How father absence is affecting our marriage prospects

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.

Read Suzanne Venker’s article in full.

And a Happy Father’s Day to all my American readers who are dads!

19 thoughts on “How father absence is affecting our marriage prospects

  1. Ironically, a commenter on a previous post made me aware of the Masculinist – his issue last month (#33) was on Eldredge.
    https://www.aaronrenn.com/masculinist/
    Fatherlessness is indeed a huge issue in our time. With 70% of divorces being initiated by women, and with 1 in 5 divorces being caused by student loan debt, it seems like the problems and commensurate solutions are clear cut: roll back feminism.
    And yet many of the women who are critical of feminism love to indulge themselves with its fruits.
    https://twitter.com/GoldmundUnleash/status/1138486005974151168?s=20
    How about it, ladies? How many of you would put your money where your mouth is and give up the franchise?
    https://www.barnhardt.biz/the-one-about/the-one-about-womens-suffrage/

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is SUCH a big issue, thank you for pointing it out. The common threads amongst all the women in my life over the years—dating in my twenties and thirties, failed marriage in my forties—are (1) none of the women I dated had a good relationship with her father and all but one were raised by a single mother, and (2) all of them were ultimately tremendously uncomfortable with simple masculinity.
    I’m not talking about machoness or anything like that. I mean, the fact that men tend to be less verbal about feelings. That men like to be decisive about things. That men don’t have much patience for, say, shopping. That men can be intense when focused. And so on. I lived so many years of being told by so many women that my focusing-on-a-task face “made them scared” or that my cheering for joy with other men about football or some life success was “too loud and violent” and so on.
    So many women just have little to no experience with men, never had the chance to become comfortable with natural masculinity. Not having seen it in a loving figure, and only having grown up with single mothers, everything about men is alien to them. They are biologically drawn to it but all of their social training and conditioning is to fear the things that make men… men.
    Hence the rise of the metrosexual male. When what women are buying is men that are like their mothers, it’s not a surprise that some percentage of men instinctively become… like women’s mothers, in order to mate and date. But these men aren’t happy this way, over the long term—they find themselves bitter and searching for themselves and having mid-life crises—and neither are the women, who gradually come to resent their effeminate men and move on.
    The girls that grew up with fathers that they loved and that loved them, in my experience, loved men as adults, too—loved to have them around, loved to smile and joke with them and enjoy happy times with them, and were generally comfortable and happy with men around.
    But those that grew up without them? They see anything masculine as inherently threatening or inherently irritating.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ausser-

      Excellent. This is very well put.

      It makes me think of Alison Armstrong who I heard on the Dennis Prager show probably ten years ago. I recall her addressing the examples you give, i.e. women fearing masculine exuberance and single-focus.

      As I recall, she seemed to be perhaps one of the few women I had ever heard who had insight into men and why relationships fail (hint: it’s not just men’s fault).

      As I said, it has been a while, so I won’t give an unqualified recommendation. It may still be worth it for the ladies, at least, to look up some of her talks on youtube. Here is one of her short Prager U videos:

      Sincerely,
      Underground Thomist.

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  3. There’s a line in the film Fight Club which goes “Our fathers are our models for God”. While it’s a bit of a throwaway line and in context it’s used to promote a kind of nihilism (the protagonist and Tyler Durden are talking about their absentee father and the implications this has on their worldview), I’ve realized subsequently there is at least something interesting to the idea.

    There’s interesting research about now which shows that a father’s church attendance is one of the strongest indicators of whether his children will continue attending church:

    https://nickcady.org/2016/06/20/the-impact-on-kids-of-dads-faith-and-church-attendance/

    Similarly, Mary Eberstadt (in ‘How the West Really Lost God’) hypothesizes that the reason Christians tend to have larger families is the reverse of what we’d actually expect: people from large, stable families tend to be more Christian because the family environment is more conducive to religiosity.

    So from that perspective, fathers seem to be pretty important.

