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August 14, 1999
Column #937

ARE FATHERS NOT ESSENTIAL?

In May this column denounced the American Psychological Association as being ''irresponsible'' for publishing an article in its prestigious journal, ''Psychological Bulletin'' which alleged that if a child is ''willing'' to have sex with an adult, it could be a positive experience.

Experts denounced the study as a first step on the road toward normalizing pedophilia. APA protested, saying it believed ''child sexual abuse is seriously harmful.'' Why then did it publish a study arguing the opposite position? ''We publish studies not because we agree or disagree, if it can pass our peer review process,'' said APA's spokesman.

That is irresponsible and destructive. When a pedophile get arrested for having sex with a child, his attorney can cite the article suggesting it was harmless, because the child was ''willing.'' To its credit, the APA later apologized. Once again, however, the APA's ''Psychological Bulletin'' has published an irresponsible study called ''Deconstructing the Essential Father'' which alleges that fathers do not ''make a unique and essential contribution to child development.''  OK, dads, now you know there is no point in playing ball with your kids, or taking the time to talk with them about morality or politics or money. You have nothing unique to offer. What nonsense.

Twenty years of research were simply ignored by the article's authors, Professors Louise Silverstein and Carl Auerbach at Yeshiva University. Children living in fatherless homes are six times as likely as those with intact parents, to be in poverty or to commit suicide, three times as likely to become pregnant out of wedlock, and twice as likely to drop out of school or to be arrested for crimes.

Yeshiva's scholars acknowledge that ''the presence of a father may have some positive effects on the well-being of boys,'' but they dismiss this research. Why? The culture's support of ''male dominance and negative attitudes toward women may interfere with the ability of many single mothers to establish an authoritative parenting style with male children.'' Good grief!  The authors allege, ''It is difficult to differentiate the effects of father absence from the effects of low income,'' due to the loss of the father's income.

Cornell Professor Urie Bronfenbrenner, a prominent developmental psychologist disagrees: ''Controlling for factors such as low income, children growing up in (father absent) households are at a greater risk for experiencing a variety of behavioral and educational problems, including extremes of hyperactivity and withdrawal; lack of attentiveness in the classroom, difficulty in deferring gratification; impaired academic achievement; school misbehavior; absenteeism; dropping out; involvement in socially alienated peer groups, and the so-called `teenage syndrome' of behaviors that tend to hang together - smoking, drinking, early and frequent sexual experience, and in the more extreme cases, drugs, suicide, vandalism, violence and criminal acts.''

What do Silverstein and Auerbach say about such findings? ''We do not find any empirical support that marriage enhances fathering or that marriage civilizes men and protects children.'' The authors make the preposterous claim that marriage is harmful because of ''some fathers' consumption of family resources in terms of gambling, purchasing alcohol, cigarettes, or other nonessential commodities.''

It is wacko psychologists like these that give the profession a bad time.

They even assert that divorce is not all that bad for children, citing the research of Paul Amato and Allan Booth, who wrote, ''...although children from low conflict marriages are negatively effected by divorce, the adjustment of children in high-conflict marriages actually improves after divorce.''

That distorts the findings of Amato and Booth who estimate that only about 30 percent of all divorces in America are the result of high conflict marriages. For the 70 percent of marriages in low conflict situations, they say ''future generations would be well-served if parents remained together until the children are grown.''

Dr. Norman Lamm, President of Yeshiva University, was so embarrassed by the study that though he defended the authors' academic freedom to publish anything, he said, ''I take strong exception to many of the views expressed in the article, including those that question the value of the traditional family unit. The concept of the nuclear family is engrained in Jewish history, law and culture, and it has sustained Western civilization for thousands of years.''

Once again the APA is hiding behind what it says was a ''rigorous peer review'' of the article, while adding that it, too, ''recognizes that the family constitutes a basic unit of society.'' It is time for the Yeshiva scholars to remember the commandment, ''Honor your father and your mother...so that you may live long and that it may go well with you.''

Copyright 1999 Michael J. McManus.

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