Blankenhorn’s insightful analysis of the state of American fathers is disarmingly simple: the Unnecessary Father (Ch. 4), the Old Father (Ch. 5), the New Father (Ch. 6), the Deadbeat Dad (Ch. 7), the Visiting Father (Ch. 8), the Sperm Father (Ch. 9), the Stepfather and the Nearby Guy (10), and, our hero, the Good Family Man (Ch. 11). One of the reasons this book is destined to influence social welfare policy as well as social mores is that its structure is so inescapably simple and right. The Unnecessary Father (typical notion that dads are not necessary), the Old Father (the macho, mean, domineering father), and the New Father (the sensitive, liberated, androgyny dad) are the most common garden variety dads we will meet in our society today. The other five roles are minor but insightful. The Deadbeat Dad is the bad guy, the guy who does not pay child support. The Visiting Father is a victim, a pathetic example of what fathering has become, proof positive that fathers are not important after all. I really like Blankenhorn’s Sperm Father. The Sperm Father is a minimalist. “His fatherhood consists entirely of the biological act of ejaculation.” (p. 171). The Stepfather and the Nearby Guy are surrogate dads, magnanimously assuming the role of father of father for Deadbeat dads/jerks who have abandoning their kids. Again, though, the Nearby Guy/Stepfather is a rather innocuous version of what fathers should be. Blankenhorn uses the example of the Disney movie The Incredible Journey (1993) where a poor example of a father slowly earns the right to be a dad by sheepishly giving into his stepchildren’s wants.
But, by far, the strength of Blankenhorn’s book is Part III entitled “Fatherhood.” We meet finally The Good Family Man: the quintessential hope of all America. I mean it: this is the answer. This paradigm of Judeo-Christian virtue, the Promise Keeper par excellent, the “father without portfolio.” (p.201).
It would never occur to him–or to his children or to his wife–to make distinctions between “biological” and “social” fathering. For him, these two identities are tightly fused. Nor would it ever occur to him to suspect that the “male income” is more important for children than the “male image.” For him the two fit together. Consequently, he seldom ponders issues such as child support, visitation, paternity identification, fathers’ rights, better divorce, joint custody, dating, or blended families. His priorities lie elsewhere . . . (p. 201)
Blankenhorn’s image is powerful and so very true. We all thank him for pointing out to us fathers what we may have forgotten: that there is nothing wrong with putting our family first, with being a good and steady provider, and setting a good example by high moral character (p. 205). Yes, we all have much for which to thank David G. Blankenhorn.
The pastoral application of this book seems obvious. Finally the pastor has a well respected scholarly book on fathering, devoid of antiquated archetypes, for which he/she can point as a resource clearly offering an efficacious model of fathering for his parishioners. The cultural impact is equally obvious: Chapter 12’s twelve proposals of social imperatives will no doubt keep us all thinking for many years to come. Bravo! This book is destined to becoming one of the most important cultural offerings in this decade.
Dr. Blankenhorn is a senior fellow at a think tank in Washington, D.C.