According to my Pastor, “…human relationships – particularly when united in fellowship with God – (are) the foundational building blocks … and the backbone of (our) local communities and culture.” I wholly agree with that and I’ve added to it by saying, “Without that foundation, secular goals – e.g. a thriving and stable economy, affordable quality healthcare, affordable quality education, justice for all, etc. – are unattainable. When communities and culture come apart, so do all things relying on the support of that foundation.
In another recent Teaching (from Matthew 19: 13-15), my Pastor touched on the dramatic deterioration our culture continues to experience with one of these “foundational building blocks”. This aspect of cultural devolution has been labeled “Fatherlessness”. Since this reality has significantly impacted my life, from near the beginning to the present day, raising the topic touches me deeply.
Before delving into this matter, first, I must issue a disclaimer. I am not fatherless in terms of not knowing who my father is nor that he had no presence in my life. Although I didn’t grow up in my Dad’s home, I knew him and I love him dearly. When he died, at the age of 56, I was devastated. With that said, when I was only three years old, he left my mother, making her a single-parent … a term that wasn’t even used in those days … and I, along with my older brother and sister, became what were then known as children of a broken home. Looking back over the decades since that event, I’ve recognized that a male role model and mentor has always been lacking in my life and I’ve often wondered how different my life would have been if that void had been filled.
My “broken home” experience began over six decades ago, around 1950 to 1951. In those days, I and my siblings were the only “children of a broken home” that I knew. Sadly, since then, this has worsened exponentially. According to an article entitled Father Absence and the Welfare of Children, by Sara McLanahan:
“Increases in divorce and out-of-wedlock childbearing have dramatically altered the family life of American children. Whereas in the early 1960s, nearly 90 percent of all children lived with both of their biological parents until they reached adulthood, today less than half of children grow up with both natural parents. Nearly a third are born to unmarried parents, the majority of whom never live together, and another third are born to married parents who divorce before their child reaches adulthood. To further complicate matters, a substantial number of children are exposed to multiple marital disruptions and multiple father figures.”
In an article entitled Life Without Father, David Popenoe begins addressing this question by saying:
“The decline of fatherhood is one of the most unexpected and extraordinary social trends of our time.”
And, Popenoe offers that the major contributing factor in this is:
“Men are not biologically attuned to being committed fathers. Left culturally unregulated, men’s sexual behaviour can be promiscuous, their paternity casual, their commitment to families weak. In recognition of this, cultures have used sanctions to bind men to their children, and of course the institution of marriage has been culture’s chief vehicle.”
I’d explain this more simply by saying, “It comes from man’s (men and women) sin nature. Down through the decades there are, likely, numerous watershed events that one can point to with a finger of blame in this regard. For my era, I point to Hugh Hefner and his Playboy philosophy. A notion that some say began to mainstream pornography and de-couple sex from a committed marital relationship – a/k/a Free Love. This was primed for young men coming home from WWII, like my Dad and the young men to be raised up in the Baby Boomer Generation, like me.
Today, it seems pretty easy to argue that the Free Love Hefner popularized turned out to be neither free nor love. An article entitled The Consequences of Fatherlessness, from The National Center For Fathering, offers extensive data on this that I’d encourage you to check out for yourself. In summary it says:
“Some fathering advocates would say that almost every social ill faced by America’s children is related to fatherlessness. Six are noted (in the article). As supported by the (footnoted) data, children from fatherless homes are more likely to be poor, become involved in drug and alcohol abuse, drop out of school, and suffer from health and emotional problems. Boys are more likely to become involved in crime, and girls are more likely to become pregnant as teens.”
“There was a time in the past when fatherlessness was far more common than it is today, but death was to blame — not divorce, desertion or out-of-wedlock births. Most of today’s fatherless children have fathers who are perfectly capable of shouldering the responsibilities of fatherhood. Who would ever have thought that so many of them would choose to relinquish those responsibilities?” – Popenoe
I believe the cure for this ailing foundational building block of our culture is found in Popenoe’s statement. It says easy and will do hard but we must influence fathers to be fathers, not just sperm donors, who consistently shoulder the responsibilities of fatherhood.
Attempting to influence the fathers who are already relinquishing the responsibilities of fatherhood seems a bit like trying to unscramble an egg. So, let’s start by addressing how to influence young men who are still approaching the age of fatherhood. As family members, individuals who share their community and as a culture, as a whole; we must raise the bar of our expectations in this regard and consistently hold these young men to that standard. And, we must do the same with our young women. Additionally, both our young men and young women should hold each other to these standards in the courting process. My best advice to young people, along these lines, is to seek a Godly person and the best way to find one of those is to be one yourself.
I don’t have all the answers for properly influencing either fathers who are already relinquishing the responsibilities of fatherhood or for young men who are still approaching the age of fatherhood. But, I have come across some great examples where my related words of recommendation are being put into action. One that I really like is an organization called WATCH D.O.G.S. (Dads Of Great Students). The following video, featuring WATCH D.O.G.S. on the TODAY Show, should give you a good idea of what they’re about:
You can, also, check them out on The National Center For Fathering website.
On an individual level; whether you’re a dad, a granddad, a great-granddad or a wannabe who is willing to serve as a role model and a mentor; find a boy who needs that investment of your time. Even the simplest experiences, like that depicted in this photo of my grandson, Jacob, watching me in the batting cage, can pay untold benefits. I think this picture, taken by Jakie’s Mom, reflects the importance of that brief moment to him.
The fabric of this foundational building block has been unraveling for quite some time. So it would not be realistic to expect an overnight 180 degree turn. Nor would it be realistic to expect to attain perfection. But, we didn’t have perfection with this in the early 1950s either. With that in mind, I think we can get a better idea of what to, realistically, shoot for by asking the question, “Since I am among the fatherless, as defined in this article, how is it that I turned out kind of OK?”
In answering this, I must first give Glory to God. In earthly terms, I was fatherless but my Heavenly Father has been with me all along. And, though I don’t know if I fall into this category, we probably all know examples where individuals went through horrendous experiences growing up and yet they turned out alright. But I do know that what I said earlier is true … I and my siblings were the only “children of a broken home” that I knew. That means that this foundational building block of our local communities and culture was in place, for the most part, everywhere we went, outside our broken home. If our local communities and culture are willing to commit to curing this ailing foundational building block, step by step, we will get back to a point where whole, unbroken families, are the rule and where even the exceptions are more likely to turn out OK.