"When does a joke become a dad joke? When it become apparent." -Anonymous
When I was growing up the word 'Dad' was synonymous with 'Superman.' He had the strength of a locomotive and could leap tall buildings in a single bound. Whenever I needed to get something hard done, he was the one I went to. Whether it was fixing cars, building forts, handling fights with siblings or at school, my dad had an answer. It wasn't always the advice I wanted, but it was the advice I needed. I am sure that you have at least a few memories like mine if you are lucky enough to have known your dad. But beyond childhood fantasies, how important are fathers really?
According to the National Fatherhood Initiative, the single most influencial factor for the overall well-being of a child is the presence of their father during development, adolescence, and early adulthood. Fatherless children are 7 times more likely to be involved in teen pregnancy, 4 times more likely to live in poverty, and 2 times more likely to die in infancy, develop obesity, and drop out of school. The statistics on violence are equally as concerning--72% of adolescent murderers, 60% of rapists, and 70% of incarcerated youth all grew up without fathers.
According to the US Census Bureau the number of children living in fatherless homes increased from 7.6 million (11%) in 1968 to 15.3 million (21%) in 2020. Now the number is as high s as 19 million, or 1 in 4 children. For comparison, the percentage of children in motherless homes increased from 0.8 million (1%) to 3.3 million (4.5%) in the same time period. In 52 years, or 2 generations, the number of fatherless homes more than doubled and the number of motherless homes nearly quadrupled.
Despite the quadrupling of motherless homes, strangely, there seem to be far fewer observable negative impacts from motherlessness. Granted, this might be an artifact of motherlessness being both less common and less studied, but either way there is definitely something unique to the father-child bond that, if disrupted, can result in greater chaos than the the disruption of mother-child bond. A bold statement, I know. Please hear me out.
I am not saying that either parent is more (or less) essential than the other. That would be complete nonsense. I am saying that the primary problem that is most pressing in our society at this moment and in the foreseeable future, is the lack of fathers. They seem to be missing nutrient for not only the health of our children, but the health of us all. Fathers provide a sense of discipline and order that differs from the mother's. The paternal example is also critically responsible for children's patterns of self-care, self-esteem, and self-actualization, all of which govern how we set boundaries and strive towards improvement. I know I would not be the same confident and capable person, male, or father had I not had my dad's loving and strong influence.
This begs two much larger questions, though: 1) where are all the fathers going and 2) how do we get them back? For more on that, you'll have to come back for Part 2 next week. Until then, have a lovely day celebrating your father or father-like figure. They are more important than they get credit for.