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Real Issues No. 277 – Fathers

Real Issues No. 277 – Fathers, Separatism, Ethics Maxim Institute - real issues - No. 277

1 November 2007 www.maxim.org.nz

Going Further With Fathers released Peters sideswipes separatism Pandora's Box: When science overturns ethics

IN THE NEWS Sedition repeal surges ahead Attorney-General to be taken to Court

Going Further With Fathers Released

The Maxim Institute today released a new research report, Going Further With Fathers: Can fathers make unique contributions to the lives of their children? The report, primarily comprised of a literature review, found that if a father is actively involved in the lives of his children, he can help improve their outcomes in a range of areas, including their educational achievement, psychological well-being and their pro-social behaviour. Crucially, fathers have to go beyond being merely present to positively affect their children.

The report's findings are much needed. What it means to be a father and levels of father involvement have changed in recent generations. Some children may benefit from a type of active involvement uncommon in the past. Contemporary moves away from gender-stereotyped roles mean fathers have, in many ways, more freedom to be involved with their children than ever before. However, others see very little of their fathers. In such an environment it is worth asking what barriers fathers face to being involved with their children and how can some of these be overcome.

The best available research shows that children with involved and responsive fathers tend to have better psychological well-being, fewer behavioural problems, achieve better at school, have higher self-esteem and are more likely to connect well with other children, than those who do not experience active father involvement. These findings remain significant after controlling for mother involvement and a range of related social factors.

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The ways in which fathers can benefit their children include pathways such as their childcare; being close to, and supportive of, them; and by playing with their children in sensitive and challenging ways. Fathers' involvement seems particularly important during the teenage years. Fathers and mothers are both able to make unique contributions to their children's well-being, but it also appears from the research that the combined input of both parents has an additional positive impact.

Taken together, the findings summarised in this report have certain implications for the way we should view fathers. Fathers should be viewed as parents in their own right, rather than merely support people for mothers. We should also be aware of the impact negative father stereotypes in the media can have on society. Most of all, in a country with some of the longest working hours in the OECD, fathers should be encouraged to make spending time actively involved with their children a priority.

Read Going Further With Fathers: Can fathers contribute uniquely to the lives of their children?

Watch Alex Penk talking about the report on TVNZ's Breakfast programme this morning

Read a New Zealand Herald article on the report

Peters Sideswipes Separatism

The latest season of party conferences has revealed differences about how we understand society. New Zealand First party leader, Winston Peters, delivered a controversial speech to his party last weekend in Taupo. His speech suggested that race is undermining a common understanding of what it means to be a New Zealander; and that this trend is even having an effect on how we think matters and people should be represented in government and society.

In his speech Mr Peters raised concerns about a growing desire for separatism among some groups of people in New Zealand. Mr Peters highlighted the group of people allegedly running military-style training camps near Ruatoki, as well as the portion of the community that had protested against the arrest of Tame Iti, one of the alleged ring-leaders of the group, as being symptomatic of separatism. In a veiled reference to the Maori Party, Mr Peters also questioned why 'a political party based solely on race is held up as the moral compass for the country,' and called for Maori to fight 'militant separatism.' Dr Pita Sharples, co-leader of the Maori Party, strongly denied this allegation, responding that the Maori Party represents the concerns of mainstream Maori, is based on Maori values and the Party also has non-Maori members.

The debate which has broken out between Mr Peters and Dr Sharples is telling. It shows the condition that New Zealand politics and society has fallen into. The debate highlights a very real problem that more and more sectional interests are determining our approach to government, influencing how we should decide what is fair for various people in society.

Paradoxically, however, interest group politics and its expression through minor political parties -- like the Maori Party, the Green Party, Christian parties and even the four Maori seats in Parliament -- actually erodes the basis for an entire community to realise the common good of everyone: which is the shared understanding of memory, heritage, customs and tradition that binds us together, defining who we are as New Zealanders. That means the common good of the whole country is greater than what different interest groups think is best for them. In matters of government, our leaders should represent us with a view to upholding the common good. Separatism has the potential to undermine the foundations of our country.

Pandora's Box: When Science Overturns Ethics

Stories of babies in the UK being aborted for minor defects such as webbed toes and the British government's much documented attempts to legalise human-animal hybrids continue to generate a storm of controversy. As science provides new possibilities -- such as scanning for diseases in unborn babies, creating inter-species embryos and using embryonic stem cells to find cures for various diseases -- it is sometimes difficult to step back and consider that just because we can do something does not mean we should.

Science has given contemporary human beings unimagined benefits -- a greater quality and length of life and more reliable medical technology than perhaps at any time in history. Science vowed to the service of mankind, the care of the sick and the amelioration of human ills is a noble thing indeed. But science by its nature can only tell us what we may do, what it is possible for us to do. And the history of the modern age has also shown us that what we may do can go badly wrong. Science can be put to horribly destructive ends: Hiroshima and mustard gas, to name two. Even science aiming at noble ends, such as the curing of the sick, ought to be governed and bridled by a clear idea of what it is right to do, what we ought to be doing. The ends do not justify the means.

We live in a climate in which the stakes are high: the debate on inter-species embryos is about what it means to be a human being; the very definition of human-ness itself. Doom-sayers objected to vaccination and dissection and organ transplantation, but the consequences of contemporary debate on issues like embryonic stem cell research, or human-animal hybrids are much higher. If we get this wrong, we alter the very fabric of ourselves. This is why it is so concerning to see such a blithe assumption and belief in the self-evident virtue of scientific progress, and so little humility not just before traditional assumptions about human dignity, but before even ourselves. Despite alleged 'strict controls,' science slipping its bridle means limitless possibility, but also limitless hubris.

Without a transcendent and objective ethic, and a clear idea of human dignity controlling scientific research and development, we end up making morality by opinion poll, and opening Pandora's Box to enormities and monstrosities our ancestors faced only in their nightmares. We should think very hard before letting the bridle loosen.

In The News

Sedition Repeal Surges Ahead

The Crimes (Repeal of Seditious Offences) Amendment Bill has passed both its second and third readings in Parliament within the space of less than a week. The Bill passed its second reading by 109 votes to 7 on 18 October, and then went on to pass its third reading by 114 votes to 7 on 24 October. The Bill will remove the offences of sedition from the Crimes Act 1961, which includes encouraging or inciting the public in acts of violence or lawlessness against those in positions of authority. New Zealand First was the only party to vote against the Bill at both readings, a change from the first reading where the vote in favour was unanimous. By repealing seditious offences, rather than amending the current law to make it more restrictive, Parliament has abolished what was an important recognition of the value of New Zealand's common institutions.

Read the Crimes (Repeal of Seditious Offences) Amendment Bill

Attorney-General To Be Taken To Court

A claim has been lodged in the High Court this week, asserting that the Attorney General was wrong not to warn Parliament that the Electoral Finance Bill, if passed, would breach the Bill of Rights Act 1990. A joint effort by the National President of Grey Power, the Sensible Sentencing Trust, ACT leader Rodney Hide and Auckland businessman John Boscawen, the claim hopes for confirmation from the Court that this law, which purports to enhance accountability and transparency in electoral financing, would instead contravene fundamental democratic rights protected under the Act. 'Parliament needs to know that the law they are about to pass could trample over basic democratic rights. The Attorney General should have waved this as a red flag right from the beginning.'

Talking Point

'When fathers are supportive, involved and close to their children, there is a positive and unique association with their children's happiness, attachment, self-esteem and perceptions of self-competence.'

Daniel Lees, Researcher, Maxim Institute

A registered charitable trust, funded by donations, Maxim Institute values your interest and support.


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