The Decline of Fatherhood

In America

Mike Willis

The United States is rapidly becoming a fatherless society. Dan Davenport reported, "In 1960, 5.8 million American kids lived in single-parent families. Today, that number has more than tripled, to an astonishing 18 million. Another figure is equally startling: nearly 40 percent of our children do not live in the same home as their biological father" (Better Homes and Gardens [June 1996], 46).

David Blankenhorn re-ported, "About one-third of all childbirths in the nation now occur outside of marriage. In most of these cases, the place for the father's name on the birth certificate is simply left blank. In at least two or every three cases of unwed parenthood, father is never legally identified" (Fatherless America 10). Another wrote that "27.1 percent of all American children are born into single-parent homes, a number that is on the rise. In the black community, that figure is an astounding 68 percent" (Critical Issues [I:2], "Family Values," Web address:

When Dan Quayle called our attention to this issue by commenting on the Murphy Brown sitcom in which the leading character decided to bear a child outside of wedlock, he was soundly attacked by Hollywood. The New York Daily News headline that reported on Quayle's Murphy Brown speech was titled "Quayle to Murphy Brown: You Tramp!" However, more and more sociologists are reaching the same conclusion  Dan Quayle was right!

The Impact of Fatherless Homes

Enough time has elapsed since the social revolution of the 1960s that sociologists are able to critically analyze the impact of the breakdown of fatherhood on the lives of the children. Here are some of their findings:

 Poverty. "Over half of all children living with a single mother are living in poverty: a rate five to six times that of kids living with two parents."

 General Health Problems: "An Australian study of over 2,100 adolescents found that teens from disrupted families had more general health problems, were more likely to display signs of emotional problems, and were more like to be sexually active than kids from intact families."

 Child Abuse: "Child abuse is significantly more likely to occur in single parent homes than in intact families. In a study of 156 victims of child sexual abuse by the U.S. Department of Justice, the majority of the children were found to come from disrupted or single-parent homes. Only 31 percent of the children lived with both natural parents."

 Crime: "Children from single parent homes are more likely to get involved in crime than those growing up in traditional homes. Robert Rector, a policy analyst for the Heritage Foundation, has found that across the economic spectrum, children from single-parent households are more involved in crimes and drug than kids form two-parent homes. `The most accurate indicator of future delinquency in children is whether they are reared in one or two parent homes' (Critical Issues [I:2], "Family Values," Web ad-dress:

These conclusions concur with those of Blankenhorn in his book Fatherless America.

 Violence: ". . . fatherlessness is a primary generator of violence among young men... Surveys of child well-being repeatedly show that children living apart from their fathers are far more likely than other children to be expelled or suspended from school, to display emotional and behavioral problems, to have difficulty getting along with their peers, and to get in trouble with the police" (31). "Boys raised by traditionally masculine fathers generally do not commit crimes. Fatherless boys commit crimes" (30).

 Poverty: "In married-couple homes in the United States in 1992, about 13 percent of all children under the age of six lived in poverty; in single-mother families, about 66 percent of young children lived in poverty  a ratio of 5 to 1" (42).

 Domestic Violence Against Women: "Of all violent crimes against women committed by intimates during this period, about 65 percent were committed by either boy-friends or ex-husbands, compared with 9 percent by husbands" (35). The situation of a divorced woman con-trolling the husband's right to see his children, a live-in boyfriend (or husband), resentment for the divorce and child support payments, feeling powerless to change it  all of these created a combustible atmosphere that frequently results in violence against women.

 Child Sexual Abuse: "A number of studies have shown that girls living with non-natal fathers [boyfriends and stepfathers] are at higher risk for sexual abuse than girls living with natal fathers" (41). ". . . a young child left alone with mother's boyfriend experiences substantially elevated risks of abuse" (Idem.).

 Adolescent Child Bearing: Garfinkel and McLanahan's study of fatherless homes reported that "daughters of single parents are 53 percent more likely to marry as teenagers, 111 percent more likely to have children as teenagers, 164 percent more likely to have a premarital birth, and 92 percent more like to dissolve their own marriages" (46).


Messages We Are Sending About Fatherhood

Our culture is sending distinct messages about father-hood in a number of ways. Television portrays fatherhood in a number of ways. Consider the role of fathers as portrayed in the following programs:

*Murphy Brown: The man is only necessary for sperm to conceive a child. After the child has been conceived, the man is not needed or wanted in the life of the mother.

*The Cosby Show: The man is portrayed as a "Father Knows Worst" type of guy, with the brains for knowing how to run the family clearly residing in the mother.

*Archie Bunker: The man is portrayed as an ignorant, prejudiced tyrant over the family.

We are sending the message to our children that divorce is a normal part of life. In divorce, the mother gets the custody of the children, the father sends child support payments and visits on every other week-end, and the divorced mother and father go on happily in their lives. Parents who divorce with hostility are encouraged to learn how to have a happy divorce. Not ever is the message being sent that divorce is not the solution to family problems. Even in the best divorces, both parents remarry and go their separate ways. The father is consumed with the responsibilities of his new family and his children see less and less of him. Within a couple of years, his children will rarely see him.

Restoring the Role of Fatherhood

In the darkness created by the deterioration in the home, Christians have a wonderful opportunity to display the light of the gospel, both in word and by example.

The word of the gospel is that God ordained that children be raised in the home of their natural mother and father. When God created the world, he created the home. Children were to be raised by Adam and Eve, not some state agency, a day-care center, a grandparent or close friend, but by the biological parents who conceived them (Gen. 2:18-25). The home is not a temporary arrangement for sexual gratification that is cast aside when the "new" wears off. Rather, the gospel announces that marriage is a life-time commitment between a man and woman (Rom. 7:1-6). It is to last "until death do us part." This stable home is the best environment in which to rear children. Christians need to be preaching at every opportunity what God reveals about the home. The darkness of the world around us with reference to the family should cause each of us to preach what God reveals on the home to our friends and neighbors.

We can display the light of the gospel in our own homes. When father and mother love each other, accept their respective roles of husband/father and wife/mother in the home, and bring up God-fearing children, their home will be a refreshing oasis in the midst of troubled homes. Their children will not be troublemakers at school; they will show respect for their teachers and principals. They will learn their lessons and move on into higher education or specialized job training so that they can assume the roles of parents in their own homes. In contrast to the children of broken homes, this family will be an exemplary role model for others. Non-Christians will see the family of Christians and be drawn toward the God of the gospel who revealed how to have Christian homes.

Other messages about manhood emphasize that father-hood is being respectfully discharged so long as the child support payments are paid in a timely fashion and occasionally the father makes time to visit his children. The father is especially good if he is a "Disney World Father," one who takes his child to an amusement park on week-ends or otherwise buys the children things the mother cannot afford. Can the role of "fatherhood" be satisfied by a man who visits for a few hours every other weekend?

Guardian of Truth XLI: 12 p. 1
June 19, 1997