A reader just put me onto this very enjoyable rant by Suzanne Venker in the Washington Examiner.
I understand last Sunday was Father’s Day in the USA (in Australia it falls in September); this op-ed addresses the issue of fatherlessness and father absence in America, hitting on some very poignant universal truths, in my opinion:
With Father’s Day upon us, the time has come to address as a nation what Heather Mac Donald noted earlier this year is “the greatest social catastrophe of our time”: fatherlessness. Fatherlessness is the No. 1 cause of nearly all social ills we face. We can’t afford to ignore it any longer.
To be clear, father absence is the more accurate term, since fatherlessness implies that men have become “deadbeat dads” — nothing could be further from the truth. Sure, this faction exists, as do “deadbeat moms.” But the two most significant threats to a father’s presence in the home are divorce and out-of-wedlock births.
It’s the breakdown of marriage, in other words, or the collapse of the family, that results in father-absent homes. Whether you feel its pain directly or not, it affects you. “Families are the building blocks of civilization,” writes Genevieve Wood at the Daily Signal. “They are personal relationships, but they greatly shape and serve the public good. Family breakdown harms society as a whole.”
Indeed it does. And how, exactly, did the family fall apart? When we stopped valuing men and marriage.
There was a time, believe it or not, when marriage was highly valued. Ergo, the majority of Americans married. They even looked forward to it! It was an honorable mark of adulthood to leave one’s family of origin and build a family of one’s own.
Then came feminism. “And with it,” notes Dennis Prager in his “Fireside Chat” on marriage and children vs. career, “the notion that ‘a woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.'”
This mantra was glamorized (though not coined) by Gloria Steinem in the 1970s and was quickly inculcated both in Prager’s generation and those that followed. Prager rightly defines America’s new narrative, which is directed specifically to women: “You don’t need a man; you need a career. Then you’ll be happy.”
It has surprised and saddened me how many men have told me this is a common theme they hear among the women they meet. I would expect this to be the sort of attitude one would find among secular women, so it is quite disturbing to hear how much this thinking seems to have pervaded the Church as well.
I do have to wonder if this is more of an American thing. I’ve met dozens, if not hundreds, of Catholic women in Australia and I honestly don’t know if I’ve ever heard any of them say or even imply this kind of mindset. Certainly not to the extent that they are not even interested in relationships because they are too busy pursuing a career.
The opposite is far more likely to be true, in my experience. I’ve seen numerous women show little or no interest in a career – listlessly taking on this job or that course, all the while hoping to meet someone and get married. (I think this attitude has its own issues but that is the subject of a future post.)
In any case, there can be no doubt that father absence bears a heavy burden of blame for many of the ills of the modern world, as Suzanne states:
Since this narrative first took hold, America has undergone a sea change with respect to men and marriage. Marriage began to be viewed not as a given but as a possible accompaniment to a woman’s otherwise more important and exciting independent life — and men went along for the ride. What choice did they have? Then, sometime later, America upped the ante with a full-scale war on men and, more recently, with an attack on men’s very nature.
Men and boys have heard this message loud and clear, and as a result have stepped back or stopped trying. Boys are failing to grow up and make something of themselves because they lack fathers who can help them do just that. They lack fathers because America has made it clear that men are superfluous and even dangerous to women and children.
This is almost certainly a Western – if not a universal – problem. While this attitude may have begun in America, it has spread to the UK, Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere.
It is time for people to say “Enough!” We cannot survive as a nation without strong and competent men raising strong and competent boys who become the kind of men that women want to marry.
This is so true! I almost want to frame this quote and put it on my wall. All the young men I know who were raised by strong and competent fathers like this are worth their weight in gold. They are disturbingly rare and I desperately wish we saw more of them, and more families led by strong and competent fathers.
Yet the current state of the world is actively working against this. So what can we do?
Stop apologising, for one thing. I see far too many Christians apologising for their beliefs when speaking about them with non-Christian friends. Don’t be aggressive, but be matter-of-fact about what you believe (when possible). I am very casual about the fact that I attend Mass regularly and don’t believe in pre-marital sexual relationships or contraception when speaking with those who do not share my faith. I have found this to be a very disarming approach, and one that helps facilitate good, respectful discussions.
You need to be prudent about this, as there are some people who are just looking to pick a fight no matter what, but I’ve discovered that in most cases, if you treat and talk about your beliefs and religious practices as if they’re normal, others will too.
For men in particular I highly recommend reading Wild at Heart by John Eldredge. It directly addresses the issues of father absence and other father-related issues most men face and how to address them. Reading this book was a revelation to me about how men think and the sorts of struggles they face, compared to women.
For women, I recommend the sister book to this, Captivating, by husband-and-wife team John and Stasi Eldridge. This book, and the conference based on it that I attended a couple of years ago, were life-changing for me.
And a Happy Father’s Day to all my American readers who are dads!