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But such blanket statements go begging for support--and are untenable on their face. There is no social problem, urgent or otherwise, associated with childless men. Fatherless America points out quite clearly that the problems are with men who choose to have children and then opt out of the attendant responsibilities.
On a more structural level, even though it makes some reference to 19th- and early 20th-century sources, Fatherless America disappoints because it doesn't link recent theoretical attacks on the value of specifically male parenting to a longstanding siege on the family and parental authority in general. Blankenhorn, not without cause, notes that much of the scorn heaped on traditional paternal roles originates in academic scholarship of the past two decades.
Academics and other members of the cultural "elite," he says, vilify the '50s as a particularly repressive time, laying much of the blame at the feet of dear old dad: "In much of our current cultural discourse...the 1950s are portrayed as a paternal wasteland: workaholic commuter Dads in gray flannel suits; violence-prone tyrants who lorded it over women and children; materialists who thought fatherhood meant paying the bills; and cold, emotionally remote Old Fathers who wounded their children through distance."
Blankenhorn, who in no way calls for some simple-minded return to a nostalgic '50s America, counters by noting that most fathers during the "quiet decade" actually spent more time with their children than their own fathers had with them--and more than their sons, "living in a divorce culture, would later spend with their children."
True enough, but such a cultural etiology is too limited, and readers may want to turn to books such as Christopher Lasch's Haven in a Heartless World and E. Fuller Torrey's Freudian Fraud for a fuller diagnosis of how "elites" have systematically attacked and undermined the family for most of this century. It's worth remembering that during the late '40s and '50s themselves, much anxiety over parenting focused on "momism," a perceived inordinate increase in the mother's authority and a corresponding decrease in--and feminization of--the father's role. "Megaloid momworship has got completely out of hand," wrote Philip Wylie in the best-selling screed Generation of Vipers. "Our land, subjectively mapped, would have more silver cords and apron strings crisscrossing it than railroads and telephone wires. Mom is everywhere and everything and damned near everybody, and from her depends all the rest of the U.S."
The critics of momism employed a kind of vulgar Freudianism that placed the blame for juvenile delinquency, maladapted children, and all manner of social pathologies on shrewish, powerful, overprotective mothers (momism is the lurking motive for James Dean's behavior in Rebel Without a Cause). For the most part, however, they did this not to rehabilitate the father's familial role but to undermine parental authority in general. For instance, Margaret Mead, quoted approvingly by Blankenhorn at various points, was a leading critic of momism not because she felt an affinity for patriarchy but because, as she had put it years earlier in Coming of Age in Samoa, she wanted to mitigate "the strong role which parents play in children's lives."
On an even greater scale, if the 20th century has been marked by a consistent encroachment of the state into areas previously outside its dominion, much of the territorial gain has come at the expense of the family. Most of this century's most powerful political and intellectual movements--such as communism, Fabianism, fascism, Nazism, progressivism--identified the family as a source of oppression or a potential site of resistance. Hence, a shared goal was the eradication of the biological family, or at least its subjugation to particular ideological goals and aims. Although all those movements have been defeated, either on the battlefield or in the marketplace of ideas, Fatherless America details the degree to which the family has been seriously wounded.