Where's the outrage about dads? Over the last year -- climaxing this Mother's Day -- pundits and talking heads have been arguing about Tiger Moms, breastfeeding moms, working moms, stay at home moms, and the so-called war on women. The importance of mothers cannot be understated. But make no mistake about it: fathers are an essential contributor to healthy children and families -- and in the U.S. and around the world fatherhood is in crisis.
One in three children, according to the Census Bureau, live without a biological father. Social science research suggests father absence is linked to an increased likelihood of teen pregnancy, incarceration, child poverty, child abuse, health problems, and drug and alcohol addiction.
Many children overcome these obstacles, and many mothers rise to the challenge of parenting alone. Yet many social and economic problems -- regardless of the culture -- would be solved if more dads were active and present as providers, nurturers and guides to their children.
For many children like Xavier Gaines, it takes thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours from government programs and community groups to keep life from becoming a catastrophe. His dad was in jail and his mother's murder occurred in Xavier's presence, when Xavier was just a year old. With such a start in life, statistics suggest that his future would involve violent behavior, drug abuse and incarceration.
What saved Xavier was not early education or after school programs. Instead, Xavier's father Troy decided to get his act together while still in prison. He joined National Fatherhood Initiative's InsideOut Dad™ program. Upon release, Troy chose to be an active and engaged father, especially by helping his son with school work. Seven years later, Xavier says, "I love him a lot because he is a very good dad." When Troy changed, he changed his family.
The fatherhood crisis isn't exclusively an American one. In Ethiopia, Bzuneh's family was a victim of his drunkenness. "When I was drunk, I beat my wife. I abused her. Whatever I made, I spent on local beer," he said.
Through the pressure of family and neighbors, however, Bzuneh began attending church. "I saw the lives of changed drunkards," he says. "It took one week to quit." Bzuneh began caring for his children instead of beating them. The family had been poor, earning less than $15 per month, just 50 cents a day. But after joining a World Vision program to help increase his income, Bzuneh has become a model rancher. He owns cattle and goats and is providing for his family. He earns more than $170 per month.
The best development programs can't replace a good father. Instead of living away from or in fear of their father, Bzuneh's children now attend school and enjoy a new standard of living. "Before we were poor," his sons say, "Now we are changed because of our family." Bzuneh's wife appreciates the change her husband has made. "We are leading a good life," she says. When Bzuneh changed, he changed his family.
Roughly 40 percent of American children live in low-income families. Nearly 15 million children live in families earning below the poverty line of $22,050 a year for a family of four. Yet a study by the Brookings Institution found that if more families were composed of married parents these poverty rates could fall by as much as 20 percent.
When we look at today's social problems -- poverty, violence, abuse -- we need to do more than create programs to fix them. We need to ask how these problems came about in the first place. Often these issues, whether in the US or around the world, arise because fathers aren't present. If we seek to break the cycle of poverty, crime and abuse, then we must look to fathers. Boys learn from their fathers what it means to be a good man. Little girls learn -- for good or bad -- what they should expect from the men in their lives when it comes to relationships. The future depends on today's dads.
We believe in the power of governments and organizations to help children and their families to be healthy and productive, enjoying the abundance of the life they were created to have. We have served on White House initiatives meant to strengthen families and communities. Yet we recognize our work can be more difficult when fathers are absent.
For healthy families, communities, and nations, we need great dads.
This Father's Day, let's do more than celebrate dad with the standard necktie or a spatula for the grill. Let's recognize that engaging and inspiring fathers is necessary for creating healthy societies. After all, every day must be Father's Day when you are somebody's dad.
Richard Stearns is president of World Vision US and author of The Hole in Our Gospel.
Roland Warren is president of the National Fatherhood Initiative, and a member of the World Vision US Board of Directors.
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