A Call to Fatherhood

A Call to Fatherhood


Subjects: Family, Fatherhood, Marriage

Full Report


We come together because we believe that every child deserves a loving, committed and responsible father. Not just the lucky ones, but every child. We come together from across the nation and across the political spectrum, all dedicated to ending the curse of fatherlessness that is maiming our children and coarsening our society. We come together, inspired by the best of the American tradition, ready to declare our goal and seek the support of our fellow citizens. We come together to call for a fatherhood movement.

We come together as men and women, black and white, rich and poor, all committed to restoring the institution of loving fatherhood as the birthright of every child, the sure expectation of every mother, and the joyful obligation of every man who helps to bring a baby into this world.

We come together as liberal and conservative, and from every region of our nation, all believing that what divides us is far less important than what unites us. We come together as Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and Muslims, all asking for God’s blessing and guidance, and all pledging our time, our energy, and our best ideas to achieving the great task before us.

We come together knowing that our journey will be difficult, but knowing we can do no other. For, whatever its other advantages, a society in which large and growing numbers of adult males cease to nurture their offspring is a failing society. Unless we reverse the trend of fatherlessness, no other set of accomplishments will arrest our social decay.

We come together to give life and energy to a fatherhood movement.


We view fatherlessness as one of the greatest social evils of our generation. It is a principal cause of deteriorating child well-being in our society. It is also an engine driving our worst social problems, from crime and teen pregnancy to child poverty and domestic violence.

Today’s mass separation of American fathers from their children is historically unprecedented. Never before in our nation’s history — never before in any nation’s history — have so many men been so radically estranged from their children and from the mothers of their children. Never before have so many children grown up without knowing what it means to have a father. Never before has the “father’s name” on so many birth certificates been left blank.

Americans are increasingly familiar with the grim statistics of fatherlessness. Today, nearly 40 percent of all American children do not live with their fathers. Before they reach age 18, more than half of all U.S. children will spend at least a significant part of their childhood living apart from their fathers.

This astonishing absence — this large and growing hole in our society where fathers ought to be — stems demographically from two related behaviors: unwed childbearing and divorce. Today, never-married mothers and the males who impregnate them account for one of every three babies born. And though divorce rates have declined somewhat since the late 1980s, the United States remains by far the most divorcing society in the world. The result of these trends is the weakening of marriage and the loss of fatherhood for millions of families.

For at least the past decade, Americans have engaged in a loud and often needlessly polarizing debate over “the family” and “family values.” Much of this debate has centered on the issue of family structure: whether or not the steady defection of fathers, and the resulting proliferation of mother-headed homes, amounts to a social crisis, a legitimate cause for alarm.

While we come from various points along America’s political spectrum, we agree on one central point: The family debate of the past decade is over. It is over because everyone, or at least almost everyone, now realizes that fathers matter. Not just a little, or in some circumstances; but a lot, for every child. Increasingly, all our studies concur, all our experiences show, the spread of fatherlessness in our generation is a profound social crisis and a legitimate cause for alarm.

The question, then, is no longer whether we have a problem. The question today is what, if anything, we are prepared to do about the problem. What we intend to do is express our commitment to giving life and energy to a fatherhood movement.


We seek a fatherhood movement that is broadly based, overcoming barriers of income, race, and politics, represented by many voices and organizations, active at every level of our society. We seek a fatherhood movement that is united by one idea: for every child, a loving, committed and responsible father.

We seek a fatherhood movement that demands and teaches higher standards of male responsibility for children and higher standards of male accountability to mothers. We seek a fatherhood movement premised upon equal regard between men and women, mothers and fathers, husbands and wives. We seek a fatherhood movement that, while reaching out to divorced and unwed fathers, nevertheless discourages divorce and unwed childbearing and insists upon the importance of marriage as a life goal worthy of the respect and commitment of young Americans.

We seek a fatherhood movement that recognizes cultural renewal and economic opportunity not as opposing ideas, but as two complementary and essential strategies for one idea: the fatherhood idea.


The fatherhood movement we seek is more than a prediction, more than merely something that we hope will happen. It is already beginning to happen, embodied in the pioneering work of devoted leaders and new initiatives across the country.

Some of our colleagues focus on fatherhood education and skills training, reaching out especially to new fathers, teaching them better ways to care for their children and challenging them to become better men. We are thankful for their work and seek their leadership in a fatherhood movement.

Some of our colleagues work for economic empowerment and greater economic opportunity for young fathers, especially young minority fathers in our urban centers and other low-income fathers, recognizing that, for many young men, economic prospects and fatherhood prospects are closely related and mutually reinforcing. We admire their accomplishments and seek their leadership for a fatherhood movement.

Some of our colleagues, rightly appalled by the prevalence of child poverty in this land of plenty, work to improve the conditions and life prospects of poor children and their families, recognizing that all children need fathers who will provide for and nurture them, and that the spread of fatherlessness in our generation is inextricably linked to the spread of child poverty. We share their goal and seek their leadership in a fatherhood movement.

Some of our colleagues are leaders in efforts to strengthen marriage. Some are active in efforts to reform no-fault divorce laws, advocating measures such as extending the waiting periods for divorce, requiring counseling for troubled marriages, and, in cases of contested divorces, ending or restricting the unilateral right to divorce on demand. Other colleagues are leaders in initiatives to improve marriage counseling and family therapy, urging their fellow professionals to approach their work with a bias in favor of marriage.

