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An analysis of the article by Laura Silverstein and Carl Auerbach

published in the July 1999 edition of the American Psychologist

"Deconstructing the Essential Father"

by Dale O'Leary

A number of years ago while clicking through the local news programs I happened across a special on single mothers by choice. The bright eyed female reporter, following up on a national story, was interviewing local women who had decided they did not have to wait for Mr. Right to have baby, they could choose single motherhood. The segment was short, but one section was unforgettable. The reporter asked a boy of 5 who was the product of artificial insemination — father anonymous — how it made him feel. The camera focused on the boy's small, sad face — the saddest face I have ever seen. In a tiny voice he replied that it was hard not to have a father. The ever-cheery reporter offered no comfort. Smiling she turned to the mother and asked if she was concerned about possibility of future problems. The mother replied that she was sure she would be able to cope, but the camera lingered on the child. The reporter may have been taken in, but the cameraman had a keener eye.

The pain of loss in that boy's eyes has haunted me ever since. When I read the article by Silverstein and Auerbach "Deconstructing the Essential Father," in the July edition of the American Psychologist," I remembered those sad eyes.

In the article Silverstein and Auerbach applaud "multiple and diverse family structures, with their interchangeable parenting roles and a more egalitarian distribution of power" because these new family structures challenge "the dominant cultural ideology." Silverstein and Auerbach support unwed motherhood and homosexual parenting as equal to the old fashioned heterosexual married couple. They decry "the emphasis on the essential importance of fathers and heterosexual marriage" because they see it as "an attempt to reassert the cultural hegemony of traditional values such as: heterocentrism; Judeo-Christian marriage; and male power and privilege. "

Where they see diversity, I see tragedy.


The title of the article is play on the word "essential." Neoconservatives believe that fathers are extremely important, but they do not believe that if a child doesn't not have his biological father in the home, the child will curl up and die. Fathers are not in that extreme sense of the word "essential." No one should be surprised that there is research which shows that some fatherless children survive and are successful. Human beings have the capacity to survive the most terrible tragedies.

Silverstein and Auerbach use the word "essentialist" to describe neoconservatives. In this context, the word has nothing to do with the question of whether or not father are "essential," but describes the philosophical belief that people have "essences."

Most neoconservatives are, by Silverstein and Auerbach's definition, essentialists, in that they believe that things have essences. Saying a thing has an essence doesn't mean it is easy to describe exactly what that essence is. The best explanation I can give is that, when God looked at his creation and saw it was good, what he saw — that original goodness - was the essence of things. Since then the original goodness has been corrupted, but it is still there to be discovered.

The opposite of an essentialist is an existentialist. For existentialists, the world simply exists. It has no meaning or purpose except the meaning people give to it — no goodness except that which people read into it. For existentialists, there is no truth. Words are constructed — made up — to give one group power over another. Today people who hold this view call themselves social constructionists or deconstructionists, depending on whether they are focusing on how ideas are constructed or on how to destroy the ideas they view as oppressive.

Constructionists hold that the idea that children need a father and a mother has been made up by heterosexual men to give themselves power. If the idea of the "essential father" can be "deconstructed," — that is shown to be a social construction — then the power of heterosexual men will be destroyed and homosexual women will have the power to create new definitions. These new definitions will not be permanent or true, because according to this theory there is no truth about the human person to be found. The definitions are a means to gain power. As soon as the power shifts, new oppressed groups will emerge and challenge the definitions and new definitions will be created.


"Deconstructing fatherhood" is and essential part of the political struggle to overturn the current paradigm. Homosexual activists are pushing for the right to marry and the only argument the courts seem willing to consider against their claim is the argument that such marriages would negatively effect children. For example, in the Vermont marriage case, the lower court ruled that the only legitimate state interest in restricting marriage to one male and one female is that it "furthers the link between procreation and child-rearing;"

There can be no doubt that the legalization of homosexual marriage would create a climate in which would encourage homosexual individuals and couples to acquire children. Most of the research on children of homosexuals has up till now focused on children conceived in previous heterosexual relationships, but as more homosexuals "come out" at an earlier age, fewer are marrying, and fewer are having children in heterosexual relationships. Instead, homosexuals are acquiring children through artificial insemination, surrogacy arrangements, adoption and foster care.

