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Ethics & Religion
Column #1,972
June 6, 2019
Where Are the Fathers?
By Mike McManus

Father's Day will be a sad one for 26 million children who live in homes without a father. Some 35% of children are fatherless.

Of course, the numbers are worse for black children: 58% are fatherless.

Fortunately, 72% of the U.S. population believes that fatherlessness is the most significant family or social problem facing America. Why is that fortunate? There is a broad consensus on the need to address the issue.

"Among children who were part of the `post-war' generation, 87.7% grew up with two biological parents who were married to each other," asserts the National Center for Fathering. "Today, only 68% will spend their entire childhood in an intact family,"

However, the Center's director, Dr. Ken Canfield, has good news. There is a "growing group of father figures who are gracing us with a fresh expression of fathering and we must applaud them. They include grandfathers, great grandfathers, older brothers, uncles, extended family members, teachers, coaches, stepfathers, faith community leaders and neighbors."

The fastest growing group filling in for missing fathers are grandfathers. Canfield estimates that "Nationally just over 10% of children under the age of 18 are being raised by a grandparent. Some 2.7 million grandparent-headed households are raising 7.2 million children under the age of 18."

This is great news that has never been reported, to my knowledge.

In a newspaper article, Canfield writes, "Gerry is a retired Navy pilot, but at the age of 78, when one family member fell on hard times because of poor choices, he was thrust into a role he never imagined. He and his wife are raising their eight-year-old grandson, who has severe ADHD - something Gerry had never heard of when raising his own children years ago."

"We're doing something right now that's as important as anything we've ever done."

The National Center for Fathering has collected more than a million essays written by children about how their fathers and father figures influenced their lives through its "Father of the Year Essay Contest."

A 4th grade boy wrote: "I have a team made up of teachers, coaches, friends and family that have filled in when my father wasn't there. One person stands out. My grandpa has always believed in me. Even as a baby, he gave me a very special Chinese name, Ming Fong, which means "highest peak."

"My grandpa has encouraged me to reach higher goals than even I believed I could reach. I have been successful in school, sports and life because of his support."

These substitute fathers are very important. Children who grow up with involved fathers are:

  • 39% more likely to earn mostly A's in school
  • 45% less likely to repeat a grade
  • 60% less likely to be suspended or expelled from school
  • Twice as likely to go to college and find stable employment after high school
  • 75% less likely to have a teen birth
  • 80% less likely to spend time in jail.

Therefore, my question is what can our society do to increase the likelihood that millions of fathers will invest more energy into building a successful marriage, so there are fewer divorces?

My wife and I created an organization we call Marriage Savers that has reduced divorce rates in 230 cities. On average, citywide divorce rates have fallen by 17.5% after seven years. Cohabitation rates have fallen by one-third. From 100,000 to 200,000 marriages were saved from divorce.

How? We have worked with 10,000 churches to take five steps to strengthen marriage that works so well that churches are able to almost eliminate divorce in their congregations:

  1. Preparation: We train couples in healthy marriages to mentor those preparing for marriage by administering a premarital inventory, which asks couples to respond to 150 statements like these:
  • It is difficult for me to share negative feelings with my partner.
  • I am concerned that my partner is more of a spender than I am.

Mentor Couples also teach communication and conflict resolution skills. Result: about 20% of couples break their engagement, but of those who do marry, more than 90% are still married 20 years later.

  1. Enrichment: Churches offer a low cost marriage enrichment event annually to strengthen existing marriages
  2. Restore troubled marriages by training couples whose own marriage nearly failed, to mentor those in crisis, saving 80% of them.
  3. Reconcile separated couples with a 12-week course taken by the committed spouse with a friend of the same gender.
  4. Stepfamilies divorce at a 70% rate. But if the church creates a Stepfamily Support Group, it can save 80% of them.

The best father is a married father. The greatest gift a father can give a child is to love the mother.


Copyright (c) 2018 Michael J. McManus, a syndicated columnist and past president of Marriage Savers. To read past columns, go to Hit Search for any topic.


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