Western Catholic Reporter

Monday, August 30, 1999

Boys lost in fatherless homes

Special to the WCR

More than 40 per cent of children now spend a large proportion of their childhood in single-parent homes, compared with just five per cent of kids who lived only with their mothers in 1960.

Seventy per cent of institutionalized juvenile offenders in the U.S. come from fatherless homes, and children from broken families are twice as likely to drop out of school.

Little girls doubtless miss absent fathers profoundly, but the burden of growing up fatherless weighs heaviest on the male child. Most girls get ample exposure to female role-models and have little difficulty developing a clear idea of what women do.

Fatherless boys get only sporadic glimpses of what men do, and thus receive few clues as to what they're supposed to become. As he grows, the fatherless boy-child desperately attempts to tap into the collective male identity, usually taking his cues from likewise father-hungry peers and pop-cultural influences.

Not that the entertainment media is much help. A National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI) study released in March found only 15 prime-time shows (less than 15 per cent of 102 shows on the major U.S. networks) with fathers as regular, central characters. Only four of those portrayed functional fatherhood.

As U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan observed: "A community that allows a large number of young men (and women) to grow up in broken families, dominated by women, never acquiring any stable relationship to male authority, . . . that community asks for, and gets, chaos."

Less than 30 per cent of juveniles imprisoned for violent offences grew up with both parents.

Until about 100 years ago, fathers were unquestioned familial child-rearing authorities. Most men worked at home or close to home, and participated hands-on in their children's' upbringing. Educators of boys were also nearly always male, and the social environment boys inhabited was predominantly masculine.

In traditional cultures, boys spend lots of time with their fathers and other adult male role-models, developing into manhood surrounded by masculine energy. In the West, the Industrial Revolution destroyed normal family and community dynamics, removing fathers from the home.

Carl Jung observed that sons develop their image of absent or emotionally distant fathers through the mother's often aggrieved and resentful eyes, and learn to view their own masculinity through the jaundiced lens of her hostility. This results in wounded images of both father and self.

Today the problem is amplified. The notion that children are corrupted by exposure to masculine values is gaining increasingly wider acceptance.

In modern child-rearing theory and "progressive" education, supposedly "female values" of compassion, nurturing, forgiveness, rebirth and renewal are emphasized positively, while masculine qualities of strength, protection, justice, judgment and punishment are disparaged.

"The old traditionally male values of constancy, gravitas, restraint, heroism, dignity and honour are seen as belonging to a past world," writes British feminist author Fay Weldon. "Perhaps they do. Perhaps it is no bad thing."

It is a very bad thing. Boys who grow up in a predominantly feminine environment risk low self-esteem, excessive and unhealthy dependence on females, and emotional immaturity.

Only men can confer a sense of soul-union with other men. Only men can understand and truly empathize with the particular fears, anger, sadness, and sometimes despair that are part and parcel of being male.

Children need men as a constant in their lives. Both girls and boys need fathers who understand and affirm an essentially male approach to parenting, and who can teach them that family life is something in which men can and should participate.

Men and women are suited to different parenting roles at different times in a child's development.

I changed lots of diapers when my kids were little, but I don't think infant care is an activity men are hard-wired to assume naturally. Women are provided by nature with a baby-nurturing maternal instinct that men just do not possess.

On the other hand, men are better equipped to teach children that life makes stiff demands and often has harsh consequences. Male parental approval is more qualified than mother-love, and fathers tend to discipline more by rules than by emotion. Kids of both sexes whose fathers actively participate in their early development tend to have higher IQs, get higher marks in school and possess a better sense of humour.

Most of all, kids need fathers they can trust to be there for them; fathers who are comfortable and confident in their masculinity, without the compulsive insecurities about their role that lead to the darker, dysfunctional side of male energy becoming dominant. Massive damage has been done to fatherhood by our modern social/cultural/economic dynamic.

Comments and suggestions are welcome.

E-mail: wcr@supernet.ab.ca

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