When a baby is born, everyone knows who the mother is. Legal marriage allows the state to assign fatherhood responsibilities to husband of the women. While persons of the same sex may acquire children through various means, they cannot conceive a child that is biologically the product of their love. The children acquired by same-sex couples have at least one other biological parent with whom they are not living full time. Procreation is separated from childrearing. There is substantial evidence that children feel a tie to their biological parents. The desire of many adopted children seek out their birth parents has presented a major challenge to a social policy constructed on the premise that these children would have no interest or right to receive this information. Children conceived by anonymous sperm donation have also expressed interest in contacting their biological fathers. The following are excerpts from a column written by a young woman conceived by artificial insemination:

"I only recently found out my father was not really my father. My parents divorced when I was 7, and I have had very little contact with him since them. Two years ago, at 16, when I expressed an interest in seeing him again, my mother decided to tell me that my dad wasn't my father and that my father's half of me came from a test tube.

"Advocates of donor babies argue that biology is not an issue in parenting, the love and care a child receives is all that matters. ... I don't see how anyone can consciously rob someone of something as basic and essential as heritage. Parents must realize that all the love and attention in the world can't mask that underlying almost subconscious feeling that something is askew.

"That the child deserves the right to know a biological father is not a consideration. One couple that Elizabeth Noble, author of "Having Your Baby by Donor Insemination," interviewed said that telling the child "would serve absolutely no useful purpose whatsoever." That assumes the child would have no thoughts on the matter of paternity because the parents don't. It seems no one thought I might want to know of the other half of my genetic makeup. But children are not commodities or possessions. They are people with an equal stake in the process. (Brown 1994)

The following excerpts from an article on the subject suggests that this young woman's reaction is not uncommon:

"According to the American Fertility Society (AFS), nearly 30,000 children are born each year the products of donated sperm, and a few hundred of donated eggs. Most of these babies will never know their donor parent, even if they are told that they are the products of donor insemination.

"With early generations of donor offspring now well into adulthood, however, their experience has led more and more people to question the practice of anonymity.

"Instead of being thankful that a third party helped the couple to have a child, the infertile parent may grow to resent the process, the donor, the spouse, and sometimes even the child.

"...clinical social worker Annette Baran, co-author of Lethal Secrets, a study of the emotional effects of donor insemination... 'The tension,' says Baran, can strain couples to the breaking point. 'With one couple,' she recalls, 'problems began while the child was still in the womb.' The infertile husband couldn't stop thinking of the baby as another man's. So his wife had an abortion.

"Stephen Feldschul, operations manager at Idant Laboratories, a sperm bank in New York. "Open donation," he says, "opens up a whole psychological can of worms and can hurt bonding between the child and the non-genetic parent." Idant suggests that parent not tell the child she is a donor baby.

"Candace Turner... is the 43-year-old founder of Donors' Offspring, Inc., a network based in Sarcoxie, Missouri, that attempts to link donors and their children, as well as provide support and information to anyone involved in the donor process. Turner heard of her high-tech beginnings during an argument between her mother and stepfather. "I was relieved to know that the strain in the relationship between my father and me was not my fault," (Roman 1993)

If the right of persons of the same-sex to marry is granted, then theoretically the child conceived artificially by a woman in a same-sex relationship would be considered by the state as the biological offspring of another woman. There would be no need for adoption. This fiction totally ignores the child's rights and interests and cannot be considered in the best interests of the child.

Same-sex marriage effects the child's right to have a parent of both sexes. The children would not be tragically fatherless or motherless, but purposely fatherless or motherless. This difference should not be overlooked. It is one thing for the society to try to determine the best interests of a child who is already in existence and already suffered the loss of a parent by the death or the dissolution of the relationship between the biological parents, it is another thing to encourage the creation of purposely, and permanently fatherless or motherless children.

Lesbians having babies by artificial insemination don't want to feel guilty for depriving their children of fathers. So they must deconstruct the idea that fathers are important. To do this they find studies which shows that some children are able to survive the tragedy of divorce to "prove" that it is okay to create the tragedy of purposefully fatherless children. This ignores the difference between heroically coping with a tragedy and purposefully creating tragedies.

