The Father Gap

Is this something the government can fix?

Even in a world that assumes human advancement is somehow our achievement, and thus is also ours to freely tweak, the increasing social demotion of fatherhood is harvesting some glaring problems. University of British Columbia professor Edward Kruk has studied in depth the fallout that occurs when children grow up without a father active in their lives.

In an article in Psychology Today, Kruk presents a sobering litany of physical, psychological, behavioral and relational damages that are statistically inarguable for these fatherless children. A brief sampling of his findings includes:

  • Academic performance – 71% of high school dropouts are fatherless.
  • Youth crime – 85% of youth in prison have an absent father.
  • Homelessness – 90% of runaway children have an absent father.
  • Abuse – Preschoolers not living with both biological parents are 40 times more likely to be sexually abused.
  • Promiscuity – Fatherless children have a greater likelihood of having intercourse before the age of 16.
  • Mortality – Fatherless children are more likely to die as children, and live an average of four years less over their life span.

I believe Kruk is to be commended for his very real concern for fathers and for their children. The focus of his article, however, is limited to the role various legal structures play in these maladaptive patterns. He writes:

Whereas parents, in general, are not supported as parents by our social institutions, divorced fathers, in particular, are often devalued, disparaged, and forcefully disengaged from their children’s lives....

More often than not, [divorced or non-marital] fathers are involuntarily relegated by family courts to the role of “accessory parents” instead of active caregivers.

His prescription is consistent with his diagnosis:

What is the solution to father absence? Many fathers’ advocates have stressed the need for fast, low-cost, effective ways for non-residential parents to have their court-ordered parenting time enforced. While access enforcement is important, legislating for shared parenting would be a more effective measure to ensure the ongoing active involvement of both parents in children’s lives. A legal presumption of shared parenting would affirm the primary role of both parents, and make clear that even in the absence of a spousal relationship, both mothers’ and fathers’ parental responsibilities to their children’s needs are “sacred,” and therefore deserving of full legal protection and recognition.

When Fatherhood Loses its Grounding

One has to wonder what Kruk’s thoughts were behind the word he put in air quotes – “sacred.” Is it for him simply a symbol of the mysterious dynamics that are somehow imbedded in the family structure, or does he have a sense that the problems actually arise out of society’s disregard for an authority that transcends cultural and legal mechanisms?

When operating within the scope of human governmental authority, his effort to adjust the laws to accommodate the realities of fatherhood seems wise. I would suggest, however, that this course of action also has limitations.

At one level, it appears to do little to address the “one size fits all” approach to problem resolution. The concept of “shared parenting” is wonderful...if both parents are truly interested in and capable of caring parenthood. While this is out of my range of expertise, it seems likely that the existing restrictions were developed at least in part to protect children from over-exposure to a parent that is toxic—and yes, in some cases that could well be the mother. As I’ve pointed out elsewhere, the very sexist notion that men are always the bad ones is deeply flawed.

But in the broader sense, to the extent the government incrementally displaces God, even with the best of intentions, it usually results in increased governmental micromanagement. When the legal system takes on the role of family oversight, what it is essentially doing is removing from fathers the specific responsibilities God has entrusted to them.

From this perspective, what might actually be accomplished through Kruk’s proposed solution would simply be a small improvement that doesn’t sufficiently address the ongoing evisceration of fatherhood. Men are actually best equipped for healthy fathering through the strengthening of their inborn masculinity, characterized by their call to protect and provide for those under their authority, and accompanied by a social system that accords them honor when they accomplish these things.

Today we are witnessing what C.S. Lewis would likely include under this description in The Abolition of Man:

In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.

This process of demasculinization is woven so subtly and pervasively into our modern culture that it sometimes becomes hard to detect. For example, we have gone from “father knows best” to “children know best.” We have made heroes out of violent and vile men. Any hint that a man can (or should) do something a woman can’t do is pretty much verboten. Moreover, there is an inherent flaw in any public policy that gives men responsibilities without authority, potential constraints without a voice, or shaming without gratitude.

It is my hope, therefore, that those troubled by Kruk’s statistics would come to understand that the human fatherhood gap is ultimately an echo of the gap between us and our Father. Until we return to a vision of family as something truly sacred and not something to be meddled with, the grim and growing consequences will continue to be reaped, not only by fathers and mothers and children, but by civilization itself.  

is a homemaker who lives near Centerville, Tennessee. Her website is

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