|Whenever a writer or preacher goes on about the importance of fathers a certain number of us start to bristle. We all know of poignant cases where a widowed mom did an amazing job of raising her family. Statistics and anecdotes about the necessity of fathers don’t respect the exceptions, it might be said. OK, but they are exceptional cases, aren’t they? It reminds me of a story I heard about a small town that was evangelized by means of a short Bible fragment someone found. If true, this is an amazing testimony to the power or God and his word, but it should not define our missiology. Exceptions should keep us humble but policy should be based on solid principles.
In a day when few dare scoff at the idea of “new models of family,” it must be said that something in the hardwired needs of children requires a stable, lifelong, involved, preferably biological, father in the home. Single people can adopt or bear children; same-sex “domestic partners” have done the same in some cases. While these innovations have not had long to demonstrate their strengths, there is little reason to hope for a good outcome. It is callous to even speak of these things as though raising kids is an experiment. What will we do, look at this woebegone generation 20 years from now and say, “Whoops?”
A variety of mostly secular researchers have discovered that, absent a live-in biological father, the following things are more likely to happen:
There is more but you get the picture. Most of these finding imply a positive corollary. A permanent father will decrease the likelihood of good things in the life of his children and restrain the more destructive things. Studies have also found that no one outside the family can do much to make up for an absentee father. This is sobering stuff and the trends are not going the right way.
According to a fact sheet provided by the North American Mission Board, 27 percent of children (20 million) live in single parent homes and 34 percent (24 million) live absent their biological father. The number of cohabiting couples with children is 1.7 million, double the number reported in 1990. These cohabiting couples are far less likely to stay together or provide a stable two-parent family for the children. The devastation will continue, it appears.
These findings shouldn’t surprise us. We instinctively and experientially know that kids need both fathers and mothers. When an unmarried couple has children and then splits, it’s the dad who leaves. Similarly, when a married couple divorces, the father is more often the absentee parent. The number of single father homes has increased in the last decade (that makes problems of its own) but the great number of single-parent homes are headed by the mother. We also know that these children are injured by any degree of abandonment. Let’s call it what it is. A couple that splits rarely does so for the benefit of the children. The result is abandonment by one parent or the other. Kids are right to be angry about that.
Maybe I’ll get letters for saying that but I challenge the writers to tell me something I’ve not heard from those contemplating divorce. The most common reasons I’ve heard turn out to be false almost every time. Those who think they’ll be better off don’t factor in the guilt, poverty, loneliness, and stress that nearly always follows. Those who think it will be better for the kids (less arguing, more stability, etc) are doubly wrong. The arguing and instability don’t end and a profound sense of insecurity enters the picture and affects everything in their lives. Divorce and abandonment make sad, wounded children who often grow into wounded adults with kids of their own.
What then? This cheery Fathers’ Day message should have a point. Simply this, fathers hang in there. My parents just celebrated their 50UP>th wedding anniversary and I know it wasn’t always easy for them. I don’t know if “for the sake of the kids” helped them through challenging days but I know it was to our benefit. As an adult with nearly grown children I still have a sense of stability from the family of my origin. I would be shaken in some ways if that changed, even now. They have kept the commitmen</