As May dwindles down and we flip the calendar to June, it reminds me that Father’s Day is just around the corner. To be sure, the praise of fathers will be extolled and the importance of father’s highlighted. One method that is often used to highlight the importance of fathers, is to cite statistics on the effects of the absence of fathers. Whether it be in a sermon, a podcast or a blog entry, there will be those who choose this method so that their Christian audience understands why the presence of fathers is so important. This is particular true in evangelical circles that place a significance on the role of the husband and father as head of the household. After all, isn’t this what inspired the movie Courageous?
Now I do understand the concerns that provokes this method. Certainly, there are situations in which a father has the ability to be present, but for whatever reason he is not available. I also recognize that children become innocent victims of divorce, thereby losing wholly or partially the presence of the father. There are concerns about selfishness. There are also concerns about the impact that the absence of a father has on a child. For some, there are concerns that a household is not being adequately maintained by a proper head of household. I get that it is about the health of the family.
While I do appreciate the concerns of this type of exposure, I am not sure if the promoters of such statistics understands the impact it has on those affected by the absence of fathers and the women who raise them. While the scenarios I just stated may be the motivating factor behind such a method, one of the problems is that it does not wholly capture the reality behind the absence of fathers in a household. The identification of problem cannot be treated with a simplistic version of the cause as if it is applicable to all situations. There are those, such as myself, who become widowed and children are fatherless. Divorce happens for a variety of reasons and in some cases is better for the health of the family involved, especially where it involves abuse. In some cases, a spouse abdicates his responsibility. But in every scenario, there are still those left behind – a single mother who must now care for the needs of a fatherless family.
Now I confess to filtering this somewhat through my own lens of experience though I strive to write generally and objectively. I have had to raise my son alone, since he was 7 years old in 2004. I have not liked being a single parent and I have prayed that I won’t be. I have prayed that my son might have a father who can give that male guidance to him. For whatever reason, God in his providence has not opened that door not even for a consistent male mentor in his life. It has puzzled me at times but I do know that God in his infinite wisdom and loving care has his reasons. He is good and provides. My job is to trust him and raise my son.
However, what I’ve recognized is that one of the motivating factors behind this desire is the promotion of the concerns raised by the recitation of such statistics. And I don’t think I speak just for myself. How many have heard statements such as fatherless boys are more apt to be in jail, experience difficulties in school, drop out of school, have relational issues…and the list goes on. I most certainly do not want that for my son. I don’t want my son to be impacted by the ramifications of fatherlessness. I do not want such inadequacies to exist.
And that leads to my concerns about the impact that such promotion does to those whom fatherlessness affects. Basically, it is identifying two types of households, of which the single parent household does not measure up. It is highlighting a deficit and telling those who are left with the task of raising children without a father that their situation is inferior and is possibly doomed for failure. A single parent already is burdened with the reality of solo responsibility not to mention feelings of inadequacies. They already have concerns for the welfare of the child and how the absence of a father may impact that child. The promotion of fear is often like a noose around an already burdened neck.
It also communicates to the children of such households that they have a deficit. The problem is that they already know there is a deficit, especially if the child is exposed to two-parent families. What child is going to compare the realities of a one-parent and two-parent home and not conclude that something is missing? The fatherless see the presence of fathers in the lives of others and most certainly is impacted by the absence in their own lives. To burden the child further with statistics about their situation is both unloving and unconscionable.
I don’t know if the reciters of these statistics understand the detrimental impact that it causes on the psyche of those impacted by fatherlessnesss. I want to give them the benefit of the doubt and say concerns for the welfare of the family drive them to do so. But what they need to realize is that the welfare of the family may already be undermined. Why then encourage fear, inadequacy, deficits and failure? Why invoke more instability into situations experiencing less than ideal stability?
I think the notion of ideal has also communicated some false hope. The cause for male headed households is touted as ideal. But the ideal world ended in Genesis 3 and what is left is met with brokenness, undesired circumstances, and failures. To be sure, sin has impacted us all and produced a myriad of ways in which families have detrimentally been affected. There is no guarantee that two-parent households are more secure, loving or able to circumvent bad outcomes for their children. In some cases, a single-parent home can be more stable and loving than a two-parent home.
Now please don’t get me wrong, I am not promoting the existence of single parent households over those of two-parent households. I think it is better for children to have both parents together. But we must understand this is a reality for many, regardless of the circumstances that caused it. The question then becomes what are we going to do about it?
I personally would love to see the recitation of statistics to promote family health cease and desist. It does nothing but promote fear and highlight inadequacies. If they are to be used at all, I would rather the pastor or evangelical leader use them to encourage the church to take up the slack of families that experience deficits because of the absence of a father. Let it be use for good, to promote body life where there is needed. I do recall reading in scripture God’s heart for the fatherless and about how his covenant people should care for the widow and orphan. Is this not what the church should be concerned about rather than statistics about the absence of fathers?