Years from now when the negative effects of this human experiment can no longer be ignored, the lesbians will claim that it was not fatherlessness which caused the problems, but society's homophobic refusal to embrace diversity in family structure.


Barbara Eisold (1998) in an article entitled "Recreating Mother: The Consolidation of 'Heterosexual' Gender Identification in the young son of Homosexual Men" reports on the reactions of a 4-year-old boy created by artificial insemination and surrogate motherhood for two homosexual men. "Daddy" and his partner Don, who is 20 years younger, decided to have a child. Daddy arranged an artificial insemination "with a woman in another land. In exchange for relinquishing all parent rights, she received excellent health care and financial recompense." The child - Nick - was cared for by a hired nanny. He began attending school when he was only 2. When he was 2 1/2 the Nanny was abruptly fired and replaced. The replacement was also fired and a third nanny hired. The men also adopted a second child.

At age 4 1/2 Nick began acting out and was sent to a female child psychologist. The fifth woman hired by his fathers. Nick lived in a world where "mommies" were hired and fired, so he fantasized about buying a new mother. The therapist described his desperately struggle to understand family relationships. "Nick was often beside himself with anxiety. He wanted desperately to be liked by other children and by [his teacher]. He had trouble waiting and was not certain about what would make him likable."

Eisold asks: "How do we explain why this child, the son of a male couple, seemed to need to construct a woman — "Mother" — with whom he could play the role of a loving boy/man? How did such an idea enter his mind? What inspired his intensity on the subject. And how, finally, did his construction affect the work he did to consolidate his sense of what it means to be a man."

Eisold's article is critiqued in the same journal by Karen Saakvitne. For Saakvitne, Eisold is applying cultural biases about gender, sexual orientation, attachment, and separation to this situation. Saakvitne sees the child's need for a mother and need to make sense of the world he has been forced to live in as something imposed by the cultural biases and faults Eisold for accepting those biases. Reading through the case and the critique, one sees precisely how the new parenting arrangements put children at risk and how little the supporters of such arrangements care about the suffering of the children.


Substantial evidence now exists that children benefit from exposure to persons of both sexes in the home. Such exposure helps the child to fully develop his or her own sexual identity and to relate to persons of both sexes in the real world. New research on the way in which the brain functions makes clear that this need for exposure to persons of both sexes on an intimate basis is not a mere social preference, but a response to the biological imperative. For example, there is a growing body of research which points to the importance of having father contact and sex difference in the first 3 years of life. Henry Biller has studied parent child interaction and compared his findings with other work in the field. The following a few quotes from his book on the subject:

Differences between the mother and father can be very stimulating to the infant, even those that might appear quite superficial to the adult. Even if the father and mother behave in generally similar ways, they provide contrasting images for the infant. The father is usually larger than the mother, his voice is deeper, his clothes are not the same and he moves and reacts differently. Furthermore, parents differ in odor and skin texture. The father and mother offer the child two different kinds of persons to learn about as well as providing separate by special sources of love and support. The infant also learns that different people can be expected to fulfill different needs. For example, the infant may prefer the mother when hungry or tired and the father when seeking stimulation of more active play.

The infant who receives verbal as well as physical stimulation from both mother and father profits from the experience... Mothers and fathers, in addition to having distinctive sounding voices, have different verbal styles when communicating to infants and children as well as to other adults. Such differences provide the infant with an important source of stimulation and learning.

Because some of my initial findings suggested that father absence during the first few years of life might inhibit certain aspects of the child's development, I began to observe more closely parent-infant relationships in various types of two-parent families. I discovered that when they are involved with infants, father tend to be more physically active with them than mothers are, playing more vigorously. This seems to be not only because fathers may be less concerned with their children's fragility, especially if they have sons, but also because they themselves have more of a need for physically stimulating activities. It was also apparent that infants with involved fathers formed strong paternal attachments and were usually at a developmental advantage compared to those who had close relationships only with their mothers...

Involved fathers are more likely to stimulate the infant to explore and investigate new objects whereas mothers tend to engage their infants in relatively prestructured and predictable activities.

