Why men must step up and change the culture soon or we will all pay the price . . .
Last summer, Anders Breivik shocked the world when he killed 77 people in Norway. Abandoned by his father when he was one year old, the self-confessed terrorist and mass murderer has something in common with some of the most famous killers in human history: Adolf Hitler, Saddam Hussein, Billy the Kid, and Charles Manson, to name a few. They all grew up in fatherless homes.
Fatherless homes not only breed killers, but addiction and drug abuse, poor academic and job performance, low self-esteem, and a myriad of other social and physical problems. Unfortunately, children who live with their father and mother in the United States today are a minority (48%) compared to 1950 when 78% of all Americans had both parents in the home.
Responding to the crisis
Denver Legate Curtis Martin — who founded the Fellowship of Catholic University Students — has a unique perspective on fatherlessness. His missionaries live on 60 U.S. college campuses and hear firsthand about the effects of missing dads.
“It’s pandemic,” he said. “The woundedness of men and women from fatherlessness is probably one of the unique stories of our generation. They’ve grown up without dads or had little attention from them. When this happens, they fail to see the complimentarity of the genders, and [they are more likely to] engage in a self-indulgent lifestyle.”
In April, Martin spoke at a southern college. After his talk, he strolled across campus and saw hundreds of drunk college kids wandering about — and women who were “dressed to kill.”
“Three generations ago — in our grandparents’ era — people may have drunk too much at college, but there was not much promiscuity,” he said. “The next generation, people who are parents now, went to college and also saw drinking and a little bit more promiscuity. Today’s kids have sex without being in relationships. The average college campus is a death spiral.”
Author and speaker Jason Free knows that predicament firsthand. He grew up with a distant father, but by God’s grace found healing by embracing his Catholic faith in college. The problem, he contends, is that most men don’t know how to be good fathers.
“They haven’t been properly taught,” Free explained. “How do men grow up to be great businessmen or baseball players? They are mentored and coached. As with anything, you can have natural gifts — but you need mentoring and coaching.”
The author of Parenting on Purpose: 7 Ways to Raise Terrific Christian Kids, Free says fathers who grew up without a role model should seek out a mentor. But unfortunately, he said, most men don’t make fatherhood a priority but get caught up in their own interests or career.
“The only purpose of having a job is to fund your vocation — which is to be a husband and father,” Free said. “That’s your primary purpose in life. Some people think that being a husband and father gets in the way of their work life. But they’ve got to flip that around. You need to find ways to prevent your work from being all-consuming so the cycle can be stopped.”
Pope Benedict XVI recognized the crisis of fatherhood 12 years ago when he said, “The crisis of fatherhood we are living today is an element, perhaps the most important, threatening man in his humanity. When human fatherhood has dissolved, all statements about God the Father are empty.”
As a result, dozens of Catholic men’s groups have sprung up over the past two decades, while older organizations have refocused on helping men become better dads and husbands.
Daniel Argue took the St. Joseph Covenant Keepers’ model in 1999 and began a men’s group at his parish in Rochester, Mich. The group of 20-25 men gathers twice a month to read and discuss books like Steve Wood’s Fatherhood or Curtis Martin’s Boys to Men.
“We ask the question: What can I do as a father, husband and worker to bring Christ to others? Most importantly: How do I bring Christ to my wife and children? The idea is not to preach, but to live as Christ wanted us to live,” Argue said.
And it’s working. Argue says one man was a lukewarm Catholic who said out loud at his first meeting, “I don’t even know why I’m here.” Today he is a faithful Catholic. Another had problems with drinking and driving. Today he’s a daily communicant. An OBGYN was challenged by the group to look into Church teaching; he eventually stopped prescribing contraception and became an NFP-only physician.
Legate Curtis Martin has also stepped up his game to help men. In 2008, he teamed up with former NFL coach and wide receiver Danny Abramowicz to produce a series on EWTN called Crossing the Goal. The show engages men by tying together sports and the spiritual life.
“The last of the great prophets of the Old Testament was Malachi,” Martin said. “In the last sentence of his last prophecy, he said that God would send a prophet to turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers. Jesus is not only a prophet, He is our Savior who leads us to his Father. God is the perfect model for restoring order in the home.”
Protestants have also been forming men to embrace fatherhood. One of the most notable efforts was the 2011 movie Courageous. Actor Ken Bevel, who played Nathan Hayes in the film, notes how difficult it is to form a relationship with God the Father when you don’t have a good earthly father.
“When you look at kids today in fatherless homes, they have a failure to identify with physical fathers. How can they identify with our heavenly Father?” said Bevel. “I pray that God uses this movie as a way for men to reconnect to Him as a father.”
Courageous also makes the point that fatherhood isn’t just a matter of going through the motions, but rather modeling oneself after God the Father.
“We have to be very intentional about being fathers — planning out special moments, taking time to spend one-on-one time with our children,” Bevel said. “Those things are important and those are the times you can pour out your heart to them — and see the impact.”
Argue agrees, adding that selflessness is key to loving as God the Father loves. “Whenever I am looking at a relationship for what’s in it for me, then I am headed for trouble,” he said. “I have to look at how
I can give. If going to the bar or watching my football game is more important than spending time with my kids, then I’m being selfcentered. The same happens when you expect things from God.”
Sabrina Arena Ferrisi is Legatus magazine’s senior staff writer.
By the numbers
Fatherless children are twice as likely to drop out of school.
Half of all children with highly involved fathers in two-parent families reported getting mostly A’s through 12th grade, compared to 35.2% of children of non-resident father families.
Children in father-absent homes are five times more likely to be poor. In 2002, 7.8% of children in married-couple families were living in poverty, compared to 38.4% of children in female-householder families.
Even after controlling for income, youths in father-absent households still had significantly higher odds of incarceration than those in mother-father families. Youths who never had a father in the household experienced the highest odds.