LLOYD GRAY: Where are the fathers?

By Lloyd Gray/NEMS Daily Journal

Father’s Day is usually a sentimental, feel-good occasion, and that’s as it should be. Dads need to know that they’re appreciated and loved.
But this day shouldn’t pass without an acknowledgment of the crisis facing fatherhood in America. To put it bluntly, young fathers who are married to and living with the mothers of their children have already become a minority in Mississippi and are on the way to becoming so nationally.
That’s bad news for society in general, but especially for children.
The data are clear and indisputable: Children raised without a married father in the home are significantly more likely to live in poverty, do poorly in school, get in trouble with the law and be at higher risk for other indicators of personal and social dysfunction.
This doesn’t mean there aren’t single mothers who do well raising children. Of course there are, and we all know them. But the plain facts are that it is much more difficult to raise children alone, and considerably more challenging economically.
In Mississippi, 55 percent of children are now born to unmarried mothers. Nationally it’s 41 percent. This is clearly “our most urgent social problem,” as David Blankenhorn described it in his book “Fatherless America” – in 1995. The problem has only accelerated and become all the more urgent in the 17 years since.
With the data about the harmful individual and social effects of fatherlessness, you’d think we’d have reducing out-of-wedlock births and the rapid decline in marriage rates at the top of our priority list. You’d think the message would be coming from every responsible corner to young people: Finish school and don’t have children until you’re married. You’d think.
But the message is muted at best – largely because we fear being thought of as “judgmental.” We confuse candor about a demonstrable social crisis with lack of support for single mothers in their struggles. It’s not an either-or proposition, and we shouldn’t be afraid to state clearly the truth that all lifestyle choices aren’t equal in their consequences.
We should also deliver a clear message to young males who may not have heard it in their own fatherless homes that being a real man involves commitment and responsibility, and that the best way to demonstrate it is not simply to be “involved” with your biological children, but to marry their mother. Or better yet, don’t have children without being married in the first place.
Now I’ll get sentimental. My father has long had in his study a plaque that reads, “The best thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother.” Many people would consider that hopelessly old fashioned. But seeing the way our father loved our mother was the best lesson my brother and I ever had in how to be a man, and it had everything to do with respecting and honoring her and the children they both were raising.
Others, especially boys, need that lesson. Fewer and fewer are getting it. If that doesn’t change, we’ll all be the much worse off for it.
Lloyd Gray is executive editor of the Daily Journal. Contact him at (662) 678-1579 or lloyd.gray@journalinc.com.