Missing Dads

U.S. News recently illustrated an article using a family photograph: The photo showed an adolescent girl, her mother, and her grandmother. But there's something wrong with this picture. Where are the husbands? Where are the fathers? Three generations of fatherless families were presented without comment—as though that were perfectly normal. But it's not normal, and it's time for society to start calling all those missing fathers to accountability. Children born out of wedlock are statistically at greater risk of a host of social problems. For example, Roberto Rivera at Justice Fellowship found that the best predictor of crime in any state is the number of fatherless families. Rivera first ranked the states by their violent crime rate. Then he ranked them by a host of social and economic factors. He discovered that the most consistent correlation with violent crime is the state's illegitimacy rate—correlating more closely than income level, the number of urban areas, or any other factor. This statistical correlation reinforces what many of us know instinctively: that neighborhoods filled with fatherless youth become neighborhoods filled with crime. The pattern remains consistent, whether the residents are white or black, urban or rural, middle class or poor. Call it the fatherless factor: It's what happens when fathers are missing in action. And for the past 25 years, the rate of fathers going AWOL has steadily increased. Between 1965 and 1990 the illegitimacy rate rose 300 percent. During the same period, homicide arrest rates for juveniles rose 332 percent—suggesting a strong correlation between the two. In the inner cities, the illegitimacy rate has topped 80 percent, public order has broken down, and several mayors have called for the National Guard. The fact that crime correlates with out-of-wedlock births should come as no surprise to Christians. The Bible leaves no doubt about the important role fathers play in their children's lives. Fathers are repeatedly admonished to teach their children to be godly. The book of Proverbs is replete with warnings about the ruined lives that result when children don't receive proper discipline from a loving father. They embark on lives of idleness, sexual promiscuity, and, yes, crime. Yet, strangely enough, social commentators and policy makers are only now starting to make this connection. Liberal orthodoxy has insisted that fathers don't contribute much beyond a paycheck—which the government can easily replace with a welfare check. This was the guiding philosophy of the welfare state. But today that philosophy has been thoroughly debunked. Fathers are not just a meal ticket. And as we prepare to celebrate Father's Day this weekend, those of us who are husbands and fathers ought to take time out to do some soul-searching on how much we're contributing to our own family's personal and spiritual well-being. We can also find ways to reach out to fatherless children in our churches and neighborhoods. And finally, we need to call the media's bluff when they present images of fatherless families as though they were the norm. The fact is that illegitimacy is a social time bomb, ticking more loudly with each passing day.


Chuck Colson


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