Apologies to Willie Nelson for the title, but it fits. What am I talking about? The failure of fatherhood in American society. My thesis is this: men have abdicated their traditional role in society as the head of the family and the responsibility for the training of children in life. Boys and girls need a strong, ethical male influence in their lives and, in huge numbers, they are missing that today.
In the classic ballad “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” Pete Seeger asks “where have all the young men gone?” Of course in this war-protest song Seeger has them going off to be soldiers, but we have them just going off. They’ve gone off physically in some instances, but off and away emotionally far too often.
The statistics of divorce are well known (over 50% of all marriages ending in divorce) and we all know from personal experience of instances where divorce caused problems for the children. But that’s not the problem I’m trying to address because there are many divorcing parents who manage the marriage dissolution without totally cratering the kids. It can be done.
The problem is that whether in the intact family, the dissolved marriage, or with a blended family, fathers are not truly present in the lives of their children. Some are “away” working, some golfing and fishing, some drinking and drugging. Even when present they are “away” emotionally when they don’t spend quality time with children teaching by example.
What difference does it make? Plenty. Sharing experiences from juvenile court I can say that easily 80% of the children in trouble are there as a result of parental benign neglect. Not the kind of neglect that results in a CPS removal but indifference to the child’s life. Almost all of those youth exhibit anger. Where does the anger come from? I’m no psychologist (but I have stayed in many Holiday Inn Expresses), but I’m told and know from experience that the anger is a symptom of unhappiness and depression.
The anger is directed many directions but a common target is the parent — why? Because it’s disappointment in the parent or the circumstances the child holds the parent responsible for that causes the reaction. The anger toward the parent ranges from simple disobedience and defiance of the parental authority all the way to physical assault on a parent.
The child is disappointed in, and angry at, the parent not because they don’t have the latest Nintendo or a new cell phone or a car (although that’s often the child’s stated excuse). It’s because the parent is not emotionally present. Maybe the single mother is having to work two jobs because the father is not paying child support, and is just too worn out to give emotionally to the child. Maybe the parents are together but, in particular, the fathers are not taking the kids out to do “stuff.” Just “stuff.” You don’t have to DO a lot, just go do something.
Just this morning at the local coffee shop a group of us were talking about fun, and the lack today of kids being able to have fun as we knew it. A common theme was that a large difference then and today is outdoors versus indoors. We talked, laughed (and lied a little, I suspect) about the things we did outdoors … with our dads. We all talked about our mothers too, and their nurturing, but the talk was largely about what we did with our dads and what our dads taught us about life and responsibility. Fond memories flowed of the ethical male influences in our lives.
How many children do you know who get outdoors on a regular basis today? How many have seen a sunrise from a mountain top? How many have caught a fish or hiked a remote trail? How many know the sound of silence? Far too few, I submit.
What does the term “druggies” in the title have to do with all of this? Because a common result of the trouble children get into has a drug abuse component. Easily 80-90% of the juveniles in court are using, if not abusing, a drug. It may be “only” tobacco or alcohol or a “little pot” but the drugs are there. Most adult crime is based in drug usage and most in the criminal justice system had a beginning in the juvenile justice system … including drug usage. See the trend?
The conclusion to which I come is that when men abdicate their roles … when they don’t father their child beyond a sperm donation … they face a high probability of the child developing severe problems including drug usage and lifelong problems in school, work, and relationships.
Daddies … don’t let your babies grow up to be druggies ….