Real Men Need Families

The noted columnist Robert J. Samuelson calls fatherhood "without doubt the most terrifying and fulfilling part of my life." His greatest fear, as he puts it, is that he will fail his children. But for Samuelson the real tragedy of fatherhood--with all its ups and downs--is that so many men are missing the experience. The statistics indicate an alarming trend: In the past three decades, from 1960 to 1990, the percentage of children living apart from their biological father has more than doubled, from 17 percent to 36 percent. By the year 2000 nearly half of all children in America may grow up without their dad in the home. A new book by Sociologist David Popenoe of Rutgers University, entitled Life Without Father, documents the fearful price our society is paying as a result. Popenoe's research shows that an astounding 60 percent of America's rapists come from fatherless homes; 72 percent of adolescent murderers grew up without a father; and 70 percent of all long-term prison inmates are fatherless. But what about the missing fathers themselves? As Popenoe demonstrates, far from getting off scot free, the breakdown of the family hurts them as well. Married men live longer and healthier lives than those who are unmarried; their level of financial prosperity is nearly double--and they are even more content with their sex lives than the unmarried. Robert Griswold, in his book Fatherhood in America, discusses how we came to be a nation of absentee fathers. Until the Civil War, fathers bore the primary responsibility for their children's intellectual and spiritual development. They also trained them in practical skills, working side by side on the farm or in home industries. That all changed as the Industrial Revolution transferred the workplace from the homestead to offices and factories. As fathers followed their work out of the home, they no longer spent enough time with their children to act as the primary parent any longer. The most striking feature of late nineteenth century child-rearing manuals is that fathers became virtually invisible. For the first time in American history, books for parents began to address mothers exclusively. Fathers were demoted to secondary status. In their place appeared a host of experts in sociology and psychology, all pressuring parents to adopt their latest theories on how to raise children. Fathers were made to feel old-fashioned, uninformed, incompetent. The incompetent father became a stock figure in the entertainment media. This is illustrated in the 1962 film Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation. In the film a young couple argue fiercely over their children--with the wife quoting the dictates of a psychologist to override her "unenlightened" husband. The same negative stereotype has been reinforced in comic strip and television characters like Dagwood Bumstead, Archie Bunker, and Al Bundy. As Christians we need to fight against this low view of fatherhood. We need to teach men that the Bible calls them to a high position within the family as its leader and head, its provider and protector. Only then can fatherhood become one of life's most rewarding experiences.  


Chuck Colson


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