    Unfortunately, the rot has set in pretty deeply. Apart from the factors Miss Hitchings mentions above, there are all sorts of pernicious influences which fly under the radar. Perhaps the biggest ‘silent killer’ of fatherhood I can think of is advertising. In pretty much every ad you see on TV, you see fathers represented as fat, bumbling oafs without any authority who have to keep being corrected and put in their place by their (seemingly wiser) wife or daughter.

    This portrayal of fathers carries over to other aspects of popular culture, like Hollywood films and popular TV shows. It really is an all-out assault on a scale we really can’t fully comprehend. I’m almost inclined to say there’s a supernatural element to the kind of insidious evil involved.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Veneker sort of completely contradicted herself here:

    These two cannot be separated. Women don’t want to marry unemployed men or men who have no purpose. But women do want children and will go to great lengths to have them in unconventional ways. Thus, children (boys especially, since girls will still have their mothers) will remain fatherless, and the cycle will continue

    Where’s the condemnation for women wanting to have children without a father present? Another Murphy Brown moment?

    What sucks in this whole line of reasoning is that Children are a medium of personal fulfillment and not something one has obligations to. I reckon a good Christian girl would not want to bring a child up into the world without a father deliberately and yet Veneker seems not to criticise this.

    Not much of a catch.

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  5. One more thought on all of this…

    Post-divorce, as I briefly considered dating and looked at online sites, apps, and local groups, I was shocked at the percentage (the vast majority) of middle-aged women who partially or wholly presented themselves in weirdly age-inappropriate ways. References to princesses, photos with little cartoon butterflies and flowers added, wearing Disney face paint, talking about love-love-loving kittens and cupcakes, or bikinis and beach parties and nights out drunk, right alongside tough talk about not needing a man, having a great career and financial independence, etc.

    So many reminded me either of confused little girls or rebellious teenage girls—on the one hand, pushing any caretaking away—yet on the other hand, presenting themselves very much as a daughter might interact at a young age with a father.

    Hmmm…

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  6. Again, it’s interesting how a post about the suffering men have endured from lack of fathering is met with responses about how … women have failed men.

    Some of the commenters here are fond of the expression ‘elephant in the room’, and this may be yet another one of them: men’s inability to confront their own pain and distress from lack of fathering. So much easier to lash out at women, who are also suffering.

    We can peel this social phenomenon of poor fathering in the West back to the 1960s. Or the 1940s and the colossal loss of men in wartime. Or to 1918 and the colossal loss of men in wartime. Or to the 1890s and economic depression. And if we keep peeling, we will arrive back where it started, which was in Genesis chapter 3.

    Or, we can look forward instead and try to find ways of repairing fatherless men and women. Those who have had good fathering and good mothering have a real opportunity to help mentor and guide younger, muddle-headed men and women away from mutual hatred and into mutual respect.

    Simply demanding that women ‘give up feminism’, whereupon society would magically return to a golden age of kindness, justice, affluence and beauty, is fantasy. That society never existed. The past was not any happier than the present; the misery was just differently located.

    A society of adequately-fathered men would look very different for both men and women.

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    1. Phillipa Martyr-
      I don’t think anyone here would argue that men have no role to play in this mess. Perhaps even the main role in this mess. At least I wouldn’t. The unrestrained, deracinated man is a very dangerous creature. Of this, there is no doubt.
      If there seems to be one-sidedness coming from men, it is that the “official” narrative almost always leaves out–or greatly minimizes– women’s role in helping to create our unfolding disaster. I see this certainly among the progressives, but in their own way among “conservatives” and even traditionalists.
      The 800-lbs gorilla riding atop the elephant in the room is that the “strong”, “independent”, “liberated” woman is a nearly perfect instrument of social destruction. I don’t think we will likely survive much more of this kind of liberation.
      You seem to be highly resistant to this reality.
      I, for one, have been hearing how evil I am for being a man my whole adult life. In some ways this has made me, I hope, a better man. Now it’s women’s turn.
      Enjoy.
      Sincerely,
      Underground Thomist