Infants who develop positive relationships with both their parents are likely to feel secure in exploring their environment in a relaxed manner and to enjoy being picked up by others...

In the second year of life, the boys began to demonstrate more interest in interaction with their fathers, although the girls did not display any consistent preferences. In fact, by the end of the second year, all except one of the boys seemed to have a stronger paternal than maternal attachment...

Infants who have two positively involved parents tend to be more curious and eager to explore than those who do not have a close relationship with their fathers... Well-fathered infants are more secure and trusting in branching out in their explorations, and they may be somewhat more advanced in crawling, climbing and manipulating objects.

Psychologist Frank Pedersen and his colleagues found that several measures of infant competence were correlated with the degree to which five- and six-month-old babies were involved with their fathers. (Biller 1993)

Advocates of homosexual marriage have admitted that it may better for a child to have two parents than one, but argue that the sex of the two parents is irrelevant. Biller discusses a study which appears to refute that claim:

Developmental psychology researcher Norma Radin and her colleagues have collected especially provocative evidence concerning the special significance of paternal involvement for infants and toddlers. They studied grandparent/ grandchild relationships in predominantly working-class households in which adolescent unwed mothers were living with one or both or their parents. Overall, young children who had positively involved grandfathers displayed more competent behavior than those with relatively uninvolved grandfathers or absent grandfathers. Although other researchers have sometimes noted the contribution of the grandmother to the development of the child living in a single-mother family, Radin reported no clear-cut impact, suggesting a redundancy between the two forms of maternal influence. On the other hand, the grandfather's nurturance seemed to contribute in several ways to the young child's adaptability. His observed nurturance was associated with infants being more responsive to maternal requests and with the cognitive competence of two year olds. Furthermore, relatively high grandfather involvement in child care was related to observations of less fear, anger and distress being displayed by one-year-olds, especially boys. (Biller 1993)

Fathers are extremely important. Removed from their fathers children suffer. Some of that suffering may be observed by researchers conducting carefully constructed studies, but the bulk of the suffering is an interior sense of loss. Children need to know that they are loved by both their parents. The fact that another adult cares for them and that they love their caretaker does not eradicate this primal need.

The difference between the neoconservative position and the social constructionist position articulated by Silverstein and Auerbach in "Deconstructing the Essential Father" is far more profound. Silverstein and Auerbach recognize the profound difference between their social construction views and the neoconservative or "essentialist" position, in particularly, they acknowledge that essentialists believe that fathers and mothers are not interchangeable parts:

"The essentialist perspective defines mothering and fathering as distinct social roles that are not interchangeable. Marriage is seen as the social institution within which responsible fathering and positive child adjustment are most likely to occur. Fathers are understood as having a unique and essential role to play in child development, especially for boys who need a male role model in order to establish a masculine gender identity."

Social constructionists, such as Silverstein and Auerbach, hold that the observable differences between men and women are mere social constructs which are the result of oppression by a "patriarchal" society. For the social constructionists this is not merely a philosophical difference, it is a political platform. The observable differences are, according to them, created by oppression and, therefore, can and should be eliminated. The social constructionists strenuously object the neoconservative conviction that heterosexuality, heterosexual marriage, and the biological family are the natural. The very word "natural" send most of them into a fit. For social constructionist "heterosexism" is the equivalent of racism or anti-sexism. The social constructionists' goal is to destroy the current "heterosexist" culture, as the following quote from Silverstein and Auerbach demonstrates:

"From our perspective, the emphasis on the essential importance of fathers and heterosexual marriage represents a change-back reaction. It is an attempt to reassert the cultural hegemony of traditional values such as: heterocentrism; Judeo-Christian marriage; and male power and privilege."

The social constructionists are not concerned about the effects of separation from the father on the child. Since children, according to this view, have no essence — no nature — they can be manipulated in any way their parents choose.

The "multiple and diverse family structures," which Silverstein and Auerbach praise for challenging the dominant culture, are broken families and children separated from the biological parents. In many ways for children these losses are more painful than the death of a parent, because they are the result of a voluntary choice by one parent to ignore the needs of the child.

