Friday, June 16, 2017

Rally round the bridges, boys!

Via Pinterest.

Shorter David Brooks, "Why Fathers Leave their Children", New York Times, June 16 2017:
According to the latest research, they don't leave their children, they leave their children's mothers. This makes it difficult for them to take care of the kids as much as they would wish to do. The solution to this is to encourage people to have intercourse only with people they are in love with, and work out a budget before they have children. Also, mayors should have poems in praise of fatherhood read at their inaugurations, and some kind of government program could help but I'm all out of space again, curious how that keeps happening.
And happy Fathers' Day to you too. Got anything special planned?

No, I'm not going there. He didn't abandon the previous Mrs. Brooks until the kids were old enough to live on their own, anyway, as far as I can figure (I believe the oldest is just a year or two younger than her new stepmother), and I'm sure he's never done anything in his life without working out a budget first. Still and all, it's pretty astonishing that he doesn't know he's a character in this story, or that many readers won't be able to read it without thinking of him.

The research in question ("amazing," Brooks calls it, in his magic 150th career use of the adjective in a Times column) is "Doing the Best I Can": Fatherhood in the Inner City, a 2013 book by two Johns Hopkins sociologists, Kathryn Edin and Timothy Nelson, who found through ethnographic-type thick interaction with young absentee fathers in Camden and Philadelphia that there's something wrong with the stereotype of heedless and selfish men spreading their seed around town with no interest in the consequences: a pretty large majority of the men they interviewed were, to the contrary, really excited about fatherhood and anxious to do the right thing.

 Comically, Brooks blames the stereotype on the kids themselves, "when you ask them":

The children’s tales often reinforce the standard image we have of the deadbeat dad — the selfish cad who spreads his seed and leaves generations of wreckage in his wake.
Yet when you ask absent fathers themselves, you get a different picture. You meet guys who desperately did not want to leave their children, who swear they have tried to be with them, who may feel unworthy of fatherhood but who don’t want to be the missing dad their own father was.
Rather than the politically connected social scientists of the 1970s and 1980s. It's bizarre, too, that he doesn't notice the importance of the fact that "when you ask absent fathers themselves" you're still speaking to a boy who may or may not have a complaint about his own father; they're not two different classes of people. Which raises the question of whether there's a cross-generational pattern that's getting worse or better or remaining the same.

Which this research is unlikely to answer. It also underplays the influence of fathers who are absent because they are in prison or dead, since Edin and Nelson couldn't interview any of those. And it goes without saying that the study has no statistical use, it's not that kind of study, so you really can't use it to make the general statement of this is how things are.

I'm inclined to say it's nice that scholars feel like acknowledging men would like to be good fathers, but it doesn't go too far toward changing the subject from "How does society force low-cost men to be good fathers?" to "How does society provide men with a secure and rewarding social status in which they can join in forming families?"

In the end there's too much seriously bad writing here and I can't focus on the meaning of the thing. I can try to show you what I mean with an experiment in reading Brooks's prose, breaking up the paragraphs, such as they are, and taking each little sentence as an island, like a thunderclap of biblical prophecy:

a poem
by David Brooks
Their goals and values point them in the right direction, but they’re stuck in a formless romantic anarchy.
They need help finding the practical bridges to help them get where they want to go.
People are rising up to provide that help. 
In Chicago the poet Harold Green has been championing fatherhood.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a vocal leader in this cause, had Green recite his poem “Something to Live For” at his inaugural in 2015, and this Sunday the two of them will be appearing together to honor role model fathers on the South Side.
It would be great if society could rally around the six or seven key bridges on the path to fatherhood.
For example, find someone you love before you have intercourse. 
Or, make sure you want to spend years with this partner before you get off the pill.
Or, create a couple’s budget to make sure you can afford this.
The stable two-parent family is what we want.
I can't get over this, especially about the uprising of Green and Emanuel (that doubling down on the poem-reading is bound to shock even the most vicious anti-fatherhood forces, should they exist), and the way Brooks knows that there are six or seven bridges but can only name two or three, and the "what we want", which you can think of as a demonstration chant: "What do we want?" "The stable two-parent family!" "When do we want it?" "After cocktails!" But I don't really want to say anything in particular about them, just to marvel. Rally round the bridges, boys!

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