Rector’s Ramblings: Some Thoughts on Father’s Day (2022)

Brothers and Sisters in Christ,


As I mentioned when I posted the Propers and Announcements for this week, Sunday, June 19th, is Father’s Day in our secular, civic calendar, here in the United States. It is a day which seems to attract less attention than it once did – just as fatherhood seems to attract less attention than it once did. And I, for one, think that is a shame.

In fact, fatherhood, in today’s world, is too-often made the subject of jokes, unkind words, and unflattering stereotypes. For decades, now, the most common trope for a father, in entertainment media, is either as a good-natured but bumbling and often clueless foil for his sharper-witted kids, or else as a more malevolent figure: the deadbeat dad, or the abuser. Father figures who were positive role models, like Andy Griffith, Jim Anderson in “Father Knows Best,” or John Walton in “The Waltons,” have been noticeable largely by their absence in recent years.

But this absence reflects (and, just maybe, partially contributes to) an even more sobering absence in the “real world.” According to figures readily available on the internet, as many as 25% of children in the U.S. live in households with a mother alone – that is over 18 million children who do not live with a father figure (father-only households are noted at just 8%). Some sources report that 24.7 million children in the United States live in a home where their biological father is not present: a number that equates to 1 in every 3 children in the United States not having access to their father.

The consequences of this fatherlessness are grim:

• 85% of youth who are currently in prison grew up in a fatherless home.

• 7 out of every 10 youth that are housed in state-operated correctional facilities, including detention and residential treatment, come from a fatherless home.

• 39% of students in the United States, from the first grade to their senior year of high school, do not have a father at home. Children without a father are 4 times more likely to be living in poverty than children with a father.

• Children from fatherless homes are twice as likely to drop out from school before graduating than children who have a father in their lives.

• Girls who live in a fatherless home have a 100% higher risk of suffering from obesity than girls who have their father present. Teen girls from fatherless homes are also 4 times more likely to become mothers before the age of 20. [The figures don’t indicate, but I strongly suspect, that most of these will be unwed mothers.]

• In 2011, 44% of children in homes headed by a single mother were living in poverty. Just 12% of children in married-couple families were living in poverty.

• Children who live in a single-parent home are more than twice as likely to commit suicide than children in a two-parent home.

And regarding the issue of mass shootings, a 2018 article in Crisis magazine concluded – even after adjusting for some faulty data –that of the 27 deadliest mass shooting incidents up to that time, “the vast majority of shooters came from broken families without a consistent biological father throughout their rearing and development. Very few had good, stable, present dads.” The Uvalde, Texas, shooter falls squarely into this demographic.

The U.S. Department of Justice explains that the Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency reported in 1997 that “the most reliable indicator of violent crime in a community is the proportion of fatherless families” (cited here). And a 2021 meta-analysis in the scientific journal Psychology, Crime & Law examined 48 different academic studies on the relationship between fatherlessness and criminal behavior, finding a remarkably strong correlation.

Brad Wilcox, a sociologist at the University of Virginia and founder and Senior Fellow at the Institute for Family Studies, notes that “We know that young men who are raised without the benefit of good fathers are more likely to engage in violent behavior,” while noting that, “of course, other factors are also likely in play…”

Of course. Rarely is any single factor the sole determinant in any complex human behavior. But if I were a betting man, I’d be willing to bet the proverbial farm that fatherlessness – and I include in that general matrix the denigration of fatherhood in general by some on the socioeconomic Left, who associate it with “toxic masculinity,” “patriarchy,” and a host of related evils-du-jour – is a major contributing factor in what Wilcox calls “the tidal wave of violence that has engulfed America since 2020.”

A Heritage Foundation article cites Wilcox again, noting that “After the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, scholar Brad Wilcox called attention to the work of criminologists Michael Gottfredson and Travis Hirschi, which found the absence of fathers to be one of the ‘most powerful predictors of crimes.’ He explained that fathers are role models for their sons who maintain authority and discipline, thereby helping them develop self-control and empathy toward others, key character traits lacking in violent youth.”

(I hasten to add that none of this is in any way intended as a critique of single mothers, who in most cases are doing the best that they possibly can, in incredibly difficult and challenging circumstances! But with the best will and the most effort in the world, they are not fathers, and it is unreasonable and unjust of society to expect them to be. Contra the “loony Left,” a person’s sex matters; men and women are not interchangeable! Similarly, fatherlessness is not guarantor of criminality. But it’s a risk factor, and a major one, and gives young people in that situation an uphill climb that those in intact families with loving, supportive fathers don’t have to deal with.)

But I am neither a sociologist or a political anthropologist; I am a priest and pastor. And fatherlessness has a major impact on the church, as well. And not simply fatherlessness: multiple studies have concluded that one of the most significant – perhaps the most significant determinant – as to whether a child will grow up to become a church-goer is whether or not their father attends regularly.

Of particular note in this context is a Swiss study that came out in 2020. Its chief takeaway? “It is the religious practice of the father of the family that, above all, determines the future attendance at or absence from church of the children.” In specific, the study revealed,

1. If both father and mother attend regularly, 33 percent of their children will end up as regular churchgoers, and 41 percent will end up attending irregularly. Only a quarter of their children will end up not practicing at all.

