Friday, February 03, 2006

$1 Million for Better Dads

Congress finally approved the budget, including $100 million for healthy marriages and $50 million for fatherhood initiatives, per year, for five years. $50 million for fatherhood initiatives next year, divided among 50 states, is likely to mean that Kentucky could have $1 million to do something to promote better fatherhood.

I have been involved in the discussions of the Commonwealth Marriage Initiative for the past few years. I know there is not a well-developed plan on the table for how to spend the money. There are some local agencies, but nothing statewide. There are family promotion initiatives, but few even attempting to produce better fatherhood. Moreover, it is very difficult to target government money to do anything that will deliver better fathers.

We are at a blue-sky moment. So what should we do?

As I have argued before, the only institution that can really improve families are families themselves. Yet it would not really do the job to give every Kentucky family its piece of the $1 million. We need to pick some families to have the greatest impact with this money.

My nominee: Marry Your Baby Daddy Day. There are couples in the commonwealth who have children together and who plan to marry "some day." The best thing that we could do for the children of those couples is make some day, now. Sure, there are some who are ambivalent about marriage for more than just monetary reasons. Yes, everyone should have pre-marital counseling. But the crucial facts, I think, are that they say they want to marry, and they already have kids.

So, I propose that ministerial associations and the justices of the peace get together and arrange a whole bunch of weddings so moms and dads can become wives and husbands. The average wedding costs about $20,000. If we used the money to leverage donations, we could get 100, maybe 200 weddings out of that. That is, at a guess, 500 kids who could have a permanent father at home by, say, Father's Day. If everyone is more modest in what they need, double all those numbers.

That is my idea of a worthwhile fatherhood initiative.

8 comments:

Gruntled in Lexington said...

While I appreciate the sentiment, Gruntled #1, it's not enough just to promote "marriage."

Children aren't going to do better if all we accomplish is a high-conflict household where the parents are bound to divorce eventually anyway. In most ways, high-conflict households are worse for kids, as I'm sure someone in your field knows.

Somehow it's got to go farther than that. It's got to do something that increases the incidence of HEALTHY marriages.

Anonymous said...

I would think that the cost of the wedding itself is the least important factor in the decision to get married. It is an interesting situation, though. It would be nice to come up with something which would have an impact beyond this one year and this one group of people.

It seems to me that the best way for someone to learn to be a good father is for them to have one. So what can we do to help kids who are about to grow up without a good father get one?

Adoption springs to mind. Maybe the sociologist can say for sure, but it seems to me that the foster care system is a pretty poor substitute for a real family. Maybe a program of advertising, education, and support would help get some of those kids into loving families with good fathers. As you recently discussed, there are plenty of Americans willing to adopt children from foreign countries. But we still seem to have a shortage of families willing to adopt American children.

I think a big part of the reason is that adoptive parents prefer a "fresh slate," with an infant from so far away that her biological family could never come calling. Adopting an eight year old boy with years of ugly history behind him and relatives in the local prisons and slums is a very different matter.

Still, if we could get some of those kids out of state care and into a real family, it would be a blessing.

ancho and lefty said...

Well-said Gruntled in Lexington. I could not agree more. Ancho has made a similar comment to me about Gruntled #1's idea that simply getting married is going to solve the problem.

On an unrelated note, because I don't know how to solve the problem of the marriages that should not become marriages, I think we should teach families how to cook again so that we could strengthen families (with healthy food), reduce obesity, and create a market for locally-produced agricultural and value-added products.

I am tired of seeing fat people stuffing doritos, t.v. dinners, and 2 liter cokes into their shopping carts (when they have the wear with all to actually go to the grocery instead of to their local fastfood chain).

No wonder marriage has disintegrated- parents are too out of shape and ill-fed to maintain a sex life, much less a household. If we could teach people about the good things that are supposed to go on in households like meal preparation, child and spouse nuturing, education, pet care, sleeping, etc. perhaps we might get on a better track.

