Richard Vatz Excoriates Fatherlessness, Ignores Family Courts

December 27, 2017 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

On one hand, this is a good article on the scourge of fatherlessness in the U.S (Washington Times, 12/18/17). It’s so good of course because – ahem – it reiterates many of the arguments I’ve been making. How could it be otherwise? But seriously…

The writer is Towson University professor Richard E. Vatz. He sees clearly. Vatz gets it that the problem of fatherlessness is the single most important social issue we face. It achieves that dubious distinction because of the many, many aspects of American life that fatherlessness affects for the worse. Vatz doesn’t beat around the bush.

The causal relationship is profound between fatherlessness, single-parent families and the resultant murders, shootings, violence, poverty, lack of upper-mobility, school miseries for teachers and students, flourishing of vicious and brazen gangs (replacing fathers), lost job opportunities, illicit drug use and sales, and general quality of life.

The statistics connecting all of these more or less measurable outcomes are well-established, reproduced and replicated. Just look at one summary statement from just one major study (Marriage and Family Review, 2003) titled “The Presence of Fathers in Attenuating Young Male Violence”: “Data analyzed across the U.S. indicate that father absence, rather than poverty, was a strong predictor of young men’s violent behavior.”…

But there is no root cause more consequential in producing permanent violence, poverty and related life dissatisfaction issues than fatherlessness.

Fatherlessness is as close to destiny as you can get. 

That’s about the size of it, alright, but Vatz’s main point is that no one wants to talk about the issue and policy makers don’t want to do anything about it. Apparently, he’s tried and met with outrage from liberals and passive acceptance from conservatives.

This author wrote a piece on the issue in the Baltimore Sun (“Blame Baltimore violence on a lack of fathers in the home,” July 25). Pursuant to its publication, I received more than a score of positive email responses, including from some of Maryland’s principle conservative politicians.

There were no emailed disagreements on the argument that fatherlessness is a core cause of virtually all societal ills. When I discussed the issue of fatherlessness on the liberal “Marc Steiner Show,” the reaction was anger, personal vitriol toward me, and accusations that I was attacking families due to racial motivation…

Office holders were so offended by Vatz’s suggestion that fatherlessness is an important issue that some refused to even talk to him. Others claimed to agree about the problem but said no one cares. Vatz points out that no one will care until political “leaders” take the issue on in a serious way. Meanwhile of course the press is too busy with sex scandals to take much of an interest.

The issue is the proverbial elephant in the state. The electronic and print media have major comprehensive pieces on violence in Baltimore and elsewhere by its top otherwise perspicacious reporters and yet they almost never even mention fatherlessness as a cause.

It’s jolly good of Professor Vatz to raise the issue. The more people who do, the better. Strike at the problem of fatherlessness and you attack the root of countless social problems.

And yet… Vatz doesn’t really get it.

Anthony McCarthy, head of the communications and public affairs team for Mayor Catherine E. Pugh of Baltimore, became enraged at me on a local talk news show weeks ago owing to my claim that Ms. Pugh did not have the courage to institute a program to engage, monetarily disincentivize and stigmatize fatherless families.

McCarthy of course has no business getting angry with Vatz. But, just as clearly, what Vatz proposed is a dubious way to approach the issue of fatherlessness, plus, he’s talking to the wrong person. Is there any evidence that programs “to engage, monetarily disincentivize and stigmatize fatherless families” work? There’s some work being done on Responsible Fatherhood programs, but the results of those studies are inconclusive at best. There’s certainly no blueprint for any social program with a track record of slowing the growth of fatherlessness in this country or any part of it.

But there’s one obvious place where fatherlessness can and should be addressed – family courts. If Vatz is interested, there’s a strong movement for family court reform that, when successful, will go a long way toward keeping fathers connected with kids. The scandal that is a family court system that routinely separates kids from their dads and does so while hymning “the best interests of the child” is rapidly coming under the public microscope and not faring well. State after state is considering major change to child custody laws and the opposition is well-known to be merely self-interested and entirely lacking in meritorious arguments for its position.

This is something we can do something about. The science is replete and on the side of reform. Organizations dedicated to sensible child custody policies are increasing in number and strength.

So it’s highly ironic that Vatz excoriates others for not dealing with the problem, while, well, not dealing with the problem himself. He ignores perhaps the single most important cause of fatherlessness and the way to end it, while championing a vague notion of a program with no history of success at all.

I appreciate his dedication to such a vital cause. I’d appreciate it more if he acknowledged the best way to deal with it.




National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization

National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Along with Shared Parenting we advocate for fair Child Support and Alimony Legislation. Want to get involved?  Here’s how:

Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting, and fair child support and alimony. Thank you for your activism.

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