No Fathers Day for 51 Kids (and millions like them)

Destined to become the greatest of the Musketeers, the young d’Artagnan leaves his poor home with few advantages.  Humble though his origins may be, Alexandre Dumas, author of The Three Musketeers (the first of the three novels known as the d’Artagnan Romances) does give his hero an important asset.  D’Artagnan had a loving father.

Setting out into the world to seek his fame and fortune d’Artagnan is given his father’s blessing, sharp advice (“it is by his courage alone that a gentleman makes his way”), and three “paternal gifts” as Dumas describes them, “fifteen crowns, a steed, and a letter.”  Pocket change, a rather old horse, and a handwritten plea to the captain of the Musketeers.

With those simple gifts d’Artagnan elevates himself to extraordinary heights.  In reality, it is the lifetime of instruction, discipline, and example that is only symbolized by the corporeal gifts that propels d’Artagnan.  Denied that fatherly love d’Artagnan’s story would be quite different.

This day’s news reported two stories, the first of Terry Turnage, a man who fathered 21 children by 15 different women, and the second of Desmond Hatchett, a man who fathered 30 children (9 in the past three years alone) by 11 different women.  According to the report the amount of child support provided monthly works out to about $1.50 per child per month.  Together there are 51 children who live daily with poverty and without a father.

There are many single-parent family success stories and the mothers who struggle alone to raise their children are to be commended, yet the statistics do not relent.  Those 51 kids are statistically likely to live with poverty, with less education and poorer health, engage in drug use and other criminal behavior, and have shorter life spans.

Perhaps the two most famous efforts to encourage men to be responsible fathers, among other things, are about twenty years old.  The Promise Keepers, founded by evangelical Christians, and the Million Man March, an effort of the Nation of Islam and the NAACP, were launched in 1990 and 1995 respectively.  At that time just under 30 percent of American child lived in single-parent families.  By 2000, that number exceeded 30 percent.  In the most recent statistics (2010) almost 35 percent of American children come from single parent households.

Since the mid-1990s federal spending on anti-poverty programs has doubled, and the 126 different federal programs (like TANF, ScHIP, SNAP, and housing vouchers) have risen to 4.5 percent of our national GDP, up from about 2 percent twenty years ago.

Money is not the problem.  In fact, as spending has increased so has poverty and the rate of single-parent households.

Without regard to whatever inefficiencies undoubtedly exist in public assistance programs, it may not be said that the American taxpayer has not surrendered enough of his paycheck to help others.  If anything, government mandated largesse has grown to the point of hurting both the producer and the dependent.

This father’s day it is time that we accept that the change needed is cultural, ethical, moral.  In other words, this is a problem that government cannot solve but may only make worse.

From Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the advice Polonius offered Laertes, “neither a borrower nor a lender be, for loan oft loses both itself and friend, and borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry,” remains sound.

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