Trumpeting For Fatherhood

It has been a sterling year so far for fathers, at least for GOP advocates of pro-father policies. But first we note that the strictly non-partisan Father of Our Country, George Washington, escaped deportation – or at least a Gilbert Stuart portrait of the First Father did – when the Las Vegas-based Ronald W. Reynolds Foundation donated $30 million to the Smithsonian to pry it from the hands of the dastardly British. The Reynolds Foundation (assets: $1.2 billion), better known for its overbearing involvement with grantees than for its patriotism, recently gave a three-year, $6.6 million grant to the Search Institute in Minneapolis to train youth workers in Oklahoma, Arkansas and Nebraska in Search’s “assets” approach to youth work.

One of the founding fathers of the right-tilting side of the fatherhood field, Wade Horn –  who served as commissioner of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children, Youth and Families (ACYF) from 1989 to 1993    has been nominated to be assistant secretary for children and families in HHS, one tier above his former post at ACYF.  In the final years of the Clinton administration, the position was held by Olivia Golden, on whose watch the “F” in ACYF really stood for female.

A clinical child psychologist by training, Horn has the comfortable manners of a suburban Presbyterian pastor. After a decade teaching at Michigan State and directing outpatient psychological services at D.C.’s Children’s Hospital, he hit the political jackpot when he was appointed in 1988 to the Bush I Transition team, and then to four years at ACYF.

Under Horn the “F” word will be fathers. Since 1994 Horn has been president of the National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI), a $2 million per year nonprofit with 14 staff and offices in the Maryland suburbs of D.C., Austin, Texas and Pittsburgh.

NFI was launched in 1994 by Don Eberly, now deputy at the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives and who, until recently, served as chairman and CEO of an NFI  board that includes David Blankenhorn, author of “Fatherless America,” Bush I HHS Secretary Louis Sullivan and James Cox, director of urban services at the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. NFI’s activities include research (a study of fathers on TV where “Fathers Knows Best,” says NFI, has been replaced by “The Simpsons”) to launching and managing “Fatherhood Campaigns” in Virginia, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Texas. The Texas venture proved to be an NFI bonanza, with a $416,000 grant that in December 1999 set up a Texas Fatherhood Resource Center, which is directed by Chris Brown. Congress did NFI even better earmarking $3.5 million for the group last year.

NFI also holds a National Summit on Fatherhood that last year drew 550 people from across the father-flaking political spectrum, from former Ford Foundation Fragile Families program officer Ron Mincy to former U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice Administrator Jerry Regier, now on the staff of Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating (R) and architect of the state’s “marriage initiative.” This year’s NFI summit will be held in D.C. on June 7 and 8.

Horn’s prominence in the fatherhood field is exactly what worries Leslie Wolfe, president of the liberal Center for Women’s Policy Studies, who harbors a deep suspicion of all groups promoting fatherhood involvement with or without the benefit of marriage. She describes Horn’s appointment to ACYF, which includes jurisdiction over the Federal Child Support Office (FY’01 budget: $3.5 billion), as “the fox has been appointed to head the chicken coop.” Wolfe’s 29-year-old D.C.-based group opposed the 1996 welfare reform bill, and she “believes in education and training” as opposed to turning women leaving welfare into what she calls “the miserably married poor.”

In September 1998, Wolfe assembled an all-female pride for a “Symposium on Multiethnic Feminist Visions of Fatherhood: Promoting Feminist Family Policy.” Addressing the still-pending-in-Congress Fathers Count Act, which NFI ardently supports, the report on the symposium notes ominously, “Indeed, these are the types of father-focused public policies that reflect the religious and secular right’s antipathy to women’s equality and their fear of the gains of feminism.”

Aiming specifically at Horn’s new governmental appointment, Wolfe says, “I never met a woman who wanted the government to decide who they should marry.” Would someone please schedule a debate between the fatherhood-trumpeting Horn and the man-eating Wolfe?

Wolfe has never met Horn but if she knew him, say supporters, she would find a man respected for his ability to work with people of vastly divergent views. That knack has served the Jaguar-driving Horn well, at least among those who have not been under his command.

Betsy Brand, the assistant secretary of vocational and adult education in Bush I and now co-director of the American Youth Policy Forum, says, “I think Wade’s great.”

Horn’s new White House nomination, though, was greeted as “really rotten news” by one former subordinate at ACYF. Another calls him a “narrow-minded conservative” who was “not popular” with his staff. This retired critic claims,  “He did not allow any statement of disagreement, or any going outside of the chain of command. This meant that staff could not express their opinion even in preliminary discussions.” But that wasn’t Brand’s take; she found Horn to be someone with “no ego” and “great to work with.” But the director of a then-ACYF contractor recalls that Horn had a “graveyard desk” that caused innumerable bureaucratic bottlenecks.

In the 1990s Horn served on the 36-member National Commission for Children chaired by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), where Cheryl Hayes, now executive director of the D.C.-based Finance Project, served as director. Horn’s experience and affability, combined with a dearth of expertise on the GOP side of the aisle, led to his continued influence during the Clinton epoch. Then- HHS Secretary Donna Shalala appointed Horn to the U.S. Advisory Committee on Head Start Research and Evaluation. He also served on an advisory board on kinship care. His confirmation hearing before the Senate Finance Committee is expected in May. Contact: NFI (301) 948-0599 or 


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