In his book The Good Dad (Zondervan, 2014), Focus on the Family President Jim Daly describes standing on his high school football field on Dad’s Night. The announcer called out the name of each athlete and then the name of his father, who would run onto the field to stand by his son.
But Daly’s father had died, and he’d forgotten to ask anyone to stand in as his “dad” for the night. So he stood there alone, feeling embarrassed and self-conscious.
“Want to know how important fathers are?” Daly writes. “Ask the guy who didn’t have one.”
Fatherless in America
Today, you can multiply Daly’s longing and loneliness by millions: 24 million children in the U.S. live apart from their biological father. That’s one out of every three kids.
It’s no longer the norm for children to grow up with both parents in the home. According to the Fifth Annual Index of Belonging and Rejection, a yearly study conducted by the Marriage and Religion Research Institute, only 46 percent of teens currently between the ages of 15 and 17 have grown up with both their biological parents always married to each other.
So what happens to children when dad is gone? What happens to a society where so many grow up fatherless?
Impact on Kids
As you’d expect, the results are not good. We know from Scripture, experience and years of social science research that fathers play a key parenting role. Children suffer when fathers are absent. Here are just a few ways fathers help their children:
Healthy emotional and psychological development. Children with involved dads are, in general, more emotionally secure and confident than others.
Healthy relational development. The many interpersonal areas affected by fathers include verbal and non-verbal communication; learning empathy; controlling anger and aggression; and the development of healthy sexuality.
Healthy spiritual development. Scripture enjoins parents to raise children who love God with all their heart, soul and might. Absent fathers can’t pass on their faith.
Family is the fundamental building block of human civilization. When this foundation is weakened, all of society is affected. Think of a Jenga tower from which blocks are removed one at a time: The tower wobbles, totters and finally comes crashing down.
Paternal absence leads to poor outcomes for many children, which then affect all of us. Fatherlessness has been linked to rates of higher drug and alcohol abuse, increased violence and crime, lower educational achievement and greater poverty.
Of course, not all children without fathers are destined to lives of poverty, drug abuse and crime. Many men and women rise above their broken upbringings. In addition, there are many single and divorced parents who successfully raise healthy children.
At the same time, Christians can’t ignore changes in the family that have damaging consequences. Beginning with our own homes and churches, we can commit to strengthening and encouraging marriages and families.
Originally published in the May 2018 issue of Citizen magazine.