Newsweek’s cover story on the importance of fatherhood week lamented the “man-problem” in America and did so as if the only problem facing the American male is lack of access to paternity leave from work.
Did lack of paternity leave prevent iconic television dads Andy Taylor or Heathcliff Huxtable (whose wife worked) from being good men? What about your own dad? Newsweek flubbed a wonderful opportunity to thoughtfully explore an important family and national issue. Attentive students of the family know the weakening of fatherhood is not new, nor does it center on access to paternal leave from work. It is about how a culture treasures and encourages fatherhood.
The problem of fatherlessness is what launched the modern culture war around family.
It was then that Assistant Secretary of Labor, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, released his report The Negro Family: The Case for National Action which was both a family and civil rights manifesto. It warned that while the newly-passed Civil Rights Act of 1964 could do much to lift the fortunes of the Black Americans, these gains could be undercut by another important factor: the crumbling Black Family. And the husband and father was the critical weak link.
He opened his report with these words:
The United States is approaching a new crisis in race relations. …The fundamental problem, in which this is most clearly the case, is that of family structure. The evidence – while not final, but powerfully persuasive – is that the Negro family in the urban ghettos is crumbling. So long as this situation persists, the cycle of poverty and disadvantage will continue to repeat itself.
Moynihan, with great passion, warned that the fact that a majority of Black children reach adulthood having lived apart from their father was a situation so serious it demanded “national action” to correct it.