In 2016, psychologist Dr. Peter Langman compiled biographical data on 56 American school shooters. He found that 82% had grown up in dysfunctional family situations, usually without two biological parents at home. The trend has sadly continued. The shooter in Uvalde, Texas, hadn’t lived with his father in years. The Sandy Hook shooter hadn’t seen his father in the two years leading up to that massacre.
Last month, new research from the Institute for Family Studies demonstrated, once again, how important fathers are, especially for boys. For example, boys growing up without their dads are only half as likely to graduate from college as their peers who live with their dad at home. Strikingly, those numbers remain steady even after controlling for other factors such as race, income, and general IQ. Boys without a dad at home are also almost twice as likely to be “idle” in their late twenties, defined as neither working nor in school, and are significantly more likely to have been arrested or incarcerated by the time they turn 35.
These are only a few of the data points which demonstrate that fatherlessness is one of the most pressing crises our culture is facing. Why doesn’t our culture talk more about this?
One reason is that this crisis intersects other “third rails.” Our culture got to this point via the sexual revolution, which encouraged promiscuity by redefining freedom and prioritizing autonomy over responsibility. When sex outside of marriage becomes normal, it is mostly women who are left on their own to raise the resulting children.
There are other contributing factors as well, many of which were made possible by legislation. Divorce has been largely destigmatized, not in small part by making it legally easier. The legal demand for same-sex “marriage” brought with it the demand for same-sex parenting, which by definition asserts that kids do not need both a mother and a father. Certain forms of assisted reproduction likewise assert that children are less the fruit of a committed marriage than they are a commercial process.
And now here we are, with 32% of American boys growing up in homes without their biological dads. If there’s anything that we should learn from the grim outcomes of this social experiment, it is that dads aren’t replaceable. This was true from creation, but even more so in a fallen world with each of us born with a fallen human nature. We only learn to grow from socially, emotionally, and spiritually immature children into adults so that we can live together in a healthy way by seeing healthy behavior modeled and by having unhealthy behavior corrected.
Scripture passages affirm that mentoring in righteousness requires demonstration, as much or more than just explanation. Christ repeatedly told his followers to “do as He did.” When He washed His disciples’ feet, He offered it as an object lesson: “I give you an example, that you also should do as I did to you.” Paul told believers in Corinth and Ephesus to be “imitators” of him, just as he was an “imitator of Christ.”
In other places, Scripture even points to modeling and mimicry in sex-specific ways. In his letter to Titus, Paul instructed men to be “dignified” and “self-controlled” and to “urge the younger men to be self-controlled.” He also told the older women to “teach what is good” and to “train the younger women” to be “self-controlled,” “pure” and “kind.”
That, of course, is another cultural third rail. We are so desperate to pretend sexual difference isn’t built into our biological reality, we simply cannot abide the suggestion that our genders are critically important in parenting. But the numbers don’t lie. As Dr. Ryan Anderson, president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, puts it, “[T]here is no such thing as ‘parenting.’ There is mothering, and there is fathering—children do best with both.”
Christians can challenge the growing public safety crisis that is fatherlessness, and we must start in the Church. We must affirm, in word and in action, that there are men and there are women and that both matter in parenting. We have to de-normalize absent dads, challenge men to take responsibility for their sexual choices and for their children, and fill in the gaps whenever and however necessary.
No matter if our technologies and cultural dogmas pretend otherwise, every child has a father. These new statistics show, again, that every child needs their father. We have no right to deprive them of
John Stonestreet serves as president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. He’s a sought-after author and speaker on areas of faith and culture, theology, worldview, education and apologetics.