When we honor our fathers this weekend, one-fourth of the children in the US will have little reason to celebrate. They don’t live with their fathers.
“We have a generation of men who are not in the home,” pastor and author Tony Evans said. “They are like the abominable snowman—their footprints are all around, but they can’t be found.”
John Sowers, author of Fatherless Generation, noted that almost forty Bible verses show God’s concern for the fatherless. Another author, David Blankenhorn, called fatherlessness “our most urgent social problem.”
What do fatherlessness statistics reveal?
“It is the leading cause of declining child well-being in our society,” he wrote in his groundbreaking book, Fatherless America. “It is also the engine driving our most urgent social problems, from crime to adolescent pregnancy to child sexual abuse to domestic violence against women. Yet, despite its scale and social consequences, fatherlessness is a problem that is frequently ignored or denied.”
Fatherless America came out a generation ago, in 1995, but Blankenhorn’s observations remain just as true, if not more so, today. Boys from the 1990s whose parents divorced or never married have grown into men without ever learning how to be parents from their own fathers.
A recent Pew Research Center study indicated that the US has the highest percentage of children living in single-parent homes in the world, and census figures revealed that about 80 percent of those parents are women.
Research from various sources shows that children who live in fatherless homes are more likely to:
- Be poor.
- Commit a crime.
- Go to prison.
- Abuse drugs or alcohol.
- Commit suicide.
- Run away from home.
- Drop out of high school.
- Suffer abuse requiring medical attention.
The difference in most cases is dramatic. For example, teenage girls who are fatherless are seven times more likely to become pregnant, even though research indicates that the absence of a father has a greater impact on boys than girls.
Sowers wrote that “rejection is the defining characteristic of the fatherless generation . . . . Perhaps the worst thing about this rejection is living with the knowledge that someone has chosen to turn his back on you. Someone has chosen to leave you. Someone has determined your value and decided you are not worth having around—or that he would be better off someplace else, without you.”
What is a father wound?
Of course, there are exceptions, like when a father dies of cancer or loses his life on the battlefield. But Sowers’ story is tragically common. His father moved out when he was two, and he grew up feeling a sense of shame and inadequacy.
“I never felt it was good enough to be me,” he wrote. “I felt I had to compete for the affection and attention I so desperately needed. But no matter how much I accomplished, I still felt incomplete, broken. I hated the shame I carried inside and desperately tried to forget it.”
Neglected children can grow up with “father wounds” that never heal.
“Essentially, the father wound is something a father has said or done (or hasn’t said or done) that has left a lasting, negative effect on a child,” John Finch wrote in The Father Effect.
He continues: “The wound can be inflicted in a shocking variety of ways: A dad can hit a child. A dad can curse a child with his words. A dad can set impossible-to-achieve expectations. A dad can work too much and justify his time away because he’s financially supporting the household. A dad can be home all the time but emotionally checked out, more interested in checking email than in being intentionally present with his wife and children. A dad can even be physically and emotionally present, yet never say the words every child needs to and longs to hear from their dad: ‘I love you,’ ‘I’m proud of you,’ and ‘I believe in you.’”
Can the fatherless turn to God the father?
Every child needs love and affirmation. “Even Jesus received verbal affirmation from His Father,” Doug Stringer wrote in In Search of a Father’s Blessing.
When John baptized Jesus in the Jordan, marking the beginning of his ministry, “[Jesus] saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased’” (Matthew 3:16–17 NIV).
Jesus addressed God as “father,” and he taught his disciples to do the same. The Lord’s Prayer, Jesus’ example of how to pray, begins, “Our Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:9 NIV).
Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology notes that God is called “father” only fifteen times in the Old Testament, yet more than two hundred times in the New Testament.
“The imagery of God as a father cannot be escaped,” Finch wrote. “And this tends to make the fatherless lean two very different ways:
“1. I’ll allow God to father me, to replace the earthly father I lost or never had. . . .
“2. If God is like my earthly father, I want nothing to do with Him.”
But the first way is open to every fatherless child. Psalm 68:5 calls God “a father to the fatherless.”
And Isaiah 1:17 urges his people to “take up the cause of the fatherless.” Today, that could mean mentoring children or taking them into your home. Or letting them know that God wants to adopt them into his family.
This Father’s Day, they can place their trust in their heavenly Father. He’ll be there even when their earthly father isn’t.