adverse effects will never enable us to advance the well-being of mothers in our country.
Emma Fuentes is studying English at the University of Virginia. Michael Toscano is executive director of the Institute for Family Studies.
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