Research effects of father absence



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This child was born in a log cabin in a southern state to two illiterate parents. His mother was a washerwoman. His father -- who periodically worked as a porter, a tavern servant, and a janitor, died when the child was three, some say in an attempt to rescue two drowning men.

The child was never formally educated, and was illiterate himself through his childhood. He was a ragged little boy, loose in the streets while his mother worked. He had one younger brother. When he was 10, his mother's new husband contracted him and his brother out in exchange for money to a tailor as so-called apprentices -- until age 21. The man used them like slaves, and beat them regularly, but he learned the tailoring trade. While there, he also met a kind man who would read aloud to him while waiting for services, and helped him learn the alphabet and gain a rudimentary reading ability.

When he was 16, he and his brother ran away from their master, an act that rendered them fugitives from the law, and required them to move from town to town and hide out. When he was 18, he came upon a one-room schoolhouse where he befriended the 16-year-old teacher. Over a period of 6 months, she taught him to read fluently, and also to do math and and to write. Then he married her while they were still teenagers. He started his own tailoring shop and settled down with her. He became interested in local politics.

By his early 20s, he had developed a voracious appetite for reading and self-education. He also was elected village alderman. His business began to flourish, and he had four children. He was well-liked and succeeded in politics. He dedicated himself to public service. He eventually came to hold nearly every important state and federal office: mayor, governor, senator, vice-president, and president.

This child's later political career was marred by some controversy and strife. A powerful man serving in Congress was one of his enemies, and tried to get him impeached. Ironically, this man, successful Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, also had grown up in fatherless home; Steven's father had been an abusive alcoholic who had abandoned his family. Ultimately, the attempted impeachment did not succeed. Scholars now differ in opinion with regard to the legacy left by the 17th president of the United States,

Andrew Johnson, a boy from a "fatherless home."

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* The term "fatherless" is used in this series as it is in current research and policy rhetoric by the U.S. federal government, DHHS and the National Fatherhood Initiative, most U.S. states in connection with child custody law and policy, and various family values and fatherhood interest policy and lobbying groups.

"...Just add Dad, the magic ingredient. It's hard to know where wishful thinking becomes deliberate deception. But this argument, advanced by the fathers' rights movement, is like saying that, since Mercedes Benz owners make more money than people who drive Hyundais, you will become wealthy if you buy a Mercedes..." Mike Peterson



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