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Are dads necessary? Ask kids

By Roland C. Warren, Special to CNN
  • Roland Warren says Atlantic magazine article questions whether fathers are essential
  • He says article reaches faulty conclusion that new research shows dads not crucial
  • Real-world data analysis shows kids in mom-dad families do better
  • Warren: Don't believe it? Ask kids. Each child has a hole in his soul in the shape of his dad

Editor's note: Roland C. Warren is president of National Fatherhood Initiative, a nonprofit organization that works in every sector of society to engage fathers in the lives of their children.

Germantown, Maryland (CNN) -- The Atlantic Magazine just published an article entitled, "Are Fathers Necessary?" It appears in the June issue, the month in which fathers are celebrated -- not dismissed -- and concludes that fathers are not essential.

The primary problem with the article is that it fails to ask its title question to the right group of people. What makes a man a father is the fact that he has children. Had the writer of the piece, Pamela Paul, asked her question of children, she would have gotten a much different answer.

Instead, Paul reaches her conclusion that fathers are not necessary by pointing to some researchers who think there are limitations in the available social science research on families.

Specifically, Paul references research that questions the data on the importance of father involvement because it compares mother-father families to single mother families. Even though research shows that mother-father families produce better outcomes for children, Paul writes that it's unclear whether its the father himself who makes a unique difference, and not just the additional financial and emotional resources a second parent can bring.

In this case, it is some writers, not kids, who say the darndest things.

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The problem with Paul's observation is that in the real world, the actual option most people get is between a single mother family and a mother-father family. The research is not limited by offering those two scenarios as the basis for its findings -- it is addressing the reality on the ground. Despite advances in science, the overwhelming majority of children still come into the world as a result of a man and a woman having sex with each other.

So, the question is not, "Are fathers necessary?" It is "Are fathers going to be involved and what does that involvement look like?" The answer to the second question is what makes social scientists so concerned about the benefits of father involvement and the costs of father absence. The reality we are facing as a nation is that one out of every three children lives in a father-absent home and four in 10 are born to unmarried mothers.

So, let's "ask" the children if they think fathers are necessary.

My organization just gave its Military Fatherhood Award to Master Sgt. Rick Marston of the U.S. Air Force. At the ceremony, as he accepted his award on stage, I noticed his 10-year-old son, Jake, was so overcome with emotion that tears streamed down his face. It was Jake who motivated his mom to nominate his dad for the award.

When asked how he feels when his dad is deployed overseas, Jake said he is overwhelmed from the pressure of thinking he needs to step into his father's shoes while he is away. His inability to do so causes him a lot of pain.

If we ask Jake if fathers are necessary, would he say no?

Sgt. Marston and millions of fathers in this country mean the world to their children. I believe that each child has a hole in his soul in the shape of his dad, and when fathers are unable or unwilling to fill that hole, it leaves a wound that is not easily healed. I know -- I grew up without my dad.

That is why the article in The Atlantic is so troubling. Good fathers are not just necessary, they are essential and irreplaceable to the children who desperately love and need them.

You see, in the real world, we do not have the luxury of finessing research data to reach irrelevant conclusions about families. Here in the real world, we have fathers asking, "What is expected of me?"

If our society is not prepared to say, without question or hesitation, that we expect them to provide for, love, and guide their children, then we have indeed lost our way. And there is no question about that.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Roland Warren.