      Like

    2. Yes, we do use the phrase ‘elephant in the room’ a lot. That hadn’t escaped my attention. That’s because we note that women here are demanding a return to traditional masculinity, but I don’t see women really taking a good hard look at their own behavior and figuring out if it plays any part in their lack of dating success. Even this blog seems to be much better at handing out advice to men than it is at advising women to restrain the more problematic aspects of their personalities. To an extent, I agree that men need to change first and have the balls to reimpose the traditional order on society. But that doesn’t mean we’re the only ones who need to change.
      If you venture into the ‘Manosphere’ and the various red pill sites (which I assume many male commenters here have) you’ll see that men have already discussed a lot of their own problems in great detail, as well as those of women. This online community started off as a group of men interested in picking up women, but ended up looking at a lot of the socio-political and historical factors that have led to the current situation. Most will reach the conclusion that men took their eye off the ball and that is why we’re in this mess. For a lot of guys (I was one of them) this has involved having a good hard look at our failings and trying to remedy them – addressing past traumas, altering our behaviors and outlook and trying to become more confident and masculine.
      You can read Dalrock, Rollo Tomassi, Roger F Devlin and many, many others. We’ve already discussed these issues in great depth with brutal honesty.

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      1. Yep…we need to see the world as it really is and not as the SJWs see it. We have a mindset in the Anglo world that by nature women are victims and men aggressors. But is that really true? What else in the canon of modern Anglo-American orthodoxy doesn’t represent the world as it really is?

        I’m not well-versed in the history of modern feminism. From what I’ve read it seems to be largely an American-British phenomenon that has spread into the rest of the world because of the power of the US and the UK. I wonder what other cultures think.

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    3. Speaking for myself, I have no sense of “women have failed men.” I’m not particularly asking for anything of “women” as a class.
      But I *would* say that women have failed themselves and men are now in the process of failing themselves in return.
      I was an “adequately” fathered man. In fact, amazingly fathered. My father was hard-working, disciplined, wise, caring, judicious, and very involved. I have multiple sisters. All are single in their ’30s or ’40s and only one is married. The others say that they, too, are looking for a man with the potential to be as good a man as our father was—but sadly all they find are brutes and failsons.
      Women as a general cultural tendency say they don’t want a strong, masculine man (whom they now immediately confuse with “patriarchal tyrant”) but they also don’t want a passive, accommodating man (whom they laud from a distance as “enlightened” but whom, face-to-face, they dismiss as losers, closeted, ineffectual, hapless, not husband materials, etc.). Well they’re going to have to choose one or the other. Because by nature, men are masculine. If choose to repress that nature just for women, then they are indeed passive and accommodating—the kind of man who gives in, even when he knows it’s wrong. It’s either/or. Women reject both and are left with nothing.
      And now more and more men are in response to the changes initiated originally by women. The strong, masculine men are deciding to become embittered and/or “players”—masculine, but pathologically and dangerously so. And the rest are working their hardest to redouble their efforts in becoming even *more* passive and accommodating (often misnamed “enlightened” or “woke” in today’s world).
      Both are their own worst enemies, and (if I can be forgiven for sounding bombastic, though it’s frankly true) enemies of humanity.
      Women need to make peace with masculinity and, beneath that and even more centrally, with *their own biology,* the biological realities of “women and men,” and the nature of being as a whole. Men need to grow a spine once again and learn to take their lumps and remain steadfast, wisely and with generosity of spirit, without lashing out in bitterness and without giving in to what confused women tell them they ought to be.
      The catch-22 in all of this is: how will any of this happen without good men and good fathers in the first place, to kindly nurture their daughters’ better self-instincts toward happiness, and to kindly demonstrate to their sons how to remain steadfast, loving, and thoughtful—to support the women in their lives in making the most (rather than a mess) of their feminine selves?

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    4. Again, it’s interesting how a post about the suffering men have endured from lack of fathering is met with responses about how … women have failed men.

