Father's Day has never achieved the status of Mother's Day, and as of the 1982 observance fathers seem to be doing little to enhance their position in American life.
Essays celebrating fathers and their day used to dwell on the Dagwood Bumstead comic strip and TV clich,e of father as a bungler and bumbler. Today the problems with fathers are far more serious than changing a prevalent image.
Fatherhood is still popular in the sense that men are continuing to father children with considerable abandon -- and abandon is the proper word.
Once the child is born, more and more fathers disappear from the scene. The statistics -- all from the U.S. Census Bureau -- are appalling and frightening:
* In 1960 fewer than 1 in 10 children lived with only one parent, almost always the mother. Today 1 in 5 children live with just one parent, still the mother in nearly all instances. More than 40 percent of black children are growing up with only one parent, again the mother in almost every case, compared with 25 percent in 1960.
* In 1979 nearly 10 percent of all children born to white women were born out of wedlock. For black women the figure was an astonishing 55 percent.
As mothers who have been abandoned or divorced by the fathers of their children can bitterly testify, most of these men contribute little or nothing to the rearing of their children, no matter what courts decree or agreements stipulate.
While fewer than 10 percent of all American families were living at poverty levels in 1980, about 40 percent of families with children headed by a single woman were at or below the poverty level.
All the trend lines are disturbing, too. By 1990, for example, the Census Bureau projects that 1 in 4 children will be living with a single parent.
The consequences of this steady breakdown in the American family -- and the casual abandonment of children by their fathers -- are obviously widespread.
Not only are children in one-parent families often growing up in deprived circumstances because of the low-income of their mothers, children from such circumstances are also more often involved in crime than children from two-parent families.
Furthermore, all studies of education I have ever seen show conclusively that a stable and normal home environment -- which generally means the presence of both father and mother -- is the most important prerequisite to good performance in the classroom.
* These family and paternal questions are moral issues which government and laws can do little about. The decline in such moral matters can be traced to many things ranging from a disenchantment with religion to the casual acceptance of every fad and change in living styles.
What bothers me most of all is the abandonment by fathers of their children with so little consideration for the consequences to the children and the society in which we all must live. I don't find much to celebrate this Father's Day.