Fatherless Day

vita khorzhevska / Shutterstock.com)
vita khorzhevska / Shutterstock.com)
In time for Father’s Day, here’s a reminder of how much social damage fatherlessness causes in the United States.

Here’s a fun little piece of trivia for you: Did you know that circa 1960, only 11 percent of American children lived in homes without fathers? Over the last 50 years, that number has swollen to 33 percent of the entire US populace, with out-of-wedlock babies now representing two out of every five births in the nation.

Among certain demographics, the percentage of fatherless kids shoots up even higher; at last glance, the best estimate available for the number of African-American youths living without their biological fathers is 54 percent—which is coupled with an absolutely mind-breaking 72 percent out-of-wedlock birthrate. And if you think that’s distressing, chew on this: across a 400-mile swath of the Ozarks, stretching from Louisiana and Arkansas all the way to Memphis, there are some neighborhoods where an estimated 82 PERCENT of black children don’t have dads.

One of the amazing things about this national epidemic of fatherlessness is how general it truly is. It’s a major social factor in both urban and rural environments, and for the most part, it’s something that affects large populations of Caucasian, African-American, and Hispanic children alike. But what’s even more incredible is how pertinent fatherlessness is as a corollary to oh-so-many social plights. Here are a few statistics I’ve gleaned off the National Fatherhood Initiative website:

• Among US children living with two married parents, roughly 12 percent fell below the poverty line. For youths living with a single mom, the poverty rates skyrockets to 44 percent.

• According to a report culling data from the Fragile Families Study, researchers found that children living with unmarried moms were much likelier to display aggressive behavioral problems than those who lived with married moms.

• Among unmarried mothers, the infant mortality rate is 1.8 times higher than that of married mothers.

• Even with household income factored out of the equation, youths who grew up without fathers are still likelier to be incarcerated than youths who grew up with both parents.

There seems to be hardly ANY negative social phenomenon that isn’t somehow correlated to fatherlessness. Academic failure, juvenile delinquency, teen pregnancy, suicide attempts, drug and alcohol use, the odds of a child being maltreated and even childhood obesity—ALL are significantly more likely among kids sans daddies than those whom actually live with their biological papa.

That said, it’s more than a little interesting that hardly anybody in politics or the media has stood up and yelled the obvious here; if you want to take a huge chunk out of all of these major social problems, the seeming first step would be addressing the massive issue of coast-to-coast fatherlessness first.

I suppose it’s an issue that some thin-skinned liberals would be deathly afraid of, since you really can’t talk about fatherlessness without addressing it as a problem that disproportionately impacts the African-American community. But at the same time, more than enough material has been published demonstrating the dire consequences of fatherlessness among all populations—such as this recent Harvard study which found social mobility directly tethered to whether or not one grew up in a two-parent home—even among white families, as Charles Murray’s 2012 tome Coming Apart clearly demonstrated.

So with all of the staggering evidence showing how damaging fatherlessness is to children, how come NOBODY seems to be zeroing in on it as the public health menace it is?

One possibility is that by citing fatherlessness as a major—if not the underlying root—cause of a litany of social problems, we’d have to admit that male figures are important or necessary for one to become a functional adult. The unstated sub-theory there would be that single-parent mothers aren’t capable of raising children by themselves sans a secondary, and presumably male, provider. You can see, clearly, how that might rankle the hardcore feminists out there.

Secondly, the whole idea of a father being vital to successful individual growth is one that seems to encourage and endorse what is commonly referred to as “the traditional family construct.” Now, the idea of a nuclear family was pretty much the cultural default 100 years ago, but today, our expanded ideas on what constitutes a domicile unit make that little notion a bit outmoded, if not in the eyes of some, prejudicial. With that in mind, I will let you make what you will of the University of Texas’s New Family Structures Study (NFSS), which is the single largest study evaluating outcomes among children of straight biological parents and homosexual adoptive parents. The general outcomes for children living with two dads, the study suggests, surpassed outcomes of children living with two moms in virtually every category, from educational obtainment to likelihood of experiencing depression.

The NFSS study itself hails the biologically intact family model as probably the best model to insure favorable childhood outcomes. Compared to single parent families, divorced families, adopted families, and step families, the project investigators found children who grew up in intact biological families to be likelier to attend college, report higher quality relationships, and be less likely to do any of the following: get arrested, smoke cigarettes, plead guilty to any major offense, rely upon public assistance, be unemployed, have suicide ideation, attend therapy, experience depression, be raped, or contract an STI. But then again, all of this hoity-toity statistical evidence sounds too much like a celebration of the much-maligned patriarchy, so it’s probably for the best if we completely ignore its existence.

I think the main reason why fatherlessness is such a massive problem in America is simply the fact that we decided that fathers weren’t all that important anymore. In the early 1900s, calling someone a “bastard” was enough to start a duel to the death, but in 2014, the social stigma of having an absent father has all but vanished. Sometime around the midpoint of the 20th century—perhaps during all of the Great Society reforms—we up and decided that if daddies can’t support their families, we’ll simply use public funds as a surrogate papa.

And while social entitlements may have kept a few bellies fed, they sure as hell didn’t do a very good job of imparting any fatherly wisdom on the masses. And so we found ourselves with an entire generation of men, of all races and creeds, with no idea what it meant to be someone’s provider, along with an entire generation of women who had no idea what a decent man was supposed to resemble. With no male role models within the home, it’s probably not surprising that many teens began equating masculine ideals with some less-than-savory sorts outside the home: namely, pimps and drug runners and gangsters and a whole host of other no-goodniks whose top priority, most assuredly, wasn’t living honestly and working hard to put food on the table.

Some of the more sure-footed politicians and pundits may make note of this, but legislatively, there’s nothing to be done to remedy it. Sure, sure, you can legally force fathers to pay child support, but they’ll probably do what Daddy Swift did: simply haul ass to another state, lay low for a couple of years, and take a dirt nap without coughing up a single dime. As hard as fathers half a century ago worked to support their families, I sometimes wonder if today’s deadbeat dads work even harder to avoid supporting their own flesh and blood.

Alas, fatherlessness isn’t a political issue, something that can be regulated or voted on. Instead, it’s a cultural matter, something that is dictated and reinforced by society at large. Odds are, the only way we can promote fatherliness is if we got together and started championing it as something worthwhile, important and just—you know, they same way everybody goes on and on about how great “diversity” and “equality” is.

I guess US culture doesn’t find that much value in fathers anymore. A long, long time ago, we decided that patriarchs shouldn’t be moral pillars such as Atticus Fitch or Andy Griffith, but laughable buffoons such as Peter Griffin and Homer Simpson. Indeed, the very term “patriarch” itself has been expropriated to mean “oppressive” instead of “protective,” something indicative of masculine tyranny as opposed to masculine affection.

Father’s Day is the least celebrated holiday in America. And if we keep decrying fatherhood’s importance the way we’re doing now, in a few generations we may not even know what a “father” used to be. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

James Swift is an Atlanta-based writer and reporter.

Keep up with James on uncommonjournalism.blogspot.com

More From Thought Catalog