The Cultural Consequences When Fathers Abandoned Children
Rarely is the lack of fatherhood more evident than when observing the social entropy of urban civil unrest.
“The foundation of national morality must be laid in private families. … In vain are schools, academies, and universities instituted, if loose principles and licentious habits are impressed upon children in their earliest years.” —John Adams (1778)
Most people who have observed the urban protests and riots of the last three weeks, ostensibly in response to the manufactured assertion of “systemic racism,” have seen masses of discontented young people who are emotionally moved by their feelings about injustice. After dark, they’ve seen this group give way to hordes of BLM (burn, loot, and murder) opportunists of all ages raging through the streets.
But I’ve seen something else in those masses and hordes, something that actually evokes a sense of compassion — though certainly not for the violence. What I see is mostly people, regardless of color or creed, who have been deprived of a sufficient level of stability in their formative years, and the courage required to not become emotionally incontinent pawns of leftist politicians, their Leftmedia echo-chambers, and the agitators who incite insurrection.
What I see are large numbers of people across the nation who have something in common beyond their congregational cause du jour: They did not have the stability of the healthy and functional family that all children deserve — most likely due to the lack of a father or an effective father in their home. Rarely is the lack of fatherhood more evident than during this social entropy of urban civil unrest.
Even in the most stable of families, life can be difficult. Young people struggle and sometimes take paths that are self-destructive. Fortunately, many have family members who will toss them a lifeline and bring them back into the fold. But if the lives of young people who had the benefit of stable families are sometimes difficult, many (not all) young people who grow up in broken families face almost insurmountable obstacles — psychologically, emotionally, and socially. If they’re fortunate, they’ll cross paths with a guardian angel who will endeavor to lead them onto the path of personal responsibility required for a productive life. Many, though, won’t be so fortunate.
Annually, on Father’s Day, the third Sunday in June, millions of Americans of all ages are reminded that they grew up in homes without fathers. Many also recognize that this absence has had a significant influence on their lives.
For much of history, it was not uncommon for children to have one parent — having lost the other to childbirth, disease, war, or occupations that took them far away from the home. But those families typically lived near other family members who could stand in the gap. Unfortunately, the United States today ranks high among nations with children growing up in single-parent homes without the benefit of extended family. In the vast majority of these cases, the single parent is the mother, and the absent parent is the biological father who elected to abandon them.
This elective rejection by fathers, the result of divorce or of dissociating from the mother, is an epidemic. And the consequence of this epidemic on children, and the future of Liberty, is dire.
For all but the recent “enlightened generation,” the vital role of fathers has been extolled in virtually every religion and culture. In 295 BC, Mencius wrote, “The root of the kingdom is in the state. The root of the state is in the family. The root of the family is in the person of its head.” In 50 BC, the great Roman Republican orator Marcus Tullius Cicero wrote, “The first principle of society consists in the marriage tie, the next in children, the next in a family within one roof, where everything is in common. This society gives rise to the city, and is, as it were, the nursery of the commonwealth.” The principles of marriage and family have been central to Judeo-Christian teachings for thousands of years.
Founder James Wilson wrote: “That important and respectable, though small and sometimes neglected establishment, which is denominated a family … [is] the principle of the community; it is that seminary, on which the commonwealth … must ultimately depend. … It is the duty of parents to maintain their children decently, and according to their circumstances; to protect them according to the dictates of prudence; and to educate them according to the suggestions of a judicious and zealous regard for their usefulness, their respectability and happiness.”
Constitutional scholar and Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story wisely observed: “Marriage is in its origin a contract of natural law. It is the parent, and not the child of society; the source of civility and a sort of seminary of the republic.”
Perhaps most presciently, John Adams warned, “How is it possible that children can have any just sense of the Sacred Obligations of Morality or Religion if, from their earliest Infancy, they learn their mothers live in habitual infidelity to their fathers, and their fathers in as constant infidelity to their mothers?”
Today, that timeless advice has been largely discarded — at an enormous price to families and society.
For me, “fatherhood” first invokes the family position that I’m so blessed to hold with my own children — now young adults and successfully making their way in the world. That role was irrevocably shaped by my relationship with my own “Old Man,” who died back in 2015. My dad was always there for my mom and their five kids. He was a “Type A” fighter pilot, a fiercely competitive entrepreneur and athlete, and a real man in every sense of the word.
He passed to me that “Type A” gene, and consequently we butted heads for most of my formative years.
When recalling my early trials with my father, I’m reminded of a great quote attributed to that sagacious humorist, Samuel Langhorne Clemens (a.k.a. Mark Twain): “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.” Like Twain, it took me a few years to figure out that my old man was a good father and a good mentor to boot.
