Researching the curse of fatherlessness
Virtually every major social pathology has been linked to fatherlessness. Violent crime, drug and alcohol abuse, teen pregnancy, suicide all correlate more strongly to fatherlessness than to any other single factor. – Stephen Baskerville, Howard University
The biggest problem in the world today is fatherlessness. Do you believe that? Can you believe that? It is a strong statement. it is an incredible statement, yet the research is overwhelming. We see children raising children in the war-torn, AIDS-ridden parts of Africa, grandmothers raising their grandchildren in North American inner cities, single-parent families and orphans everywhere. Leaders from all walks of life around the world are starting to acknowledge fatherlessness for the massive problem that it is.
The children are crying. They cry, but not always knowing for what they cry. Some children can identify the longing for their fathers, while others just sense a lack deep within themselves. Boys join militias and gangs; girls become prematurely sexually active, all in search of fathers. And those realities just show the tip of the problem. Who will hear their cries?
My own research has confirmed that dysfunctional family life is the biggest crisis the world is facing, with fatherlessness at the center of the problem. Over the years I have been to more than 100 nations, and when I ask people in these countries what the biggest issues are the same culprits are identified time and again: crumbling family life, a lack of moral values, the desperate need for education, and the scourge of corruption. In some cases, drugs, violence and unemployment are added as well. in his book, Raising A Modern-Day Knight, Robert Lewis makes the disconcerting observation that a vast majority of social turmoil is caused by men. Unfortunately, research done in America backs up his statements. Men commit between 75% and 90% of all major crimes, 97% of all rapes, 72% of the offenses against the family, and comprise 75% of drunk drivers.2 Further studies describe this turmoil even better:
- 63% of suicides come from fatherless homes.
- 80% of rapists, motivated by displaced anger, come from fatherless homes.
- 70% of juveniles in state-operated institutions come from fatherless homes.
- 32% of children do not live with their biological fathers.
- Children from fatherless homes are twice as likely to display emotional and behavioral problems than children who live in two parent households.
- Children from fatherless homes graduate from high school and attend college at a lower rate, perform worse on standardized tests and are more likely to use drugs.
Even if these figures are only an approximate reflection of the rest of the world, they still paint a very damning picture. It is not a great leap of logic to say if men are much of the problem, men need to be much of the solution. How can we as men change our culture? What does it mean to be a man in a moral sense? What are our responsibilities as men? Firstly, we have to see the problem through the lens of the children’s pain. We must train our ears to hear the cries of the children. We must become acutely aware just how deeply they are affected by the decisions of their parents.
The where-is-my-father? generation
Due to the explosive growth in divorce rates across the world, the growing phenomenon of migrant workers, and numerous other reasons, the current generation can rightly be called the ”where-is-my-father?” generation.
Have you ever considered the world from the perspective of a young child? Can you imagine yourself being an eight-year-old boy going to bed at night, not having your father at home to say good night to you? Imagine knowing that he is out there somewhere, but you, his son, are just not important enough for him to look up? It must be hell on earth!
Divorce and broken family life is a global trend.
- 851 000 American couples filed divorces in 2012,
- Around 79% of all children are born outside of wedlock in the Seychelles
- 51% of households in Grenada are female-headed
- Marriage to divorce ratio in 2013 in Portugal was a staggering 70%.
- In South Africa, some of the tribes have a custom that when a man marries a woman who already has one or more children, he has the option to accept her with or without her children. If it is without the children, they then, according to traditional customs, belong to and go to the grandmother to take care of them.
Hell is on earth for so many boys and girls due to the absence of their fathers.
We have to face the urgent question: what are the effects of fatherlessness? Can it just be brushed off as a sad reality to be dealt with by someone else, or are there other long-term effects evident in society that cannot be ignored?
Wholeness or weakness?
We have a saying in our leadership network that “leaders are only as Strong as their weakest link”. We have learned over a number of years that many leaders with great potential break down in times of challenge at the weak spots of their lives. These are the places of least resistance, if the metaphoric dyke cracks there, the force of the water completes the destruction and disaster follows; the village downstream floods.
The primary responsibility of a parent in the upbringing of the Child is to co-create wholeness in the life of the child in all six dimensions of the human being the spiritual, physical, emotional, social, intellectual and environmental dimensions. Disability or weakness in any of these dimensions not only prevents the child from reaching his or her fun potential, but can also cause a lot of damage in relationships. it is in these damaged areas that social breakdown is most likely to occur.
