Fatherless families: The elephant in the room

By WYATT EMMERICH,

One of the great pleasures of being in the news business is getting to know some of the great leaders in the community. Jackson’s Leland Speed is right up there on my list.

After founding two companies on the New York Stock Exchange, you would think Leland would take it easy, but he’s like the energizer bunny, going at a speed men half his age couldn’t maintain.

Leland has been instrumental in Jackson’s charter school movement. He walks the halls and knows the children by name. It’s incredible.

There are many people who think public education should be a government monopoly and that those supporting charter schools are anti-education. Nothing could be less true. Competition is the key ingredient to progress. Charter schools infuse a much-needed measure of competition into the educational system bureaucracy.

In the course of his work with charter schools serving disadvantaged students, Leland has stumbled headlong into what he refers to as “the elephant in the room.” In his opinion, it is the source of most of the problems facing our public schools and society at large. The elephant is the break up of the nuclear family.

There are so many big problems society faces, we sometimes forget to look at the root causes. This elephant is on a rampage and leaving a path of destruction in its wake.

The problem is widespread: One in four children live without a father in the home. The absence of a father correlates with a wide variety of bad things: four-times greater risk of poverty; seven-times greater risk of becoming pregnant as a teen; two-times greater risk of infant mortality; two-times more likely to drop out of high school; two-times higher risk of obesity and more likely to have behavioral problems, use drugs, go to prison and be abused.

There is nothing much good about single parenthood.

Last year, 40 percent of births were to unwed mothers. Fortunately, about half of these mothers are living with the father but are not legally married.

Don’t rush to blame the mothers. Without their willingness to face the financial hardship of raising a child alone, our country’s birthrate, already in decline, would plummet and our workforce would be decimated.

Even in Mississippi, the white birth rate is not enough to replace the population and in five more years the black birth rate will be as well. That’s scary. Mississippi is a religious rural state. If Mississippi can’t replace its population, imagine the birth rate trends of a big urban area like Denver or New York where the single lifestyle is dominant.

If there is anyone to blame, it’s the men. Our culture has lost the male morality of being a protector, provider and cornerstone of the family. I believe the decline in church-going and religious belief is part of this ominous trend. The rise of selfish focus on personal happiness and pleasure is destroying what is good and right in our society.

The blame on men is underscored by the fact that there are 10 million single-mother households and two million single-father households. That indicates that the women are the ones who are committed and tough it out by a five-to-one ratio. Ninety-two percent of the parents in prison are fathers.

Numerous studies have linked the rise in gangs as a product of fatherless households. Without a strong male figure in the house, young teenagers are not constrained. Many mothers simply don’t have the strength and understanding to deal with a young male surging with energy and testosterone.

The decline in fatherhood is a negative, vicious cycle. It is the example of a strong, dedicated, faithful father that gives a young man the image of what he is expected to grow up to be. Without a father figure, how are the young men expected to even know what being a father means? Our social and entertainment media increasingly portray fatherless homes as a norm, furthing eroding the cultural underpinning of our traditional family structure.

In the old days, a child was free labor. Children worked in the fields and did tasks around the house. A farm family with 10 children was an economic units with a built-in labor force.

In today’s modern society that model has turned on its head. Children are expensive. The federal government estimates it costs $250,000 or so to raise a child to 18, not including college. Other estimates are as high as a million dollars per child.

I’m not sure how we changed from a society where children worked to one in which they play (expensively) but this is driving men away from fatherhood and causing population decline.

The latest federal tax reforms doubled the child tax credit from $1,000 to $2,000. Europeans countries pay a cash stipend of $2 thousand to $4 thousand dollars for families with children.

Denmark’s government recently had an ad campaign “Do It For Denmark,” which gave a three-year supply of baby products for couples to go on vacation and conceive.

Russia declared every September 12 as the Official Day of Conception where couples are encouraged to stop work and every other commitment to have sex and conceive. If you have a baby nine months later, you win a refrigerator.

Such minor economic incentives are a drop in the bucket. Experts predict world population will begin declining in 50 years or sooner.

The real elephant in the room is the change in our culture from one of service to a society of selfishness for ourselves – the “me” generation.

Ultimately, this is linked to a decline in religious faith. Humans were never intended to pursue their own selfish desires independent of God’s judgment and wrath. We do so at humankind’s grave danger.

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