Less than 50 years ago 8% of children were born out of wedlock. Today that number is more than 40%. On Father's Day children who have a father at home have reason to be grateful. Statistically, those who do not are destined to have a much harder life.
On this Father's Day only a small percentage of families are honoring a father. The children born out of wedlock never had a father in the home. Other children's fathers have left never to return, or only see them occasionally. Still other children are denied contact with their fathers by their mothers or the courts.
According to the US Census Bureau, only 39% of families with children are headed by both a father and a mother. The fault for this can be laid at many doorsteps. Government interference with marriage. The ease with which divorces can be obtained, coupled with society's acceptance of divorce. Parents who think more about themselves than their children when contemplating divorce. Irresponsible women who get pregnant out of wedlock.
Sometimes a fatherless home is unavoidable. Fathers die. Women are forced into divorce by husbands who abuse them or their children. Some homes are temporarily fatherless due to requirements of the father's occupation.
Then there are the homes where the father is physically present but emotionally absent. In many ways this is the saddest situation of all. The father is so near, yet so far. The children reach out to him, but are ignored or pushed away.
Obviously this is not going to be a warm, fuzzy Father's Day column. That is because our children are in danger, and the warning must be sounded. Children raised in homes without a father (even if they have a good, loving mother) are:
5 times more likely to commit suicide
32 times more likely to run away
20 times more likely to have behavioral disorders
14 times more likely to commit rape
9 times more likely to drop out of school
10 times more likely to abuse chemical substances
9 times more likely to end up in a state operated institution
20 times more likely to end up in prison
Do those statistics scare you? Good! They sure scare me, and I don't want to feel like I'm alone in my concern for our nation.
It is clear that if we do not reverse the trend toward fatherless homes, we are in serious trouble as a society. In addition to the increased risks described above, a study of adolescents researchers found that "compared to families with two natural parents living in the home, adolescents from single-parent families have been found to engage in greater and earlier sexual activity." Also, "Fatherless children are at a dramatically greater risk of drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness, suicide, poor educational performance, teen pregnancy, and criminality." (Sources for all of these statistics can be found at the end of this article.)
What's to be done? Should we throw up our hands, complain about the disintegration of society, and reminisce about the "good old days"? NO! There is much that everyone reading this can do, but there isn't much time.
Let's start with an easy one. You dads who are at home, pay attention to your kids. Talk to them, get involved in their lives. Tell them that you love them every day - several times a day. If you're too busy for this, you are too busy. If you have to take a different job with less hours, move into a smaller house, drive an older car, do it! As a minister I have been with many men as they died. I never heard one say, "I wish I had spent more time at the office." I have heard many say, "I wish I had spent more time with my kids."
You dads who don't live with your kids need to do whatever it takes to be in their lives. I don't want to hear you whining about how hard it is, or about how your ex-wife makes it difficult. Whatever it takes, you have a responsibility to your children. They need you. You may not think you're the best dad in the world (and you may not be) but you're the only dad they have. Be a man! Sacrifice whatever you must to be the best father you can be.
Let's talk about the visitation issue. We hear a lot about "deadbeat dads", but we don't hear much about how many mothers use visitation as a weapon against their ex-husbands. Look at these government statistics:
90.2% of fathers with joint custody pay all the support due
79.1% of fathers with visitation privileges pay all the support due
44.5% of fathers with no visitation pay all the support due
37.9% of fathers are denied any visitation
66.0% of all support not paid by non-custodial fathers is due to inability to pay
Now there are obvious reasons why some women should oppose visitation and why judges should agree. If the father is a drug addict or a child abuser, no sensible person would want him around his children. But there are far too many cases where wives oppose joint custody or visitation out of spite or to gain leverage in court, never realizing how much they are damaging their children. And mothers should NEVER keep the father away from his kids to punish him for not paying support. Almost two-thirds of the time when they don't pay, it's because they CAN'T pay. But even if they can pay and don't, the children are punished far more than the father when they aren't allowed to see him.
Single women, here's a news flash. They best way to avoid heading a fatherless home is to stop having sex. It is totally irresponsible and selfish to have children unless you are married. "But I need someone to love!" Get a dog. A child is not a toy, and he or she is not there to fulfill your needs. God designed the family, and if we play by His rules, the family works. If you keep churning out babies, don't be surprised when they have the problems described above. Does that sound harsh? I have been both a deputy sheriff and a firefighter-paramedic. I have seen the human devastation caused by mothers who have children out of marriage. I would rather not see any more.