I will never forget the day l was called out by a 68-year-old man whose wife had packed her bags and was about to leave him. I managed to get her back into the house and started a marriage therapy process of many hours. The single most pivotal factor in this imploding marriage was a social disability the husband carried due to something that happened to him when he was 12 years old. He never fully recovered from it, but his saving grace was that his first wife could cope with it. A few years after her death he married again, but his new wife did not have the patience to cope with his weakness and it put a lot of strain on the relationship.
What causes these disabilities? What are the reasons for our struggles? Obviously, there are a variety of factors for each of us that leave us bruised and scarred in life, but none are so damaging as those inflicted by our parents. And unfortunately, because fatherlessness is such a ubiquitous problem. fathers bear most of the responsibility for these disabilities in children.
When we are attentive to the pain of our children, we can hear that they cry from emotional, social, spiritual, intellectual, physical and environmental wounds, often inflicted by dads. Let us look at the cries of our children related to some of these life dimensions.
Help me be sharp, Dad!
Fathers put an inordinately high value on education of their children as long as they have the right education and life opportunities, they will be happy. If dads are really concerned about the academic performance and success of their child, they cannot underestimate the impact of their fun time presence in their child’s life. This is one of the greatest evils of divorce. If the mother gets full custody the dad hardly gets to see his children at all, and even weekend visitation rights only allow dads to spend about 30% of the week with their kids. This is not nearly enough. If you really want to give your children the best in life, you need to be there.
The Father Involvement Research Alliance (FIRA) scoured through 150 masters and doctoral theses, and in 2007 produced a fascinating and informative report on fatherhood.* (For the full excerpts relevant to this chapter, see appendix A.) The report describes at great length how broad and deep the impact of a father’s positive presence is on a child. It discusses this impact holistically, and very definitely concludes that children with involved fathers fare better than their non-fathered peers socially, emotionally, cognitively and physically.
The report describes how important a father’s interaction with a young child is in developing different areas of the intellect and character, and how positive father involvement can quite literally improve the child’s IQ. They conclude with the following statement:
Children of involved fathers are more likely to have higher levels of economic and educational achievement, career success, occupational competency, better educational outcomes, higher educational expectations, higher educational attainment, and
psychological well-being (Appendix A)
Imagine a 15-year old girl raising a child alone. Not only is she still developing herself, but she is also in survival mode, fending for herself and her baby. This invariably leads to neglect of the child on many levels. For example, she will only be 21 years of age by the time her child is 6 years old, and would not have been able to properly stimulate her child intellectually during this most crucial stage of intellectual development (0 to 6 years).
The report is very clear that having a positively involved father significantly improves the child’s prospects of healthy cognitive development.
Help me deal with toxic emotions, Dad!
A friend of mine had expectations that his child should become an Olympic tennis champion. He was prepared to pay for the best training ever, and the coach agreed that his son had the potential to make it. But sport is a tough test of emotional security and what happens off the court always has a telling impact on what happens on the court.
My friend had the best intentions, but was too blinded by his own obsession to accept the emotional toll his divorce had taken on his son. To cut a sad story short, his son never made it to any top tournaments after 13 years old. He could not carry the emotional load of highly competitive tennis. And who knows, given the right emotional climate, maybe his dad could have had the honor of seeing his son play at Wimbledon.
Emotional intelligence deals with the emotional and social competence of a person, which have a direct impact on every other aspect of a person’s capability. In response to questions on this topic, Professor Etienne van der Walt, a neurosurgeon who specializes in the development of intelligence in children, explains that in order to perform at a peak level, the brain needs to be “collectively well”. Things like a sense of belonging, identity and meaning have a direct result on performance, especially at high levels of stress. (Appendix A)
Warren Bennis, in his book, On Becoming A Leader, writes: In those fields I have studied, emotional intelligence (EQ) is much more powerful than IQ (Intelligence Quotient) in determining who emerges as a leader. IQ is a threshold competence. You need it, but it doesn’t make you a star. Emotional intelligence can.
The FIRA report points out a surprising number of EQ benefits children of an involved father receive:
- A greater tolerance for and ability to handle strange, stressful and frustrating situations.
- More happiness with a greater internal locus of control.
- A higher degree of curiosity and willingness to explore.
- Superior problem solving skills.
- Better able to manage emotions and impulses in an appropriate manner.
- A greater ability to take initiative.
