The Right Opinion

'Gun Culture' -- What About the 'Fatherless Culture'?

By Larry Elder · Jan. 17, 2013

The face of gun violence is not Sandy Hook. It is Chicago.

In 2012, President Barack Obama's adopted hometown had 506 murders, including more than 60 children. Philadelphia, a city that local television newscasters frequently call 'Killadelphia,“ saw 331 killed last year. In Detroit, 386 people were murdered.

Since 1966, there have been 90 school shootings in the U.S., with 231 fatalities. Yes, Sandy Hook shocked us. But the odds of a child being killed at a school shooting are longer than the odds of being struck by lightning.

Of the 11,000 to 12,000 gun murders each year, more than half involve both black killers and black victims, mostly in urban areas and mostly gang-related. The No. 1 cause of preventable death for young black men is not auto accidents or accidental drowning, but homicide.

Rapper/actor Ice T ("Cop Killer”) and I attended the same high school. In the 1991 John Singleton film “Boyz n the Hood,” the teenagers attend that school, and car-cruise the South Central Los Angeles boulevard after which the school is named.

Crenshaw High opened in 1968. By the time Ice-T left, less than a decade later, Crenshaw had become, in the rapper's words, “a Crip school” – meaning one controlled by that street gang. Because of the school's reputation for violence, Time Magazine called it “Fort Crenshaw.” A powerhouse in basketball and football, the school lost its accreditation 2005, before getting it back in 2006 on a short-term basis.

In 1970, I was part of the second graduating class in the new school's history. Some kids, who started with me in the 10th grade, did not finish. But it was the exception rather than the rule. By 2012, only 51 percent of Crenshaw's students graduated.

What happened?

Dads disappeared. Or, more precisely, to use Bill Cosby's term, the number of “unwed fathers” exploded.

In 1965, Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote “The Negro Family: A Case for National Action.” At the time, 25 percent of blacks children were born out of wedlock, a number Moynihan called alarming. Fast forward to the present, 72 percent of black children are now born out of wedlock. In fact, 36 percent of white children are born out of wedlock. Of Hispanic children, 53 percent are born outside of marriage.

In “Boyz n the Hood,” Tre, played by Cuba Gooding Jr., has an active father in his life. Doughboy, played by Ice Cube, was raised without a father. His mother resents him because she dislikes his father. On the other hand, Gooding's hardworking, responsible father, played by Laurence Fishburne, stays on his son. He warns him against hanging out with the wrong people and that becoming a street criminal was a trap. He lectures his son that “any fool with a (penis) can make a baby, but only a real man can raise his children.”

Studies show that children of divorced parents can have outcomes as positive as those coming from intact homes, provided the father remains financially supportive and active in his children's lives.

But what happens without dads in the 'hood?

In 1979, the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth found that fatherless kids were twice as likely to drop out of school and that girls who grew up without dads were 2.5 times more likely to become pregnant teenagers.

Rutgers University sociology professor David Popenoe published “Life Without Father” in 1996, where he describes the “massive erosion” of fathers in America. Popenoe concluded that boys raised without fathers were more likely to have problems with drugs, alcohol, behavior and social interactions. Several studies during the '90s found that disruption in family structures was a predictor of children's gang involvement.

Many on the left dismiss the importance of fathers as “right-wing,” blame-the-victim propaganda. Well, the late rapper Tupac Shakur, in the posthumously released documentary “Resurrection,” said: “I know for a fact that had I had a father, I'd have some discipline. I'd have more confidence.” He admits that he starting hanging out with gangs because he wanted to belong to a family structure, and it offered structure, support and protection – the kind of thing we once expected home and family to provide.

The formula for achieving middle-class success is simple: Finish high school; don't have a child before the age of 20; and get married before having the child. Preparing for the future requires dedication. It requires deferring gratification, precisely the kind of “discipline” that Tupac admitted he lacked because he grew up without a father.

Doing what you want to do is easy. Doing what you have to do is hard. Dads, by getting up and going to work each day, send a powerful message every day to their children: Hard work wins. There are no short cuts. The outcome is unknowable. But the effort is entirely within your control.



Beth in GA said:

WELL SAID!!!! Thank you!

Thursday, January 17, 2013 at 8:26 AM

Jay in FL said:

Mr. Elder, keep this issue on the front burner of your writing. It is key to so much that is going wrong today.

Thursday, January 17, 2013 at 8:48 AM

rab in jo,mo said:

AMEN, you hit the nail on the head, Larry. Children need a strong father figure in their lives. If not provided at home, they will seek one elsewhere, usually with negative results.

Thursday, January 17, 2013 at 10:36 AM

DavidS in Texas said:

I had a coworker who did not have a father. He has 4 children from 4 women and he’s not involved in any of the children’s lives or their mothers lives. He didn’t have a father to teach him what it meant to be a real man and father, so how in the world would he know he needed to take care of his children. And the cycle continues.

Thursday, January 17, 2013 at 11:13 AM

Wayne in Hinesville, GA said:

Excellent article on what is one of the major problems in our society. The only way to break this cycle in my opinion is to stop paying for the mother's lifestyle. If they are on welfare and have another child then they should not receive any raise in benefits. Also put a time limit on government assistance and stick to it. If they know they will only be allowed to live off the hard work of others for a limited time it just might change their attitudes. The prevailing attitude among most welfare recepients is the assistance is owed to them for whatever delusional reason they come up with. Those men who brag about how many kids they have fathered and have taken no responsibility for them should be sterilized. This is one time I could support the government interfering in someone's private life. Even if the Child Support Agencies garnishee's their wages for child support, they just quit the job.

Thursday, January 17, 2013 at 11:43 AM

Anton D Rehling in Olympia, WA said:

Obama is another child of an absent Father figure. It shows he sought what he was missing and got from one of his child hood father figures, the card-carrying member of the Communist Party Frank Marshall Davis which is a big reason he is what he is today a narcissistic, socialist, lying crook.

Thursday, January 17, 2013 at 12:42 PM

Mindblown in Flyover USA said:

Thank you for this great article. IMO, LBJ, his "Great Society" and the lib/dems were majorly responsible for removing the father from the home through AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children). The mothers/children could not recieve aid while an adult male (father/husband) lived in the home.

Thursday, January 17, 2013 at 1:32 PM

Alex in NJ replied:


Friday, January 18, 2013 at 7:11 AM

Tod the tool guy in brooklyn ny said:

The Cross and the Switchblade should be a required movie for teens. Although my dad was in the grave, when I was in diapers, I was raised by good role models! We were on public assistance, for a time, and I vowed, never again! Today, I have three children, and a supportive wife, who is a bluedog Democrat. I was always grateful and thankful for the many jobs I had, over the last 40 years! Christ is my Lord & Savior!

Thursday, January 17, 2013 at 5:24 PM

Truthseeker in Springfield, MO replied:

Let the PC police complain all they want, but David Wilkerson's book should be required reading in every school library, and the movie shown to every middle school class.

You beat the odds, Tod! Good for you, and your wife and kids! Having a supportive spouse is a real plus. I have often said that if it weren't for the Lord and the love of a good woman, I'd be in prison. I firmly believe this.

May your tribe increase and your kids honor you and your wife in your old age, and teach THEIR kids to do the same. That's the best legacy you can leave the world.

Thursday, January 17, 2013 at 5:58 PM

Tod the tool guy in brooklyn ny said:

I'm not going to tell you whether I own gun(s) or not, since I have a safety sensitive job.

Thursday, January 17, 2013 at 5:26 PM