Father Absence theory in hip-hop

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I’ve been somewhat out of the loop of hip hop music, though I’m catching up. A club that I go to regularly has been playing a song whose lyrics argue for the Father Absence theory of why some people grow up to be wilder than others. (See the video here.)

It used to be that art referred to theories that weren’t even plausible on their face — Freud’s idea of the Oedipus Complex being one. Whether Teairra Mari’s song “No Daddy” reflects a shift over time to more plausible ideas, or simply the contrast between moronic intellectuals and those who believe their lying eyes, I couldn’t say. Also unknown is whether she’s read Harpending & Draper (1982) or just figured it out on her own. If the latter, she must have been pretty perceptive, as the song was released when she was 17.

14 Comments

  1. By the Judith Harris theory, shouldn’t it just be the genes of the biological father rather than his presence? 
     
    I started the Bell Curve recently and one of their findings is that the presence of a father is a major factor in whether a girl has a kid in highschool.

  2. The link to Harpending & Draper is here.

  3. Yep, genes are the cause, father absence is just the correlate. How do we know? Several reasons, but here’s one: sometimes dads don’t run away, they just die. And when father is “absent” because he gets struck by lightning instead of because of a genetically dysfunctional personality, the kids turn out just fine. 
     
    Here’s another thing that conservatives and liberals won’t like to hear: when fathers are fuck-ups, single motherhood can be the best thing in the world for children. Why? Because fuck-ups don’t help children with their presence, they hurt children …and a whole lot of men are fuck-ups… because of their genes. 
     
    Or to quote some random person: 
     
    “Evolution is a double-edged sword,” he said. “What evolution cares about is that I have more offspring. If you can do it by charming and manipulating, and I’m a hardworking farmer that’s going to feed the kids ten years down the road, then you’re going to win. Hit-and-run, irresponsible males are reproducing more. That isn’t good for anyone except those males, but that’s evolution.”

  4. Jason Malloy wrote “Yep, genes are the cause, father absence is just the correlate. How do we know? Several reasons, but here’s one: sometimes dads don’t run away, they just die. And when father is “absent” because he gets struck by lightning instead of because of a genetically dysfunctional personality, the kids turn out just fine.” 
     
    But your example, which I think is correct, does not support a genetically transmitted mechanism. It supports the old idea that kids are learning from their mothers about the importance of males. 
     
    Von

  5. Jason, 
     
    you should consider doing a post on this. if you did, some things you’d want to make clear, and criticisms you’d want to address: 
     
    1. What’s the heritability of dead-beat dadism? 
    2. What are the proximate psychological traits that most predict dead-beat dadism? And how heritable are they? 
    3. What environmental inputs are there? 
    4. Surely it’s varied over time. So what’s the cause of the cohort effects? 
    5. A father dying is not identical, in economic and social effects on the child, to a deadbeat father. 
    6. How was such a study controlled? Variables like household assets or SES might confound if not controlled for. 
    7. Even if the effects on the individual level are small, it might be argued that a cultural effect exists. It’s worth considering that there might be a difference between being raised with a peer group raised by single mothers vs. a peer group raised by both parents. I’m not going to attempt to detail how the mechanism would work (perhaps some kind of feedback loop), but this hypothesis is at least worth considering.

  6. Just because Freud misread Oedipus, don’t attribute that work as being one which supports his nutjob theory. Quite the contrary. The play actually supports the Westermarck Effect.

  7. Troy — I meant people like the Surrealists who thought that incorporating Freudian hocus-pocus made them deep and cool, not the original Oedipus Rex.

  8. They also thought the same thing to be true of their being Marxists. However, it is probably best not to judge a work by the claims of the creators. It’s often interesting to see what happens despite an artist’s theories. 
     
    Incidentally, Freud was sent some stuff by Andre Breton, the founder of the surrealist movement, and Freud hated it. To the extent that the surrealists were Freudians, it seems Freud wasn’t a Freudian.

  9. I get what Malloy is trying to say, and I think he’s got a point.  
     
    It reminds me of a study on ADHD (I can’t remember where I read it) that attmepted to show that children with behavior problems were more the result of hostile home environments than the result of genetics. The study proved that children from hostile homes were more likely to have behavior problems– which seemed, on the surface, to prove their point. Until genetic tests on the parents showed the most un-fit parents in the study seemed to have the same “suspect” genes as the most badly behaved children. In other words, it was still the genes.  
     
    Ben, that was a great list.

  10. Kosmo said ” get what Malloy is trying to say, and I think he’s got a point. “ 
     
    Agreed, but kids raised by widowed mothers not only do not show fa effects, they are extreme in the opposite direction. This suggests a real environmental effect.

  11. Several reasons, but here’s one: sometimes dads don’t run away, they just die. And when father is “absent” because he gets struck by lightning instead of because of a genetically dysfunctional personality, the kids turn out just fine. 
     
    Wow, I don’t know where to begin. 
     
    1 – A Dad dying is (as someone noted above) not identical to a Dad leaving. If Dad leaves the kids are left with a social stigma, an unanswered question of why Dad left (“Did he leave because of me?”) and a Mom who is likely to be f*cked up herself because of the abandonment. If a Father gets “struck by lightning” those things aren’t likely to happen and in fact the kids and Mom might hold his memory to a level he never earned in life. 
     
    2. How do we know that if the electric Dad hadn’t been playing Golf in a rainstorm that he wouldn’t have ditched the Mom and Kids and therefore had the “bad genes”? 
     
    3. In your unscientific example do you account for Dads who died because of irresponsible acts? Like Drinking and driving, drug overdose, shot in a robbery? Those guys should have had “bad genes” and should have passed them on to kids who themselves act irresponsibly. 
     
    All in all, Jason made an extremely ill thought out comment and he should write a more careful post to clarify his position.

  12. I may write a detailed post at some point, though I was saving it for another project. And I’m not going to give a seminar in behavior genetics in the comments of a minor post.  
     
    Yes, “father absence” does imply that ‘absence’ is the operative factor, otherwise it would be “father abandonment”, “bitter mom syndrome”, “illegitimacy stigma”, “divorce trauma” or some such. So, yes, my above example does indeed show that absence of a father itself is not the operative factor, which is all I claimed. (another theoretical implication here is the adequacy of lesbian parents) 
     
    But I can also make the more specific claim that family breakdown is not the cause of emotional or behavioral problems. How do we know? Several reasons, but here’s one: sometimes children are raised by parents who are not biologically related to them — these are called adopted children — and sometimes divorces happen in these families too. Again, these children turn out fine.

  13. Malloy, 
     
    Point taken about the variable you were addressing being “father absence.” Still, much of my comment was directed at questioning two things you claimed: 1) that dead-beat dadism is an overwhelmingly hereditary set of behaviors, and 2) that it is not socially desirable to minimize it.  
     
    The divorce studies you cite would help clarify the discussion further. I’d like to seem them if you have a link. The thing is, though, even if divorce doesn’t matter that much that doesn’t mean that being left with a broke and inept 16-year old mother has no negative effects on one’s development. 
     
    p.s. what’s the project, by the way, if i may ask?

  14. I have read that boys do poorly and tend to blame mom when they lose dad through divorce; but when it is through death, sons seem to do ok. They either find a substitute or deal with what they have. However, the fact of the father’s having left causes sons to blame mom. 
     
    I thought this discrepancy reflect the situation, but maybe it is genes after all.

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