Children, and especially boys, need fathers.
That’s it. That’s the whole review.
Of course it isn’t really. But the madness of our age is that such a claim, which would have been blindingly self-evident in decades past, now requires a 370-page book to support it.
Given that we need such a book, though, I’m grateful we have Dr. Warren Farrell to write it.
First, some background on Dr. Farrell. He rose to prominence as a second-wave feminist, and the only man elected three times to the Board of the National Organization for Women (NOW) in the 1970’s. Supported by NOW, he wrote op-eds for the New York Times, appeared on popular daytime talk shows, and spoke around the U.S. and the world.
Seeing a capable ally, NOW asked Dr. Farrell to start “men’s consciousness-raising groups” to explore gender relations from a feminist perspective.
While leading hundreds of groups, Dr. Farrell witnessed something unexpected. He saw the familiar anger of women towards men, but also the suppressed feelings of pain and powerlessness that men experienced at being denied access to their children by the nascent family court system.
NOW’s response shocked him. He said in 1997, “Everything went well until the mid-seventies when NOW came out against the presumption of joint custody. I couldn’t believe the people I thought were pioneers in equality were saying that women should have the first option to have children or not to have children — that children should not have equal rights to their dad.”
This led Dr. Farrell to write his first book integrating men’s concerns into the broader dialogue about contemporary gender relations. “Why Men Are the Way They Are” (1986) became a bestseller, in part due to support from Oprah Winfrey.
He followed this success with more books that exposed society’s invisible bias against men, including the classic “The Myth of Male Power” (1993), which disassembles the feminist notion of men’s inherent privilege, and “Why Men Earn More” (2005), which tackles the “pay gap.”
In his work, Dr. Farrell courageously portrays men as we are: beings with struggles separate from those of women. He doesn’t deny women their experience; rather, he uplifts men in a society that professes—at least on the surface—to value equality.
As we all know, however, the tides of feminism were too strong to be turned by one man, no matter how brilliant. And the failure to heal the growing male-female divide has led to a full-blown crisis transmitting across generations, passing from father to son, and bringing us to today.
Dr. Farrell opens his 2018 book “The Boy Crisis” with a pair of sobering statistics: women are 25% more likely to prefer a firstborn daughter to a son, which might not be surprising.
But fathers are *twice as likely* to have the same preference.
It’s not difficult to understand why. Across every significant societal metric — from suicide and incarceration, to life expectancy, college dropout rates, and mass shootings — boys and men are in crisis.
As one example, Dr. Farrell notes that during The Great Depression 154 men committed suicide for every 100 women, a rate of 1.5x. In comparatively-prosperous 2015, however, boys and men were committing suicide at a rate 3.5 times that of women.
Further, Dr. Farrell writes: “Amid an atmosphere of Bill Cosbys, Harvey Weinsteins, and other fallen icons, each newly revealed sexual harasser, rapist, and serial killer leaves a sensitive boy feeling ashamed that he is male.”
This society-wide shaming divides sensitive and intelligent boys from their potential, out of fear that as men they too will—to borrow from Dr. Jordan Peterson—confuse competency with tyranny.
Violent men on one side, and weak men on the other. Does this sound familiar yet?
How did we get here? Dr. Farrell identifies the culprit as the shift in values that began in the 1960’s, as men transitioned from “role males to soul mates.” (His ability to turn a phrase is his enduring gift as a writer.) Men and women once assumed societally-defined roles, neither expecting to be “happy” in them, but doing what was necessary to propagate the species.
Then in the 1960’s, as women swallowed “the pill,” entered the workforce, and no longer needed men in a provider role, marriage shifted to a potential source of fulfillment instead. Women began seeking “soul mates” in their men. And with her independent income and the loosening societal attitudes on divorce, if a man wasn’t fulfilling a woman on that level she could leave and try another one.*
But what about children of single-mother or step-parent homes? The data is finally, irrefutably in: the results have been devastating, especially for boys.
In the book Dr. Farrell documents fifty-five areas encompassing more than seventy benefits of dad involvement and risks due to dad deprivation. Whether poverty, suicide, drugs, unemployment, IQ, school performance, or dozens of others, each of these impacts boys more than girls, revealing the full picture of “the boy crisis.”
Children aren’t the only beneficiaries of fathers, though. Men also benefit from fatherhood through the development of what he calls “Dad Brain.” Dr. Farrell notes that a father’s brain changes when he, “experience[s] a decrease in the testosterone previously used in the hunt for sex and recovery after rejection, and an increase in oxytocin emanating from the joys of loving and being loved by an infant who needs him.” This enriching transition will surely be familiar to every father reading.
In his analysis, Dr. Farrell proposes macro solutions that young men may find lacking emphasis on brawn, but that reflect his genuinely kind nature. He also proposes micro solutions of family dinner nights to challenge the family, and especially sons, to think for themselves. I’m curious to try this with my family someday.
The second section of the book also features recommendations from Dr. Farrell’s colleague Dr. John Gray (“Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus“) about non-pharmaceutical cures for ADHD. I was struck by the similarities his suggestions bear to my friends’ recommendations for naturally increasing testosterone, and I couldn’t help but speculate about a connection.
Many men write compellingly today about the need for men to be better, but few grasp the urgency of the stakes like Dr. Farrell does. “The Boy Crisis” makes clear that the problems he identified in the 1980’s have only worsened, with serious consequences for our safety, for women and girls, and for our civilization.
A claim that was once self-evident and then merely whispered has now been shouted by Dr. Farrell:
Children, and especially boys, need fathers!
May we all have the strength to listen.
* According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 1969 the divorce rate jumped to 3.2 divorces per 1000 Americans, up from 2.5 in 1965. And in 2015 the American Sociological Association estimated that women initiate 70% of divorces.
“Almost as a defiance to the ideals of the ’50s, the next decade changed everything. During the 1960s, women started to close the education gap and the country started to embrace more progressive politics. As a result, women sought independence, causing the divorce rate to rise significantly. “
“In 1970, the rate was 3.5, and by 1972 it had jumped to 4 divorces for every 1,000 Americans. In 1976, it jumped to 5, and by 1979, the rate was 5.3 per 1,000 American, with 1,193,062 divorces that year.” https://www.insider.com/divorce-rate-changes-over-time-2019-1