Men in the Shadows

Officials know that the men are there. At a Chicago housing project, men can be seen coming and going, playing with the kids, or hanging around beat-up Chevys in the parking lot. Yet there are hardly any men listed on the leases. "They live in the shadows," says a tenant legal adviser. Since getting married can cost a woman her welfare benefits and her public housing, men lurk around the edges, refusing to become "a legitimate part of their own families." The result is that welfare has become one of the most potent destroyers of family life today. As social work professor Anthony King puts it, "Our entire social welfare system is set up to de-emphasize the father . . . to exclude the father . . . to discourage the father." Most social programs are aimed at women, whether it's job training, parenting classes, or Aid to Families with Dependent Children. Charles Ballard, a Christian who ministers to inner-city men, says these social programs send a harsh message to fathers. In essence, they say, "What role could you play? You've got no job. You're no good to anybody. Just get out of the way." The result is a system that robs communities of committed husbands and fathers. And communities without fathers are inherently unstable. Criminals prey on women and children. Schools flounder. Businesses leave. Fatherless neighborhoods quickly deteriorate into ghettos. Why did our government institute welfare policies with such destructive effects? One explanation is that social service professionals bought into the idea that fathers are superfluous to family life and can be safely shunted aside. In a book called Fatherhood in America, Robert Griswold says a low view of fatherhood took root in the early twentieth century, when social work, education, and psychology first became professionalized. There appeared a host of advice columns, books, and child development classes—all pressuring parents to adopt the latest theories expounded by the experts. Soon the cult of the expert was replacing the authority of the father. Since most books and classes were addressed to mothers, they were the first to absorb the new theories of child-rearing. By contrast, fathers were made to feel old-fashioned, uninformed, incompetent. The incompetent father eventually became a stock figure in entertainment media. In the 1962 film Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation, a young couple argues fiercely over their children—with the wife repeatedly quoting the dictates of a professional psychologist to override her "unenlightened" husband. Today the same negative stereotype is reinforced in comic strip and TV characters, such as Dagwood Bumstead, Archie Bunker, and Al Bundy. The assumption of the superfluous father has also helped shape welfare policies that discourage fathers—policies that push men into the shadows. 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. American society is suffering gravely for listening to the word of the social experts— instead of the Word of God.


Chuck Colson


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