I bet one of the number one causes of marital conflict is money. Because cooking and eating at home is cheaper, as is taking your lunch instead of buying junk, one way to save money is to learn to buy whole foods that are generally cheaper and better for you. For example, a bag of black beans is very inexpensive, but most people simply don't know how to prepare dried beans.

Teaching people how to have better households and families means empowering people with information on how to better manage both economic and emotional components of their households. I think our country is doing a pretty good job of failing in both categories.

Food represents a union of the material/economic conditions of a household and the emotional/nurturing conditions of a household. You want better families? Feed them with actual food.

Can you tell I went to the grocery today?

BY THE WAY- We will not be spending any 20 grand on our wedding. Perhaps that ridiculous pricetag of the average wedding is indicative of some of the reasons why marriages fail in the first place. You could open an IRA with half of that and get your retirement started. Why waste so much cash on one day when you are supposed to have several thousand more days together?

I think all this ranting means that it is time for me to go back to my dissertation now.

RightDemocrat said...

I agree with you that more needs to be done to promote marriage as the traditional family is the basic building block of society. No fault divorce should be abolished especially in situations where it involves a minor child born of the marriage.

Even in situations where the father does not live in the home, there should be an effort to involve fathers in the lives of children. I support having an effective system of enforcing child support, however, I think there should also be an active program of visitation enforcement. Mother who deny fathers the right to have visitation with their children should be prosecuted like deadbeat dads.

We also need economic policies that are family friendly. The free market extremism that we have subjected to for the past 25 years has weakened families by promoting social instability. Workers paid a living wage can better sustain family life.

SPorcupine said...

When did Gruntled say he ONLY wanted to promote marriage?

He didn't say "it's enough."

He didn't say "simply getting married is going to solve the problem."

He didn't say that in this post.

He hasn't said anything like that elsewhere in his blog.

He hasn't published anything that dumb anywhere else, and I think it very unlikely that he has said anything so absurd anywhere, ever.

SPorcupine said...

"If we could teach people about the good things that are supposed to go on in households like meal preparation, child and spouse nuturing, education, pet care, sleeping, etc. perhaps we might get on a better track."

Grand summary of the good things!

Marriage seems to be widely understood as consumption: how good is it, what do I get of it, is it better than a long cruise or a new car?

I vote for the grand understanding that marriage is also production: it's an important way to get valuable things done well. Seeing it that way makes it more of an accomplishment, more worth choosing, more worth getting on with.

Ancho and Lefty's list also suggests many superior uses for most of that $20 grand, including the pots to cook in, the beds to sleep in, the roof over those wonderful children's heads, and (my-oh-my) the costs of thir educations.

Gruntled said...

Social policy starts with triage. We make a rough sort of the population, and put our first efforts into the group that can be helped most. Marriage won't work for everyone, and it will not automatically make good fathers out of deadbeats. In fact, marriage will not automatically have any effect except to make peole married. My idea is to start with the group of men most ready to be husbands and fathers, who just need a little push.

Lefty, for bourgeois people like thee and me, the cost of the wedding would not be the obstacle to getting married, and I myself can't imagine spending 20 grand on a wedding. For the poor cohabiting parents, though, a wedding is something they dream about, and the cost is really an obstacle. They are not thinking about the wedding the way you and I would, but then again, there are all kinds of people in this great land of ours.

And anonymous, you weren't really suggesting taking kids away from their poor, unmarried parents, were you?

Sporcupine, talking about marriage as about production, not just consumption, is a wonderful idea.

LMR said...

Marriage isn't perfect and it isn't the answer to all society's ills, but I firmly believe that there is something to promising before friends and family, or God, or a judge that you are committed to being with this person. And I believe that making that commitment makes it harder to leave - and not only because divorce is expensive. When you have a child with someone, they are already in your life forever. Why not encourage a more permanent representation of that situation?

I agree with Gruntled that there are people who want to get married but are overwhelmed by the idea of a wedding - especially since big expensive weddings are a part of our popular culture. Why not allow part of these funds to be spent to start marriages off in a positive way?