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We are in the middle of a silent crisis. It is one that we have made ourselves.
Father Knows Best is an old TV show that ended in 1960. That year it was #6 in the Nielson ratings. As the title suggests, it centers around family life. In addition to children and a mother, the family also had a father, who was a positive force in the lives of the other family members. At one time most people felt that the show portrayed an idealized American family, one that they could relate to and try to imitate. In the last twenty years, almost every reference I’ve heard to the show has been sarcastic and negative.
Contrast that with almost any other sitcom in the past twenty years. We know how the plot goes nowadays. If there even IS a father, he’s an idiot. He is about as smart as Papa Bear from the Berenstain Bears. He is insensitive and clueless as a husband, uncaring and stupid as a father. I always imagine the writers meetings in Hollywood when they come up with these shows.
FIRST WRITER: “We need a character who is a complete and utter fool, a buffoon we can make fun of, and have the audience think, ‘what a goober.’”
SECOND WRITER: “OK, we’ll put in a dad.”
No one in Hollywood would ever dream of characterizing a woman the way fathers are routinely portrayed in TV and movies. I don’t know if art is imitating culture, or making it, but the fact is fathers don’t get the respect they used to. Even worse, many people believe they aren’t necessary any more. Even worse than that, many men have bought into it, believing that what they do as a dad doesn’t make much difference. Many more men know that it is important, but they don’t know really, how to be a good dad, because there are so few positive role models.
The truth is that there is probably no greater factor in determining a child’s physical and emotional welfare than a positive father. This past week I downloaded seven pages of statistical summary from the Fatherhood Initiative (www.fatherhood.org). This is was just a small sample, distilled for the media, of the social research that has been done on the role and effect of fathers in America. I have distilled it even farther, and just taken some of the high points. Some of these facts come from professional and academic research studies. In addition, much of the data that is summarized here came from official government statistics, like the US Census, and the Federal Department of Health and Human Services. My point is, this wasn’t made up by some conservative organization with an axe to grind. If anything, most the facts were discovered by organizations whom we would normally expect to be either indifferent to, or negative toward, fatherhood.
In 1960, only 11% of children lived in father absent homes
Today, 1 in three children live apart from their fathers
Children in father-absent homes are five times more likely to be poor
Infants without a father’s name on the birth certificate are 21/2 times more likely to die within the first year of life, than are those with a father listed at birth.
A study of juvenile offenders indicates that family structure significantly predicts delinquency
Multiple studies show that drug and alcohol abuse is far more likely among children who do not live with their father.
Children who grew up in father-absent homes are far more likely to spend time in prison during their lives. Children who never had a father in the home are the most likely to be incarcerated.
Statistics from INTERPOL, taken from 39 countries show that there is a strong correlation between single-parenthood and violent crime.
Being raised by a single mother increases the risk of teen pregnancy (and early sexual activity)
Fatherless children are twice as likely to drop out of school
10% of students in two-parent families have to repeat a grade at some point; 18% of students from single-mother homes repeat
Compared to their peers living in with both parents, children in single-parent homes have:
- An 77% greater risk of suffering from being physically abused
- An 165% greater risk of notable physical neglect
- A 74% greater risk of suffering from emotional neglect
- Overall, a 120% greater risk of being endangered by some type of child abuse
Obese children are more likely to live in father-absent homes than non-obese children
The closer a child is to his or her father, the less likely the child is to have friends who smoke, drink or do drugs.
Single mothers are twice as likely to experience depression as married mothers
Compared to married mothers, single mothers experience higher levels of stress, fewer contacts with family and friends, less involvement with church or social groups, and overall, less social support
Children who live with their fathers in the home typically have more daily time with both their fathers AND their mothers than do children in single parent homes
In 2006, the Federal Government spent 100 Billion Dollars in assistance for father-absent homes.
If these things don’t scare you, I don’t know what will. If this doesn’t convince you how important Dads are, nothing will. One third of our population is heading for disaster because dads are absent without leave.
So, what do we do about it?
I think we need to start where we are. If you are not a dad yourself, then start by encouraging and supporting the dads you know. I know I’ve never tried to do anything more important than to be a good father to my children. I also know that it is the most difficult thing I’ve ever attempted. And speaking candidly, there is nothing I’ve worked so hard at that I also have failed so frequently at. So give us a hand. Pray for us. If you see positives in our kids, let us know. Let us share our frustrations with you once awhile, without judging us. Don’t be afraid to interact with our kids and offer your own love, joy and wisdom with them at times.
Maybe you are married to a dad. We don’t say it much these days, because we might get called male chauvinists, but we deeply appreciate it when our wives show us respect both in private and especially in front of the children. If you want to shut down a dad and get him to stop being involved, then just criticize him in front of the kids. Maybe you always don’t agree with our approach to child-rearing. Who am I kidding? Of course you don’t always agree. But God intended children to be raised by both a mother AND a father – the statistics I shared earlier prove this, if nothing else. So, give dad the benefit of the doubt, and if you don’t like how he handled the situation, talk to him about it in private, not in front of the kids. Also, give your husband encouragement in his fathering at every opportunity. Tell him how much you appreciate his role in the lives of your kids. No one else gives him that encouragement. Seriously. Expect your kids to respect their father also, and when possible, enforce that attitude.
And what about you dads? I don’t care if you are an adoptive dad or step dad – you are a dad. Act like one. The first and most important thing a dad does is to stay. You saw the statistics I shared earlier. They are the results of dads bailing out on marriages and children. We’ve talked about divorce before at New Joy Fellowship. As always, I am speaking to you in your current situation. You won’t help matters by divorcing your second wife and leaving the kids you have with her to go back and re-marry your first wife. But if you are married now, then stay. If those statistics tell us anything, it is that you can’t be a real dad if you aren’t there. Man up. To be a good dad, a real dad, you have to be a husband to one woman for the rest of your life. When dads ignore that, we get the chaos that comes from fatherlessness.
Second, be involved with your kids on a daily basis. In 2009 The Fatherhood Initiative completed a national survey of the attitudes of mothers about fatherhood. There are two things I want to point out from that survey that may surprise you. The first is that mothers ranked work responsibilities as the biggest obstacle to good fathering. Sometimes we think work is our primary responsibility as a dad. That’s just not true. Of course we need to work and support our families. But something is very wrong when work regularly takes away from family time. So consider saying “no” to the overtime at times. Consider carefully the difference between how much you want to make and how much you need to make. While the kids are at home, maybe you have settle for a little less money in order to have more time with them. They won’t be there forever.
A second thing mothers said that was fascinating. Here’s a quote from the survey:
Mothers – even those that indicated that they were "not at all religious" – indicated that "churches or communities of faith" are the best places for fathers to learn about fatherhood.
It makes sense. After all, God reveals himself to us as a Father. Maybe he knows a little bit about it. As we dads of faith hang out together, we can encourage each other and learn from one another. We can share joys and frustrations. But even more than that, through the power of the Holy Spirit we can tap into the wisdom and strength of the best Father in the universe. And that, I think is the most important step for being a good dad. We need to admit we need help, and seek it from the Lord. When we do, I am certain he will answer.