Judging by their behavior, American women appear to think that fathers are optional. According to the recently published birth statistics (Births: Final Data for 2006), the proportion of births to unmarried women has reached 38.5%, the highest rate ever recorded.
… [T]he proportion changed relatively little during the years 1998–2002, but has since climbed sharply, reaching 38.5% compared with 34.0 in 2002. While the overwhelming majority of teenage births have long been nonmarital .., these proportions have risen very steeply for women aged 20 years and over. For example, among women aged 20–24 years, the proportion increased from 37% in 1990 to 58% in 2006. Similar increases are seen for other age groups ... The proportions of nonmarital births among population subgroups ranged widely: … 26.6% for non-Hispanic white, 49.9% for Hispanic, … and 70.7% for non-Hispanic black births.
In other words, more than ¼ of white children, ½ of Hispanic children, and almost ¾ of black children were born to mothers who did not feel that marriage was necessary. Since marriage reflects the commitment of mother and father to stay together permanently, it means that a large proportion of women chose to give birth without taking steps to make sure that the father would live with his child and be a permanent presence in his or her life.
Fathers are not optional, though. On almost every possible parameter of child well being, children with resident fathers are far better off than those with absentee fathers. A concerted push is being made, particularly within the black community, to alert fathers to their responsibilities. Everyone from Bill Cosby to Barack Obama (who was deeply affected by growing up without his father in his life) has been exhorting black men to be a part of their children’s lives. Obama, in a particularly blunt campaign speech, delivered in an African-American church declared:
We know that more than half of all black children live in single-parent households, a number that has doubled - doubled - since we were children. We know the statistics - that children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime; nine times more likely to drop out of schools and twenty times more likely to end up in prison. They are more likely to have behavioral problems, or run away from home, or become teenage parents themselves. And the foundations of our community are weaker because of it…
… [W]e … need families to raise our children. We need fathers to realize that responsibility does not end at conception. We need them to realize that what makes you a man is not the ability to have a child - it's the courage to raise one.
Both Cosby and Obama are correct. Black men owe it to their children to be present in their lives. All men owe it to their children to be present in their lives. More importantly, all children deserve to have a father who is an active participant in their lives, preferably one who lives with them and their mother.
However, as the birth statistics demonstrate, the problem is not simply one of abandonment. Women are actively conceiving and bearing children in the knowledge that their fathers will almost certainly not be living with them throughout childhood. Simply put, women are behaving as if fathers are optional.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Having an active, involved, resident father is the birth right of every child. It is not the birth right of every mother to have children simply because she wants them. It is morally imperative for women to recognize that if marriage is unappealing or inconvenient, they shouldn’t be having children. It doesn’t matter how much they want them, and it doesn’t matter that they can financially provide for them. A child is owed a father, and any woman who is unable or unwilling to provide one is making a self indulgent, selfish choice to conceive a child.
Nadya Suleman, the poster child for irresponsible pregnancy, did not think it was necessary for her children to have any father, let alone an absent father. Hollywood stars and athletic icons of both sexes seem to think that fatherhood is optional. And large swaths of our society apparently believe that a resident, involved father is a luxury that they need not provide.
Absent fathers represent a serious social problem, and a serious moral problem. Children deserve to have an active, involved, resident father in their lives. While it is important to exhort men that fatherhood does not end at conception, it is equally important to exhort women that fatherhood does not end at conception. Children cannot be conceived without fathers, and although, they can be raised without them, it is wrong to deliberately embark on such a plan.