Still others, working through their houses of worship and guided by the Biblical premise that “God hates divorce,” are leaders in efforts to improve pastoral counseling for engaged couples, create better faith-based marital enrichment programs, and establish new community-wide ecumenical policies aimed at strengthening marriage and reducing divorce. We are grateful for their work and seek their leadership for a fatherhood movement.

Many of our colleagues are women and men of religious faith, reminding us, in their words and deeds, that being a good father is part of being a righteous man, and viewing the renewal of fatherhood as one necessary part of a larger and much-needed spiritual rebirth in our society. Some of these leaders are active in the Promise Keepers. Others organized buses to the Million Man March. Others work as leaders in local men’s ministries and other congregational and denominational outreach efforts. We are thankful for these important leaders, and seek their leadership in a fatherhood movement.

Some of our colleagues are community organizers. Some are business leaders. Some are scholars. Some are philanthropists and foundation officers. Some are writers and public speakers. Some are active in the mytho-poetic men’s movements. Some are child and family advocates. Some are leaders in efforts to organize and represent the interests of divorced fathers who seek to remain active and committed parents. Some of our colleagues work in the media. Others work primarily with young people. Still others work in government and in public policy. All of these leaders have much to contribute. We seek their participation in a fatherhood movement.

Across the country, new leaders and new initiatives are emerging. The potential for real social change exists; the seeds of a movement have already been planted. The challenge now is to build further on these inspiring foundations — to deepen our commitment, to grow in wisdom, to win measurable victories, and to work together in trust and mutual commitment, striving to create a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. The challenge is to ignite a broad-based movement for fatherhood.


In an increasingly fatherless society, we come together to dedicate ourselves to a proposition: for every child, a loving, committed and responsible father.

Some will disagree with this goal. Others, including many experts, will concede that fathers are important, but will urge us to accept the current trend of fatherlessness with dispassion and equanimity. Rather than getting preachy about fatherhood, they will advise us, focus instead on more realistic solutions. More child support payments from absent fathers. More support for single mothers. More attempts to find adequate substitutes for the missing fathers.

While affirming the importance of reaching out with compassion to single mothers and fatherless children, this work, although necessary, is not sufficient. The truth is that the contribution fathers make to the well-being of children are unique and irreplaceable. Consequently, we assert that any fatherhood movement worthy of the name must ultimately be guided by this overriding goal: loving fathers for all our children. We assert this goal, not because we are unrealistic or lack compassion, but precisely because we wish to be as realistic and compassionate as possible.

We propose to reverse the deterioration of childhood by bringing back the fathers, for unless we reverse the trend of fatherlessness, we see no realistic possibility of reversing the current downward spiral for children. Passivity in the face of this crisis is indefensible. We come together because we believe that our society can change for the better. We come together to call for fatherhood.


Affiliations listed for identification purposes only. Published in 1997 by the Center for the American Experiment, The National Fatherhood Initiative, and the Institute for American Values.

  • Jeff Kemp, Executive Director, Washington Family Council, Bellevue, WA
  • Ronald L. Klinger, Founder/President, Center For Successful Fathering Austin, TX
  • David Levy, President, Children’s Rights Council, Washington, DC
  • Paul L. Lewis, President, Family University, San Diego, CA
  • Glenn C. Loury, Director, Institute on Race and Social Division, Boston, MA
  • Richard Louv, Author and Journalist, San Diego, CA
  • William Marshall, President, Progressive Policy Institute, Washington, DC
  • William R. Mattox, Jr., Family Research Council, Washington, DC
  • James F.X. Mcloughlin, Publisher/Editor, Full-Time Dads, Clifton, NJ
  • Michael Medved, Film Critic and Author, Mercer Island, WA
  • Stuart Miller, American Fathers’ Coalition, Washington, DC
  • Ron Mincy, Ford Foundation, New York, NY
  • Joseph Nadel, Founder/Director, First State Fatherhood Center, Dover, DE
  • Michael Novak, George Frederick Jewett Chair in Religion and Public Policy, American Enterprise Institute, Washington, DC
  • Michael O’Donnell, Founder/Executive Director, Center for Fathering, Abilene, TX
  • Marvin Olasky, University of Texas, Austin, TX
  • Mitchell B. Pearlstein, President, Center of The American Experiment, Minneapolis, MN
  • Father Val J. Peter, Executive Director, Father Flanagan’s Boys’ Home, Boys Town, NE
  • David Popenoe, Professor, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
  • Hillard Pouncy, Consultant, Wallingford, PA
  • Robert Rannigan, Director, Father Development Project, Charlottesville, VA
  • Ron Rose, President, Faith in Families Ministry, Fort Worth, TX
  • Glenn Stanton, Focus on The Family, Colorado Springs, CO
  • Bishop James Stanton, Episcopal Diocese of Dallas, TX
  • Eddie F. Staton, National President, Mad Dads, Inc., Omaha, NE
  • Tom Tancredo, Independence Institute, Golden, CO
  • J. Neal Tift, Director, Fathers’ Resource Center, Minneapolis, MN
  • P. Jay Tray, Penn-Trafford School District, Harrison City, PA
  • Judith Wallerstein, Center for the Family in Transition, Belvedere, CA
  • Waylon Ward, President, Dallas Center for Fathering, Dallas, TX
  • Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, Author and Social Historian, Amherst, MA
  • Ruth Wooden, President, The Ad Council, New York, NY
  • Robert Woodson, President, National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, Washington, DC

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