      You seem to find it hard to believe that women played a critical role in creating that fatherless state. Women initiate about 70% of all divorces in the US, almost all of which are “no fault” meaning that the wife didn’t even try to prove there was a legally recognized fault on his part justifying the divorce. Our rate of out of wedlock birth is about 40% as a country now and no, most of those unwed mothers are not particularly interested in marrying their “baby daddy.”

      An interesting study was done on abortion in the US and found that over 75% of all abortion was tantamount to “late term birth control.” When you combine all of these factors together and note that many of the men here have lived in or are American, none of this should surprise you.

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  7. The feminist movement is about as absurd as the gay rights movement. Delve deeper into these popular social justice causes and you’ll scratch your ahead wondering where the real oppression is or was. Some women certainly have been oppressed. But women as a class?
    I have to think that the material comfort of the modern world has allowed such goofy movements to flourish. Poor people don’t have the time or resources for such nonsense.

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  8. Philippa,

    “The elephant in the room” refers to humankind’s tendency to begin sexual relations from a young age – regardless of marital status. I.e. pushing back the age of marriage does little to nothing to push back the age at which intercourse begins. Therefore, arguing from the mean, it is unlikely that a 30-year-old demanding a devout man who made all the right decisions (in areas where it mattered to her) in his 20s has HERSELF been a devout woman who made all the right decisions (in areas where it mattered to him) in HER 20s. That’s hypocrisy.

    Now, how are fatherless children made, absent war, which has been a non-factor for 3 generations? 1) out of wedlock intercourse, and 2) divorce.

    To the first: instead of encouraging chastity, you’ve encouraged men to manUP and save single mothers from the consequences of unchaste behavior. Humans being what they are, this just guarantees more unchaste behavior. What you advocate will net more fatherlessness, not less.

    You characterize my comment above as saying that “women have failed men.” Not at all! I know that it takes two to tango. Rather, I’m bringing some balance to what has been a man-blame-fest from its inception. “Where have all the good men gone” followed by pontifications on the causes of their alleged disappearance – but heaven forbid that a woman might be even tangentially culpable for the state of things. Women’s only fault is that they value marriage and motherhood TOO MUCH. And heaven forbid we ask the corollary: where have all the good women gone? According to Phillipa, they are those wonderful single mothers out there which St. Joseph would take in matrimony himself, were he alive.

    To the second reason for fatherlessness, who files the most divorces? Women.

    Who gets the kids in most cases? Women.

    So who do we naturally infer to be the majority driving force of fatherlessness in the case of divorce? Women.

    Sure, you could argue that in 70% of divorces the men are scumbags who drove their wives to it, but the statistics don’t bear that out even IF you accept the faulty Duluth model.

    Point is, women have to take responsibility here too. Accept that culpability is shared and be the change you want to see, or refuse, put it all on men, and sit at the kids’ table like all the other people who can’t bear adult burdens.

    Simply demanding that women ‘give up feminism’, whereupon society would magically return to a golden age of kindness, justice, affluence and beauty, is fantasy. That society never existed. The past was not any happier than the present; the misery was just differently located.

    A society of adequately-fathered men would look very different for both men and women.

    Yeah, it would look like a pre-feminist society.

    Granted, that’s not and has never been paradise this side of Eden, but if the past didn’t have any less misery than the present, why change anything? To hear you talk, it’s just a shell-game of moving around misery. But we should totally stop the misery of fatherlessness… you’re talking out of both sides of your mouth.

    You want to have your cake and eat it too, I get it. But you’re tying yourself in knots here.

    I appreciate Ms. Hitchings for letting me air my thoughts.

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    1. It certainly is possible that a devout 30-something girl has stayed chaste her whole life. Although we’re really not talking about the average girl here.

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  9. Thank you for mentioning Wild at Heart & Captivating! I agree they are must-reads for anyone wanting to enjoy a deeper understanding of themselves and others. They cover the topic of fatherhood (including father-wounds, and fatherlessness-wounds) particularly well, in my opinion, and present the remedy we have in our Father in Heaven beautifully. Both books changed my life too.

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