By Sammie Gallo, Creator and Author of Abundant Life: You Were Made for More
In response to the shootings in El Paso and Dayton, my heart is aching. I find it necessary to say something – to ignore it seems rather harsh. My point is not to offer a solution, to complain, or to say what it wrong or right politically. Rather, my point is to ignite something in your heart. Something that also recognizes and feels the weight of something that I believe is at the root of these tragedies: fatherlessness.
My dad has had a great impact on my life; he has provided for me, protected me, and most of all, he has set me up with skills to function as an adult in my own work and my own relationships. My dad is a man who I admire greatly. He works hard. He always shows up. He keeps his promises. He’s generous. And now, as a grown child who really will always be his little girl, I consider him to be a great friend. Has he messed up? Sure – all parents do, as I’m positive that I will one day. But, overall, my dad has had a hugely positive impact on my life. One that I do not take for granted in the slightest.
My childhood was ideal, but I’m aware that not every child or grown adult can say the same. I know more people that do not share my story than those that do. I know people who have wept over the absence of their father. I know women who have struggled immensely in romantic relationships because of the absence of a fatherly figure to show them what a provider and protector looks like here on earth. I know men who have grown up harboring bitterness, rage, and anger because they didn’t have a healthy role model to show them how to channel their emotions. I know people who still ache over the fatherlessness that they didn’t choose, but happened to them.
Here’s some data* for you to consider:
- Among children who were part of the “post-war generation,” 87.7% grew up with two biological parents who were married to each other. Today only 68.1% will spend their entire childhood in an intact family.
- With the increasing number of premarital births and a continuing high divorce rate, the proportion of children living with just one parent rose from 9.1% in 1960 to 20.7% in 2012. Currently, 55.1% of all black children, 31.1% of all Hispanic children, and 20.7% of all white children are living in single-parent homes.
Now, as you read these statistics, don’t misunderstand me – I don’t think that fatherlessness is the sole cause of violence like the shootings in El Paso and Dayton, and the many others before them. There are so many factors that lead to childhood trauma, trauma so damaging that they never learn to cope with the feelings caused or exacerbated by whatever or whoever has hurt them. However, I do think the lack of a father plays a huge part. For that reason, I’d argue that it is crucial to talk about how more American children can grow up with the emotional, psychological, and spiritual security that comes from relationships where one is deeply cared for, connected, and known.
If you are a youth leader, it’s important to look out for students in your ministry who have deep-rooted beliefs about who they are because of a father’s absence and to know how those beliefs could manifest in a student’s personality. Plus, it’s probably likely that there are students struggling with the issue all around your community who aren’t coming to youth group, but you have opportunities to interact with on a regular basis. Children who grow up with absent fathers are likely to display the following characteristics, according to Psychology Today*:
- Diminished self- concept and compromised physical and emotional security (may experience bouts of self-loathing).
- Difficulty with social adjustment and problems with friendships.
- May develop an intimidating persona in an attempt to disguise their underlying fears, resentments, anxieties and unhappiness.
- Poor academic performance (children from father-absent homes are more likely to play truant from school, more likely to be excluded from school, more likely to leave school at age 16, and less likely to attain academic and professional qualifications in adulthood).
- Likely to suffer from anxiety, depression, and suicide.
- More likely to engage in promiscuity and sexual behavior from an earlier age (many girls manifest an object hunger for males and in experiencing the emotional loss of their father egocentrically as a rejection of them. They may become susceptible to exploitation by adult men).
Our relationship with our parents is the first one that we really pick up on – we watch how our parents respond to us, what words they use when they interact with us, and how quickly or diligently they provide care to us. When one or both of those reactions are either missing or neglectful, we begin to form an idea of ourselves and who we are that reflects those responses – and as we know, identity affects everything. Who you believe you are will affect what you think you’re worth. Who you believe you are will affect what you do. And who you believe you are will affect every single area of your life, including how you relate to others.
We can’t ignore the sobering theme that’s repeated over and over in the biographies of school shooters and others with a history of violence – the fatherlessness of a broken or never formed family.
In addition to structure and discipline, a boy’s relationship with his father can be a profound source of identity. Every child, at some point or another will ask themselves: “Who am I?” Dr. Warren Farrell, author of the The Boy Crisis, says that when a boy asks that question, the answer is that his identity is comprised of half his dad and half his mom. If he thinks his father has abandoned him, he fears he is not worthy of the type of love that chooses to stay, protect, and provide. Boys who do not have a strong relationship with their fathers may also lack a model of healthy masculinity.
This is where the connection comes in – many of the school shooters struggled with a sense of “damaged masculinity” and sought to become “ultra-masculine.” In other words, they overcompensate for what they feel they naturally don’t have, and they overcompensate using messages they see in the media, movies, video games, etc.
The reality is, we cannot provide every fatherless boy with a dad, but we can start by respecting the unique role that fathers play in the lives of boys and encouraging more men to step into the lives of children who need a male role model. I believe that to understand the brokenness of our children, Americans must take a deeper look at the brokenness of our families. We must do this together. We must be the keepers of all our country’s sons so that they can grow up to be one another’s. If we are going to prevent the next tragedy, we need to take seriously the need all our young boys and men have for a dad.
I want to take this opportunity to encourage you… if you’re a man who has the time to mentor a young boy without a father, do not hesitate. It will make all the difference in his life – whether he shows it at the time or not. If you’re a young man who doesn’t have a father figure in his life – please reach out to a man you trust to walk alongside of you.
I read Psalm 10:14 the other day and was struck by these words: “But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted. You consider their grief and take it in hand. The victims commit themselves to you; you are the helper of the fatherless.” You see, justice is a fundamental part of God’s character. No questions asked. He sees the brokenness in families and says that even if one child does not know the love of a family… that’s a great injustice. Sadly, there are millions of children living this reality not only in the United States all over the world.
God promises protection and help for those who cannot protect themselves – AND he redeems injustice through His mighty love. BUT – He also asks us to do something about it. God invites everyone to play their part in working toward justice. Today, I’m playing my part by encouraging the men in my life who are great dads to keep going. I’m playing my part by praying for the fatherless. I’m playing my part by reaching out to a teenager I know is struggling because of the absence of a father.
I hope that you’ll spend some time reflecting on what part you can play in this, because like I said, God asks us each to do something… anything… about it.
Source: U.S. Census Bureau. “Living Arrangements of Children Under 18 Years Old: 1960 to Present”. U.S. Census Bureau July 1, 2012.