Silverstein and Auerbach not only don't care about the pain suffered by children already experiencing "diversity," they want to create a situation where such "diversity" increases:

"Our goal, in contrast, is to create an ideology that defines the father-child bond as independent of the father-mother relationship."

They offer three recommendations achieving that objective:

"...reconstructing traditional masculinity ideology; restructuring societal institutions; and providing a comprehensive program of governmental subsidies to all families with children. "

Social constructionist research is not concerned with discovering the truth about human beings, because they don't believe that human beings have a human nature about which truths can be discovered. Those things which make men "masculine" are, for them, mere ideology which can be reconstructed. For example, Silverstein and Auerbach write:

"If the father-child bond were accorded the same importance as the mother-child bond, then young boys would be socialized to assume equal responsibility for the care and nurturing of their children."

This assumes that the differences in play patterns and life expectations between boys and girls are mere social creations which can be altered by changing "socialization." One must assume that Silverstein and Auerbach have never had day-to-day hands on contact with little boys, for if they had they would certainly know that boys will be boys no matter how hard their mothers try to suppress boyness.


But what about all the references? Haven't Silverstein and Auerbach proved that fathers aren't essential.

Those reading articles such as this need to understand that social constructionist research is designed provide evidence for the political battle against the oppression of "hegemonic" ideas such as "motherhood" and "marriage." Silverstein and Auerbach admit as much:

"We acknowledge that our reading of the scientific literature supports our political agenda. Our goal is to generate public policy initiatives that support men in their fathering role, without discriminating against women and same-sex couples. We are also interested in encouraging public policy that supports the legitimacy of diverse family structures, rather than policy that privileges the two-parent, heterosexual, married family. We also realize that some of the research we cite to support our perspective will turn out to be incorrect. Haraway pointed out that, as research paradigms evolve to reflect diverse gender, ethnic, class, and cultural perspectives, much of the established body of "scientific fact" has turned out to be science fiction. Fishhoff identified two options for psychologists in the public arena: helping the public define their best interests, or manipulating the public to serve the interests of policy makers. Thus, despite the fact that new data will inevitably prove some aspects of our argument wrong, we hope that by stimulating scholarly debate, we will contribute to the process by which the public more accurately defines its best interests."(Silverstein 1999)

Social constructionist research proceeds in the following manner: Studies are constructed to provide ammunition for the political struggle; evidence is selectively reported; conclusions are drawn which are not supported by the evidence; the published articles are quoted by others and a body of "uncontroverted" evidence is accumulated. "Uncontroverted" meaning none of the small coterie of advocates for social change criticize their co-conspirators. Absolutely false "facts" are quoted over and over again until they become "widely recognized."

Given the number of journals willing to publish advocacy research and the number of institutions willing to hire and promote advocacy researchers, the sheer volume of advocacy research is increasing exponentially. Everything published by social constructionists must therefore be read in light of their stated political objectives. Great care must be taken to trace every reference back to the original source to make sure that the reference accurate reports what the original study found and that the original study provides credible and valid evidence to justify its conclusions.

For the last 10 years I have been chasing the references in the writings of social constructionists. Much of what passes for scholarship in these circles can be compared with urban myths. Social constructionist "researchers" usually begin their articles with comprehensive "reviews" of the literature in which collect false and misleading quotes from other articles, overstate and misstate conclusions, and pass on invented and discredited statistics as facts. Quotes are passed on from article to article and it is painfully clear that the re-quoters have not gone back to the original sources. Solid studies which disagree with the social constructions political objectives are dismissed with a reference to some other study, which when tracked down offers nothing more than an opinion about some small detail in the original comprehensive work.

I do not have the time to track down every quote in "Deconstructing the Essential Father" but if I did I am sure I would find the same phenomenon. I have, however, read Biller and Blankenhorn, and Patterson.

