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I was recently involved in an exchange of letters on the editorial pages of the Charlotte Observer. The first letter was from me.

"As a child," I wrote, "(President) Clinton lacked an influential male adult role model, which research has identified as crucial to a male child's attitudes toward women and sex. Clinton's mother, as is the case with many single mothers, probably treated him as if he could do no wrong; therefore, he never internalized an appropriate sense of either restraint about his sexual appetites or shame about inappropriate behavior."

A rebuttal came in a letter by Andrea Engber, also a syndicated columnist and director of the National Association of Single Mothers. She admonished me for blaming moms for such problems and wrote, "In reality, you don't need a father at home to have appropriate male role models."

I was not blaming mothers -- married or single -- for anything. As I pointed out in my letter, my mother was a single parent for most of the first seven years of my life. I was simply stating something meticulously documented by David Blankenhorn, president of the Institute for American Values and author of "Fatherless America" (Basic Books, 1995, $23).

The research by Blankenhorn and others is conclusive: A biological father has no equal when it comes to socializing a male child, especially in teaching respectful attitudes toward females. It is relevant to recent events that the president was reared by a single mom whose relationships with men were so consistently dysfunctional that none was around for long.

In other words, while it is true that males other than fathers can be appropriate male role models, it is wrong to think the role of biological fathers is not unique.

It has become politically incorrect to say so, but all child-rearing situations are not equal.

For example, a male child reared by poor, undereducated parents is more likely to become a criminal than a male child reared in the middle class. That does not categorically blame poor, undereducated parents for anything.

Likewise, stating that a boy reared by a single mom is more likely, as an adult male, to depersonalize and sexually exploit women does not categorically blame single moms for anything.

I am reasonably certain that most single moms -- like my mother -- work hard to rear their children "right." Unfortunately, a parent's best intentions and most diligent efforts do not guarantee elimination of a statistical probability that is inherent to that parent's circumstances.

When a male child, reared by a single mom, grows into an adult male who sexually exploits women, all the blame belongs to the adult male. Whether he owns up to it or not is another story.

John Rosemond is a family psychologist in North Carolina. Questions of general interest may be sent to John Rosemond at P.O. Box 4124, Gastonia, N.C. 28054 and at http://www.rosemond.com/parenting on the World Wide Web.
If you or someone you know has parenting problems, call the Parents Anonymous 24-hour confidential Help-Line at 892-2172.

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