They go on to say that:
Children with involved fathers tend to score highly on measures of self-acceptance and personal and social adjustment, see themselves as dependable, trusting, practical and friendly, be more likely to succeed in their work, and be mentally healthy as young adults. ‘
Children are better off when their relationship with their father is secure, supportive, reciprocal, sensitive, close, nurturing, and warm father involvement contributes significantly and independently to adolescent happiness. 7 (Appendix A)
Help me deal with challenging relationships, Dad!
More than anything else, home should be a place where children learn how to relate. The big cry of youth in their social development phase between 12 and 18 years is, ”Help me cope with challenging relationships”. Whether they say it or not, what they are really asking you is, “Teach me how to love.”
This capacity is demonstrated firstly between husband and wife, secondly between parent and child and thirdly between siblings.
The FIRA report makes the following observations on the social impact on children with involved fathers:
They are more likely to have positive peer relations (and conversely, a negative father influence predicts a likely decreased acceptance amongst peers).
They relate to their peers with more positive friendship qualities, and with less negativity, aggression and conflict.
They tend to experience less tension with other children, and are better at solving conflicts without requiring an adult’s assistance.
They tend to be more tolerant and understanding as adults, adjust better to college, and develop long-term close friendships.
They are more likely to have intimate relationships, long term, successful marriages, and are less likely to divorce.
This is what we want. Our children need their father’s support for the best chance at becoming more than just successful well socialized adults with good moral judgment. All of these things are attributed to positive father involvement, according to the FIRA report. (Appendix A)
Help me cope physically, Dad!
Prof. Frans J. Cronje, a professor of Health Science at the University of Stellenbosch wrote in an email:
All diseases affect us psychologically to some extent although the mechanisms linking mind and body may not always be apparent, the association between stress, hostility and depression and many modern diseases is well substantiated.
Over the past 30 years, the impact of spirituality and religiosity on physical and mental health has also gained increasing recognition and scientific validity. Prof. Cronje has been doing ground breaking research in this field and has discovered, amongst other things, that our natural vulnerabilities towards fear, guilt and shame seem to produce very specific and predictable derangements in our spiritual, psychological and physical wellbeing. (Appendix A)
Because fathers are designed to be the protectors, providers and promoters of growth in children, neglect or abuse by a father makes us uniquely vulnerable to fear, guilt and shame. As such, Prof. Cronje says that he can readily support the claim that the absence of fathers contributes significantly to a number of physical diseases. The absence of a father is a major stressor, and stress has been found to weaken the immune system, contribute to diabetes, depression, cardiovascular disease, upper respiratory infections, and the development of numerous diseases through the weakening of the body to control its inflammatory response. We were designed for a father’s love.
The FIRA research agrees that the degree of father involvement on health is notable. Infant mortality rates are 1.8 times higher for unmarried mothers, children who live apart from their fathers have a greater chance of asthma attacks and emergency room visits, diabetic children have poorer health and the chance of obesity is higher in father-absent homes. Overall, children who live without their fathers are more likely to experience health related problems. (Appendix A)
“Absent fathers are a major stressor no matter how well people may try to rationalize or even hide its significance. We were designed for a father’s love.”
This barrage of research by specialists all points to the one conclusion: Fathers are enormously important in the holistic development of their children. The absence of the father in these areas deprives the child from wholeness, and hinders them from having heaven on earth, the life God created for them to live.
This is a daunting concept to deal with. Spiritual wounds often occur as a result of emotional and social damage, so it is not only our transgressions, but also our neglect that scar our children permanently. It is essential to safeguard our children from emotional and social damage. The Bible is unwavering when it talks about the negative impact we can have spiritually on our children: If anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large milestone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. (Matthew 18:6)
The cry for spiritual health
I need God with skin on!
A young boy was having a nightmare in the middle of the night and cried out in his sleep for his father. His father rushed over to his room to console him. Being a spiritual man, he said: ”Don’t worry my boy, God is with you.” ”I know God is with me, Dad. But right now I need someone with skin on.”
God with skin on. This is what our children need.
A psychologist once told me that the image of God children have at six years old is derived from their image of their own father. I shared this with a group of men l was training, and one of them who had a six-year-old son decided to test this hypothesis. He gave his son a piece of paper and a pen, and asked him to draw God the father. He was totally overwhelmed the next day when he told us how his son came back with his picture of God; ”I looked into my own face!”
The absent father portrays an absent God.
The disconnected father portrays a disconnected God.
The permissive father portrays a permissive God.
The neglecting father portrays a neglecting God.
The emotional father portrays an emotional God.
We are God with skin on for our children!
“I know God is with me, Dad. But right now I need someone with skin on.”