Blankenhorn's book is a well documented social commentary on the consequences of ignoring the importance of fathers. Biller has written several books on fatherhood and collected extensive research on the subject. Both are concerned about the obvious negative effects of fatherlessness on children. Patterson, on the other hand, has openly advocated that researchers produce material advocates of homosexual parenting to use in arguing before courts and legislators. Her work is a perfect example of what I have been talking about. She collects a number a studies in which small groups of lesbian mothers were solicited through friendship circles to participate in research to show that homosexual mothers were equal to heterosexual. These women and their children were then interviewed or given questionnaires, their answers were compared with control groups composed of single mothers. Belcastro et al reviewed 14 of these studies and found that for the most part the studies lacked internal and external credibility. In several cases the authors ignored their own data. But this does not deter Patterson and others in the field. The studies are collected and used in legal briefs as proof that children raised by homosexual parents are just as psychological and emotionally healthy as though raised by married heterosexual couples, even though the majority of studies compared them to children raised by single mothers. And so when I find Patterson quoted approvingly by Silverstein and Auerbach, I question all the other references.

The debate over references and studies should not mask the terrible evil being plotted by Silverstein and Auerbach. This is not just an academic question. Somewhere there are real children who will be fatherless or motherless; there will be government programs which will encourage the abuse of children. Courts and legislators who will be presented with false and misleading testimony. Belcastro concluded his review of the literature on homosexual parenting. with the following.

"The conclusion that there are no significant differences in children reared by lesbian mothers versus heterosexual mothers is not supported by the published research data base."

"Finally, based upon the researchers' interpretation of the data and at least in one case censorship of the data, more were biased toward proving homosexual parents were fit parents. A disturbing revelation was that some of the published works had to disregard their own results in order to conclude that homosexuals were fit parents. We believe that the system of manuscript review by peers, for minimum scientific standards of research was compromised in several of these studies."(Belcastro 1993)


Several years ago I met a 16-year-old boy named Charley, who had around age 2 lost his foot in an encounter with a lawn mower. Charley was a great kid, happy, joking, and fully adjusted to his prosthesis. He had a great relationship with his Dad, who was an electrician. Charley was already working as an apprentice in the family business. Around the same time I also met another boy whom I will call Carl, who had lost his father through divorce around age 2. Carl had a loving mother, involved grandparents, concerned teachers, and counselors, but Carl was a time-bomb ready to explode at any minute. His rage effected his school work and social relationships.

Comparing the effects of the loss of a foot with those of the loss of a father, in this case one would have to conclude that the loss of the father was far more disabling. Does Charley's success mean that two feet are not "essential"? Should Charley's ability to cope with a traumatic loss mean that we should ignore design flaws in lawn mowers or that one foot is equal to two? Of course not.

Human beings are capable of dealing with terrible tragedies and traumas, but society should be constructed in a way that minimizes tragedy and not in a way that produces tragedies. Deconstructing fatherhood is a prescription for disaster.


Belcastro, P., Gramlish, T., Nicholson, T., Price, J., Wilson, R. (1993) A review of data based studies addressing the affects of homosexual parenting on children's sexual and social functioning. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage. 20(1/2) p.105-122.

Biller, H. (1993) Fathers and Families: Paternal Factors in Child Development. Westport CT: Auburn House.

Biller, H. B. & Kimpton, J. L. (1997). The father and the school-aged child. In M. E. Lamb (Ed.) The role of the father in child development. Third Edition (pp. 143-161). New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Blankenhorn, D. (1995). Fatherless America: Confronting our most urgent social problem. New York: Basic Books.

Brown, M. (1994) Whose eyes are these, whose nose? Newsweek. March 7: 12

Eisold, B. (1998) Recreating mother: The consolidation of 'heterosexual' gender identification in the young son of homosexual men. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry. 68, 3: 433 - 442.

Patterson, C. J. (1995). Lesbian mothers, gay fathers, and their children. (in D’Augelli, A., Patterson, C. (ed.) Lesbian, gay, and bisexual identities over the lifespan. New York: Oxford University Press) 262-290.

Patterson, C. J., & Chan, R. W. (1997). Gay fathers. In M. E. Lamb (Ed.) The role of the father in child development. Third Edition (pp. 245-260). New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Roman (1993)

Roman, M. (1993) Breaking the genetic silence. Lears. Jan.: 37- 38.

Saskvitne, K. (1998) Recreating mother: A commentary on the case analysis. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry. 68, 3: 443 - 446.

Silverstein, L., Auerbach, C. (1999) Deconstruction the essential father. Journal of the American Psychological Association. July.

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