I myself learned the Christian faith at my mother’s knee – sometimes literally, whether she was kneeling at my bedside for nighttime prayers and (usually religious) songs, or I as a “young me” was standing by the piano bench as she played and sang hymns from the hymn-book.

But I was also sitting beside, or even between, Ma and Pa in church, every Sunday, as they sung the hymns together, and bowed their heads for the prayers. And his presence there, even if he was not so active and explicit in the verbal expression of his faith as Ma was, spoke worlds to me, then and now! And he had learned the same from his own father, who came not only to Sunday services, but to Wednesday evening service at the Methodist church, following a hard day’s work in the Pennsylvania coal mines.

2. If the father is irregular in attendance and the mother regular, only 3 percent of the children will subsequently become regulars themselves, while a further 59 percent will become irregulars. Thirty-eight percent will be lost.

3. If the father is non-practicing and mother regular, only 2 percent of children will become regular worshippers, and 37 percent will attend irregularly. Over 60 percent of their children will be lost completely to the church!

What happens, the study continues, “if the father is regular but the mother irregular or non-practicing? Amazingly, the percentage of children becoming regular goes up from 33 percent to 38 percent with the irregular mother and up to 44 percent with the non-practicing. This suggests that loyalty to the father’s commitment grows in response to the mother’s laxity or indifference to religion.

“In short, if a father does not go to church – no matter how faithful his wife’s devotions – only one child in 50 will become a regular worshiper. [emphasis added: Fr. Tom]. If a father does go regularly, regardless of the practice of the mother, between two-thirds and three-quarters of their children will become churchgoers (regular and irregular).” Shocking, perhaps, but not after all terribly surprising. As the article continues,

“One of the reasons suggested for this distinction is that children tend to take their cues about domestic life from Mom while their conceptions of the world outside come from Dad. If Dad takes faith in God seriously then the message to their children is that God should be taken seriously. This confirms the essential role of father as spiritual leader, which I would argue is true fatherhood.”

In other words, in church as in the world – fatherhood matters. The secular penchant for marginalizing, belittling, even mocking fatherhood is not only unjust, but it’s counter-productive. Would it not make more sense to encourage and promote fatherhood, and positive role models of fatherhood – in the media, as well as in the “real world”? As an essay in The Christian Post aptly, if sadly, notes,

“our culture in general has reduced the role of fatherhood (along with marriage itself) to something nonessential or unnecessary. Even many men today regard parenting as being primarily the mother’s role and somehow no longer associated with masculinity or “real” manhood.

“Instead, many have succumbed to modern cultural caricatures – encouraged by feminist psychology – and the primitive label of hunter-gatherer, and thus assume that this is their main contribution to the family. As a result too many men, including professing Christian men, express their role as father exclusively in terms of financial provider. The fact is children are not looking for financial provision; they are looking for love, guidance, and a role model for what it means to be a man.

“During the colonial period in America men defined themselves by their level of community involvement and fatherhood. Marriage and fatherhood were seen as being among the highest aspirations in a man’s life.” That is no longer so, alas. But it was – I have been reading about that very thing in historian David Hackett Fischer’s excellent book, Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America – and it could be again. There is no necessary reason why it should not, if we have the will and the foresight to make it so.

But that may require separating ourselves, and particularly the education of our children, from the pernicious influences of secular culture. As Voddie T. Baucham, Jr., has accurately noted, “We cannot continue to send our children to Caesar for their education and be surprised when they come home as Romans.” But I digress! And this has already gone on quite long enough; indeed, probably too long. And there is far more that I could say! But I will not.

Instead, I will close with these prayers, from The Book of Common Prayer 1928:

ALMIGHTY God, our heavenly Father, who settest the solitary in families; We commend to thy continual care the homes in which thy people dwell. Put far from them, we beseech thee, every root of bitterness, the desire of vain-glory, and the pride of life. Fill them with faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness. Knit together in constant affection those who, in holy wedlock, have been made one flesh; turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to the fathers; and so enkindle fervent charity among us all, that we be evermore kindly affectioned with brotherly love; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

ALMIGHTY God, heavenly Father, who hast blessed us with the joy and care of children; Give us light and strength so to train them, that they may love whatsoever things are true and pure and lovely and of good report, following the example of their Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

ALMIGHTY God, we entrust all who are dear to us to thy never-failing care and love, for this life and the life to come; knowing that thou art doing for them better things than we can desire or pray for; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

And may our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ bless and keep you, this Father’s Day, and your whole life through!

Faithfully yours in Christ,

Fr. Tom Harbold

P.S. A note on the image: I have specifically chosen a “vintage” image precisely because it is the sort that would be mocked and disparaged by many in today’s secular society – but it expresses and depicts precisely the sort of family ties and positive role-modeling of which I am speaking! We have lost much, I believe, in going down the road we have been following in recent decades.

In any case: Happy Fathers Day, to all the fathers, grandfathers, and father-figures in our parish! May God prosper your efforts!

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