Licensing Parents, a new book by University of Wisconsin psychiatrist Jack C. Westman, bewails a recent surge in “incompetent parenting,” a phenomenon which he defines as depriving a child not only of sufficient food, clothing, and shelter, but also of “affectionate holding, touching and talking,” all the while displaying an “insensitivity to a child’s initiatives and reactions.” The result? An unacceptable number of miserable American children who, on reaching adulthood, spend their lives making the rest of us miserable. But Dr. Westman, “an esteemed child advocate,” has a solution: national “parenting” standards and licenses only for those who measure up. Sweeping as it is, his plan does not outline a policy on license renewal and fails to include provisions. Nor does his plan provide for curbing procreation by the unworthy.

Dr. Westman’s plan is an idea whose time has come. But before we take up the question of Licensing Parents, we should look into the credentials of people like Jack C. Westman, for presumably it is they who will hold the licenses. An army of professional life-repairers has descended upon us—therapists, psychiatrists, social workers, counselors, et al.—brandishing certificates that are worth as much as the diploma conferred upon the Scarecrow by the Wizard of Oz. Who are they, really?

Many if not most “substance abuse” counselors proclaim that they are their own trade’s best customers. Today’s 12- step counselors (pick your addiction) are yesterday’s addicts. Of course, if they had really stopped being addicts, they would not remain in a state of perpetual therapy. The social workers who perform hostile takeovers of poor families are not always models of correctness, A Massachusetts social worker recently applied his cutting and pasting skills to join the photographed head of his 61-year-old female colleague to the photographed body of a woman of fewer years (and fewer clothes) whose pose implied the phallic utility of a certain tropical fruit. Even Ellen Goodman was shocked, wondering how anyone “trained in the human skills” could behave so badly.

For all we know, Jack Westman may be a fine family man, gracefully aging with his first wife; but does not the “public’s right to know” and the principle of “truth in labeling” demand that we err on the side of caution and require complete disclosure of all who presume to treat our ills and reform our conduct? How many counselors are divorced, how many psychiatrists abuse drugs, seduce patients, or commit suicide?

America’s most famous marriage counselors, for example, twins Ann and Abbey, are themselves veterans of divorce, and the duchess of beautiful living, Alexandra Stoddard, whose formula for happiness comprises equal parts of parchment, silk, and humanism is also enjoying her second go-around. The record, however, may be held by radio talk show shrink Barbara De Angelis, who is on her fifth husband; her qualifications as a marriage counselor apparently increase with each matrimonial experience.

Is it just the superstar shrinks whose marriages wither under the gaze of the public eye? Well, no. The rates of divorce are uncommonly high among even the average purveyors of social “medicine.” And indeed, high rates of divorce tell only part of the story. Witness the recent report that a large number of Illinois DCFS workers are themselves delinquent on their child support payments. Who will counsel the counselors or license the licensers?

In times past we had a system of Licensing Parents, and the licenser was Dad. In the Christian era, it is true, the Church protected a girl from marrying against her will, but on the other hand, a marriage without the consent of the bride’s father was uncommon, if not invalid. In more recent times, even after the father’s blessing was relegated to the status of something nice to have, the Church made every effort to marry couples singularly committed not only to lifelong unity but to rearing as Christians all the children that God might send. The hoops, for example, that an interfaith couple of a generation ago were forced to jump through bear witness to how seriously the Church viewed its responsibility not only to get the right people together but to keep the wrong people apart. The rights of parents, along with the Church’s scrutiny, have been replaced by therapeutic handholding.

Having ourselves exiled fathers and the Church, however, we have no right to take offense at what has crawled in to fill the void. And as long as we are numb and happy in our delusion, we will not have to read “failure to form the soul of one’s child” among Dr. Westman’s list of childrearing sins. Measured by this, the only real “parenting” standard, many more American children are consigned to misery than Dr. Westman’s statistics suggest.