published Sunday, August 24th, 2014

Baumgardner: Life without father is not optimal

By Julie Baumgardner

In an recent interview with Rolling Stone, Katy Perry discusses having a baby someday. She says she wants one, "but I need to really be able to focus 100 percent of my attention on it. I don't really want to take the child on tour. Not until, like, birth through five is over."

She then adds that it doesn't really matter if there is a guy in the picture or not. "I don't need a dude ... It's 2014! We are living in the future; we don't need anything ... I'm not anti-men. I love men. But there is an option if someone doesn't present himself."

It's pretty clear that Perry wants to be a great mom, but she thinks that having a father active in the life of her child is optional. With reams of research indicating dads are not just an accessory, it would be interesting to talk with children who don't have a father involved in their lives to see if they agree with Perry.

It is 2014 and there is a great deal of information about what helps children thrive. Research across disciplines shows that children do better when they are raised with their mother and father.

"Some of the toughest athletes I know lose it when you talk with them about their father," says Carey Casey, CEO of the National Center for Fathering, an advocacy group based in Kansas. "There has never been a guy who said to me, 'I don't want to see my dad; I don't need a father.' Usually, they say, 'I would give it all up to meet my dad for just a moment.'"

The last two decades have produced significant research indicating that children who live absent their biological fathers are, on average, at least two to three times more likely to be poor, to use drugs, to experience educational, health, emotional and behavioral problems. They are more likely to be victims of child abuse and to engage in criminal behavior more than their peers who live with their married, biological or adoptive parents.

Additional research indicates that 90 percent of homeless and runaway children, 71 percent of high school dropouts and 63 percent of young people who commit suicide are from fatherless homes.

While it is highly unlikely that Perry's child would be financially poor, wealth does not replace the hole in a child's heart from growing up without a father. It may be 2014, but the reality is, you still can't make a baby without a man being involved. How then would society come to the conclusion that children don't need their father?

Does Perry's kind of thinking perpetuate the problem? Men have heard women say they aren't necessary, and most of the time the media portrays them as bumbling idiots. Maybe they actually believe they aren't necessary. The message is quite confusing when, on the one hand, society is asking men to step up and be the fathers their children need them to be and, on the other hand, they are told they just create problems and make life more complicated.

"Ultimately, a child will ask, 'Who is my dad?'" says Casey. "It is in our DNA to want to know where we came from."

Who stands to lose the most when one makes the intentional decision to have a child with no father in the picture -- the adult or the child?

Julie Baumgardner is president and CEO of First Things First. Contact her at julieb@firstthings.org.

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