Monday, August 01, 2005

In the Name of the Father (Moose)

The Mooselings observe that a father is a terrible thing to waste.

While the Mooselings are pleased and honored to be filling in for our figurative father, the great Bull Moose, as he heads off on holiday with his actual family, we already miss the guy.

It's no wonder: fathers are important, after all. In today's Washington Post, William Rasberry writes that "fatherless families are America's largest single largest source of poverty." The consequences are felt inordinately by black Americans -- in 1890 80 percent of black households were headed by husbands and wives; 38 percent in 1990.

The Mooslings laud the extraordinary efforts of single mothers, single fathers, and non-traditional families in general. Their work, sacrifice and love to raise children is nothing short of heroic. They should be praised and given support. But, Rasberry writes,

"Acknowledging that "Peg Leg" Bates was a helluva tap dancer shouldn't obscure the fact that dancers are generally better off with the full complement of nether limbs. So am I urging all single mothers to grab the nearest adult male and haul him off to the altar?

Of course not. As Mary Frances Berry, then chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, once told me: "If all the single mothers in poor communities married single men in those same communities, and the men all moved in, the only effect would be to increase by one the number of disabled people in each household."

She was right, of course. But while marriage may not be a cure for poverty, it does turn out to be a fairly reliable preventative . Isn't it worthwhile to spend more time and resources helping young people to understand the economic implications of single parenthood before they become single parents? Wouldn't it make sense to rethink our relatively recent easy acceptance of out-of-wedlock parenting?

And might it not be a good idea to work at restoring the influence of the community institutions, religious and civic, that used to help strengthen families? The trends Billingsley talked about were a long time developing, and they won't be reversed in a day or two.

As he told me, "You can't have strong families unless you have strong communities, and you can't have strong communities unless you have strong institutions."

Ultimately, the Mooselings think that's why fathers are so important -- not out of some orthodox conception of what is deemed the perfect or natural family (and those who use that argument do everyone a disservice), but rather as yet another valuable point of connection to a larger community, the opportunities it provides and the responsibilities it demands.

Strong families, whatever their shape, and strong communities wherever they are, reinforce each other, making everyone stronger still. In other words, as Governor Vilsack spoke last week about growing up in a struggling family that was stretched thin,

"In my case, a Little League coach, a fifth-grade teacher, people from the community sort of kept me on the straight and narrow long enough for my family to come back. But as I grew up, I said to myself, someday I am going to find a place. I am going to find a place where I can have children, where my wife and I will be engaged in their upbringing, where they will not just rely on us but will have a community surrounding them, that when they fail there will be someone there to put their arm around them and say it's okay."

-- The Mooselings

-- Posted at 10:54 AM | Link to this post | Email this post