Research effects of father absence



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This child was born in Minnesota in 1898. When he was six, his father died. The family was impoverished. His mother pushed him and his two siblings to do well in school. They also had to go to work when they were small to help support the family. The child washed windows, swept floors, and took other jobs that were available. In his spare time he took long walks in the mountains, and developed a love of the wilderness

He was bright in school, and so when he finished high school, he received a partial scholarship to college. He earned the rest of his tuition and board by taking jobs as a janitor and mowing lawns. On Sundays, he liked to preach in church. After graduating from college, he worked as a schoolteacher for two years. Then he applied to and was accepted to Columbia law school in New York City. To get there, since he could not afford a train ticket, he hopped the rails, like a hobo.

He performed brilliantly in law school, and afterward obtained a job at a large New York law firm. Then he taught law at Coumbia and then Yale law schools. When he was 25, he got married and had two children. It was the first of four marriages, but this first one lasted more than 30 years. He was a cold and harsh father however, and a later wife described him as insecure. Another accused him of ignoring her.

When he was thirty-six, in 1934, he left teaching to work for the new Securities and Exchange Commission established by FDR as part of the New Deal. After that, when he was only 40 years old, President Franklin Roosevelt appointed him to serve on the Supreme Court, where he served longer than any other Justice, almost 37 years.

Some have called his prolific but arguably unimpressive opinions in the Court those of a crusading liberal. Others describe him as a free speech absolutist, and a libertarian Democrat. Others have recognized that he stood primarily for the individual constitutional liberties, and actually had an intense fear of big government. One of his law clerks described him as a man of action, who should not have been a judge but would have done better as a governor or senator.

He wrote the following words in a radio essay that aired in 1951:

    "These days I see graft and corruption reach high into government. These days I see people afraid to speak their minds because someone will think they are unorthodox and therefore disloyal. These days I see America identified more and more with material things, less and less with spiritual standards. These days I see America drifting from the Christian faith, acting abroad as an arrogant, selfish, greedy nation, interested only in guns and dollars, not in people and their hopes and aspirations... We need a faith that dedicates us to something bigger and more important than ourselves or our possessions. Only if we have that faith will we be able to guide the destiny of nations, in this, the most critical period of world history. This I believe."

This man, one of America's most controversial and complex Justices, and unquestionably one of the most influential men in the twentieth century, was U.S. Supreme Court Justice

William O. Douglas, 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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