But some of you single women already have children, and we can't turn the clock back. Others of you are widowed, or have husbands who have left and aren't coming back. How can you deal with reality and help your children avoid the fate of most fatherless children?
"Father Hunger" is a recognized syndrome among boys that often causes them to be violent and anti-social. Fatherless girls are often promiscuous, always trying to fill their father void with any man who tells them that he loves them. Don't feel like a failure because you can't be both a mother and a father - no one can. But if there is no father, where can you turn?
DON'T fall into the trap of letting your children become attached to men you are dating. As a Singles Pastor I saw far too many children's dreams dashed time and again as boyfriends became ex-boyfriends. Unless you are engaged and certain that you will marry, I strongly advise keeping your children detached from the men you are dating. And never allow them to take a father role, such as telling your children, "Obey Jimmy just like you obey Mommy."
DO find appropriate men who will commit to being part of your children's lives. A grandfather or uncle could fill this role. Get involved with a good church. You may find a childless couple whose husband may be willing to spend some time with your kids. At the least, male Sunday School teachers and youth leaders can be good role models.
Our government, and particularly the judiciary, carries much of the blame for our epidemic of fatherless homes. Families who receive welfare are penalized if the father lives at home, as insane as that seems. No-fault divorce laws have made it easier to get a divorce than a driver's license. Judges used to be able to order counseling before granting divorce decrees, but no more. And of course slimy divorce lawyers encourage couples who could have reconciled to go ahead with divorce, so they can get their fees. They create disputes between couples who wanted an amicable divorce, which often creates custody battles.
Every one of us can do our part to oppose laws which hurt the family, such as same-sex marriage laws. And we can vote for legislators who genuinely care about families, and don't just use "Family Values" as a campaign slogan. But society is not going to turn on a dime and take us back to the days of "Leave it to Beaver."
However, there is one major way that many of us can help reverse the trend toward fatherless homes. We can help keep marriages together. Whether you are in a marriage that is in trouble, or whether you know someone whose marriage is falling apart, you can make a positive difference.
Whenever I perform a wedding ceremony, I always charge the congregation to do everything in their power to support and strengthen the marriage they are witnessing. And I tell the Best Man and the Maid or Matron of Honor that they have a special responsibility in that regard. "The reason that Joe and Susie asked you to stand up with them is that you are close to them. And when problems arise, as they do in all marriages, you are the ones they will likely turn to for advice. When they complain about their spouse to you, don't agree with them. Don't say, 'I know, all men are pigs' (or 'All women are shrews.') Encourage them to talk to each other and to seek counseling." When you have the opportunity, speak blessings instead of curses on your friends' marriages.
If your marriage is in trouble, do the same. Sit down and talk without anger. Find a counselor that you both trust. If you don't know where to find one, call your church. You made a vow, not just to each other, but to God, that you would do everything in your power to stay together all your days. Don't be a coward as so many are today, giving up at the first sign of difficulty.
And think of your kids. I know, I know. I've heard the Spock generation garbage a thousand times: "It isn't right to keep our marriage together for our kids' sake. I need to be me. I need to find myself. The kids will be better off this way." Grow up! Stop being selfish, and stop trying to justify your selfishness. When you made those kids, you accepted a lifelong responsibility. Unless staying married involves actual danger to you or your children, you need to stay together "for better or for worse." There's not a thing wrong with "staying together for the kids" if that's what it takes to make you keep your vows. (Your parents likely did that very thing for you.)
Well, now that I've ticked off every segment of society, let me end by flipping the record over. If you are willing to make the sacrifices that are needed to stay married (and every marriage involves sacrifice - there are no "easy" marriages), the rewards are great. I received one on Father's Day in the form of a handmade card from my daughter, Sarah, when she was seven years old (I'm sure her wonderful mother, Ana, helped). It said, in part:
Dr. Tom Barrett has been an ordained minister for 30 years. He has written for local and national publications for most of his life, and has authored several non-fiction books. He has been interviewed on many TV and radio programs, and speaks at seminars nationwide. Tom is the editor and publisher of Conservative Truth, an email newsletter read by over fifty thousand weekly which focuses on moral and political issues from a Biblical viewpoint.