APA Fatherhood Report "Utter Nonsense

July 7, 2008 - 8:02 PM

(CNS) - A prominent authority on families and fatherhood is calling a recent article describing fatherhood as not essential to child well-being "utter nonsense," and said that reading the report was "like listening to someone mouthing off in a bar."

David Blankenhorn, head of the New York City-based Institute for American Values and author of Fatherless America: Confronting Our Most Urgent Social Problem, was one of the main targets of Drs. Louise B. Silverstein and Carl Auerbach in their recent article, Deconstructing the Essential Father.

Among others things, the report stated, "[W]e do not believe that the data support the conclusion that fathers are essential to child well-being and that heterosexual marriage is the social context in which responsible fathering is most likely to occur."

That article in the June issue of the respected journal American Psychologist has stirred controversy for its conclusion that neither fathers, mothers, nor heterosexual marriage are essential for building a strong family life for children.

"I always appreciate critical articles, because they can focus your argument and point out weaknesses," Blankenhorn told CNSNews.com. "But this article was unusually silly. Not one thing they said was what I would call a serious insight."

Blankenhorn was especially critical of the terminology used by Silverstein and Auerbach to describe his position as "essentialist" and "neoconservative."

"Those are not terms I have ever used in my research, and I gather that [Silverstein and Auerbach] consider it a great insult to be called an essentialist, which simply means believing that there are differences between men and women," Blankenhorn told CNSNews.com. "It doesn't matter that this belief is held by every human being outside of academia."

The report by Silverstein and Auerbach called the position of Blankenhorn and other researchers who see distinct differences in the separate roles of mothering and fathering "simplistic," and described that conclusion as one representing "a dramatic oversimplification of the complex relations between father presence and social problems."

Silverstein and Auerbach concluded, "[O]ur data on gay fathering couples have convinced us that neither a mother nor a father is essential" in raising children, saying all that is required is "at least one responsible caretaking adult who has a positive emotional connection to (the child)."

Aside from the criticism of his research and conclusions, Blankenhorn also noted other concerns with the report, which was published by the American Psychological Association.

Blankenhorn objected to the article's reliance on behavioral studies of non-human primates, especially marmosets, to draw conclusions about the character of human families.

In their report, Silverstein and Auerbach wrote "marmosets illustrate how, within a particular bioecological context, optimal child outcomes can be achieved with fathers as primary caretakers and limited parenting involvement by mothers."

Marmosets are soft-furred South American monkeys that normally give birth to twins, creating a situation in which the fathers often assume many parenting tasks because the mothers must nurse two infant marmosets, according to Silverstein and Auerbach. The authors drew parallels between the animals' behavior and "single fathers, two-parent families in which the father is the primary caretaker, and families headed by gay fathers."

The report did not specify what criteria were used to determine "optimal child outcomes" among young monkeys living in tropical jungle environments.

Blankenhorn was also critical of how Silverstein and Auerbach used the work of sociologist Paul Amato, who asserts that most divorces in a family with children are harmful to the child. According to Blankenhorn, the report misused Amato's research to conclude that divorce doesn't "irretrievably harm the majority of children."

"The authors used Amato's work to support a conclusion exactly the opposite of Amato," said Blankenhorn.

Another issue for Blankenhorn is what he called the authors' assertion that it is not the absence of a father that puts children at risk, but other factors associated with father absence, such as loss of income and the loss of a second adult in the family.

"To say that what causes harm to the child is the characteristics of father absence, and not father absence itself, makes absolutely no sense," Blankenhorn told CNSNews.com.

Aside from publishing their research, observations and conclusions, Silverstein and Auerbach also advocated a number of political remedies, including an "overall governmental family policy." The two authors suggest that such policies might include government-financed day care, paid parental leave and other economic subsidies.

The authors are not shy about their broader goals, writing, "We acknowledge that our reading of the scientific literature supports our political agenda," which they describe as "public policy that supports the legitimacy of diverse family structures, rather than policy that privileges the two-parent heterosexual, married family."

Silverstein and Auerbach also used the report to state their "grave concerns" about laws and government policies that support heterosexual marriage, claiming such policies addressing the traditional institution of marriage "discriminate(s) against cohabiting couples, single mothers, and gay and lesbian parents."

Blankenhorn told CNSNews.com that the mixing of science and politics troubled him. "We see this sort of macho declaration of biases a great deal in social science these days, but it would be preferable that people keep politics in politics if that's what they want to do, and leave science to scientists," said Blankenhorn.