- Thursday, June 16, 2022

Only in a society as schizophrenic as ours could we fail to acknowledge the centrality of fathers in the lives of their children.

Whenever there’s a mass shooting, we obsess about the number of guns on the street, while ignoring the growing absence of fathers in the home.

A study of 25 of the most publicized school shootings between 1999 and 2018 showed 75% of the shooters came from broken homes.

For boys, the absence of a father leads to a damaged sense of identity. Instead of learning lessons like respect for others and self-control from their dads, they seek to assert their masculinity through violence.

Criminologists Michael Gottfredson and Travis Hirschi found the absence of fathers to be “one of the most powerful predictors of crime.” Of young men in prison, 90% grew up without a father.

Rapper Tupac Shakur, who was murdered in 1996, wrote: “I know for a fact that had I had a father, I’d have some discipline. I’d have more confidence. Your mother can’t calm you down the way a man can.” Growing up without a father to guide him, Mr. Shakur gravitated to street gangs.

The existentialist philosopher Albert Camus, who also grew up fatherless, wrote in a manuscript discovered after his death: “I need someone to guide me. I need someone to praise me, to chastise me not with his power, but with his authority. I need my father.”

Who could be more dissimilar than a rapper and a French philosopher? Yet there’s the same longing, the same hunger, for the father’s love they never had.

In 2018, the Census Bureau estimated there were 19.5 million children in America growing up without a father in their home — or one in four.

In terms of child development, the absence of a father affects practically everything. Without a father, a child is four times more likely to live in poverty. He’s twice as likely to drop out of school and do poorly if he stays. A girl is seven times more likely to become pregnant as a teen.

Deprived of a father, a child is also more likely to suffer from alcoholism, drug addiction and even obesity.

Mothers and fathers teach different life lessons. Mothers teach love and security. Fathers teach striving and discipline. Both are necessary to create an adult prepared to face the challenges of the world.

And yet, fatherlessness metastasizes, aided by government and the culture.

When the Moynihan Report was published in 1965, only 25% of African American households were single-parent. Now, thanks in part to the War on Poverty, it’s two-thirds. Non-Hispanic whites are catching up — 24% of their households are single-parent.

Feminists worked hard to turn fathers into useless appendages — with no-fault divorce, same-sex marriage and their war on the so-called patriarchy. If you grew up in the 1950s, you probably remember “Father Knows Best,” with Robert Young as the wise, benevolent dad who always put his family first. We’ve gone from that to “Deadbeat Dads,” Al Bundy and Homer Simpson.

Even in commercials, fathers are portrayed as well-meaning but hapless schnooks who can’t even figure out how to change a baby’s diaper.

Gay marriage has accelerated the trend of disposable fathers. We’re told, in all seriousness, that two women can serve the same function as a man and a woman in the home.

Women don’t have to be persuaded to be mothers. The child grew in their bodies for nine months. Often, they fed it at their breast. The bonding is there from the start and grows over time.

A man lacks that attachment. It’s society’s job to make men feel responsible for their offspring. In this regard, religion helps. But there are powerful forces working against paternal responsibility.

The state has become a substitute father. It provides an income, medical care and sustenance. Why should lower-income fathers feel a sense of responsibility when they know government is there to take their place? If you give men a pass, many will take it.

My own father has been gone for 27 years. Rarely does a day goes by when I don’t think of him. 

He grew up in an immigrant family in a tenement in Brooklyn. Part of the Greatest Generation, he was soft-spoken and patient. He taught by example. His lessons were hard work, fairness and love of family. He was the best man I’ve ever known.

I grieve for children who grow up without a father.

• Don Feder is a former Boston Herald writer and syndicated columnist.

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