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
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
"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
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
which caused the problems, but society's homophobic refusal to embrace diversity in family
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
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.
DEVELOPMENTAL NEEDS OF THE CHILD
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
"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.