Today, I’m so grateful for the steadfast example he set and the love we shared for each other until the day he died, once we reconciled our relationship. We both realized that some of the struggles we had were generational — the way he learned it from his father.
I recognized before my oldest son’s birth that I wanted to make “new and improved mistakes” with my kids — not just repeat the same old generational mistakes that can be hard on families. Indeed, I made lots of new mistakes, but I made them while present, steadfast, and loving my children unconditionally.
Moreover, “fatherhood” also invokes gratitude for all that is provided by our Heavenly Father, as it does for the legacy of Liberty bequeathed to us by our Founding Fathers.
These four contexts for “father” — God the Father, my own earthly father, my role as father to my children, and the legacy of our forefathers — combine to create a rich and abiding sense of what fatherhood really means, how it should look and feel in practice, and how essential it is to the welfare of families, communities and our nation.
But for tens of millions of American children growing up in fatherless homes, the consequences of that void are enormous. Here’s the hard data on the number of American children without fathers in their homes:
Between 2014-18, the share of families headed by single parents was 75% among African American families, 58% among Hispanic families, 37% among white families, and 21% among Asian families.
According to the latest Census Bureau data, 19.7 million children, more than one in four, live without a father in the home. Consequently, there is a fatherless factor in nearly all social ills facing America today.
According to additional Census Bureau data, among children who were part of the “post-war generation,” 87.7% grew up with two biological parents who were married to each other. Today, only 68.1% will spend their entire childhood in an intact family. Based on the number of premarital births and high divorce rate, the proportion of children living with just one parent rose from 9.1% in 1960 to more than 25% today.
As Thomas Sowell observed: “Many successful political careers have been built on giving blacks ‘favors’ that look good on the surface but do lasting damage in the long run. One of these ‘favors’ was the welfare state. A vastly expanded welfare state in the 1960s destroyed the black family, which had survived centuries of slavery and generations of racial oppression.”
The consequences of growing up without a father in the home are staggering, as noted in this graphic:
Notably, absent or ineffective fathering is also associated with gender disorientation and other pathologies that the Left endeavors to normalize.
In 1996, then-First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton published a treatise on raising children, It Takes a Village, which, of course, was an instant New York Times bestseller. Clinton and her uncredited ghostwriter adapted the title from an old African proverb: “It takes a village to raise a child.” The proverb implies that children have a better chance to become healthy adults if raising children is communal. That’s certainly true in some respects, as long as those communal resources support, first and foremost, the family. But that’s not what the author had in mind.
Clinton asserted that social-service organizations could meet the needs of children from broken homes and that government has an obligation to meet those needs. Part of Clinton’s thesis was correct in that millions of children are victimized when their parents fail to fulfill their parental obligations. Unfortunately, the rest of her thesis suggests that parenthood can be outsourced.
But clearly, the Left’s “village” approach has failed to accomplish anything beyond perpetuating misery, especially in our nation’s urban poverty plantations, as have the failed policies of the so-called “Great Society” for the last 50-plus years. Those policies have, in effect, institutionalized poverty and destroyed urban families.
Ironically, two of our most notable fatherless presidents have propagated those policies: Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. These Democrat Party protagonists, and those in power today, continue to undermine the third pillar of Liberty, which is marriage and family.
On this Father’s Day, let us pay tribute to the irreplaceable and inseparable institutions of marriage and fatherhood — and to the importance of a father’s love, discipline, provision, and protection for his family. Every day of the year, let those of us who are fathers encourage other fathers to be accountable for their marriage and their children.
In my 30 years of involvement with inner-city churches, ministries, and youth organizations, I know firsthand, relationally, the suffering of children who’ve been abandoned by fathers.
For those young people who lack such fathers or mentors, we must help bridge the fatherless gap, both in service to them and in opposition to those who would perpetuate statist policies that have eroded our nation’s family fabric. Let us seek to mentor the fatherless by volunteering leadership through our places of worship, youth groups, scouting, coaching, tutoring, or working through inner-city ministries with high-risk kids, to name just a few.
With this in mind, I encourage you to support these fine organizations for strengthening marriages and families:
First Things First is an outstanding organization under the leadership of my friend Julie Baumgardner. There are other fine fathering resources at the National Fatherhood Initiative, the National Center for Fathering, Focus on the Family, the American Family Association, the Family Research Council, and a great mentoring organization like the one founded by my friends John Smithbaker and Scott MacNaughton, Fathers in the Field. Tony Dungy, the former professional football player and Super Bowl-winning coach, has devoted much of his post-football years to coaching fathers. His All Pro Dad fatherhood mentoring organization provides great resources. I also recommend reading “Father’s Day: Ten Things to Ask From Your Kids.”
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