This article by the Heritage Foundation’s Emily Kao is over two months old. Still, it’s worth mentioning. It responds to the shooting at the Parkland, Florida high school that so shocked the nation. It does so by examining the most important aspect of the problem we face of mass shooters – fatherlessness. That’s a good thing and Kao does her topic justice. She not only knows the problem of fatherlessness, she feels it deeply.
And yet, like so many similar articles, Kao’s fails to address the major source of the problem. It’s right there in front of her, begging to be shown to the world, but Kao doesn’t see it.
As another mass school shooting stuns Americans, it is time to talk about not just how to protect students from shooters, but also about what must happen so that fewer students become shooters in the first place.
It is crucial to talk about how more American children can grow up with the emotional, psychological, and spiritual security that comes from relationships where one is deeply cared for, connected, and known.
For what lies inside so many school shooters is a deep void of identity and relationship that they tragically seek to fill through nihilistic violence.
There is a sobering theme repeated over and over in the biographies of school shooters—the fatherlessness of a broken or never formed family.
All true. It is indeed past time for us to come to grips with the scourge that is fatherlessness. Mass slayings are just the most gruesome, horrifying and therefore attention-getting of the problems associated with absent fathers. Others are too numerous to mention and, in any event, I’ve done so before.
The young men who choose to slaughter others have a void of identity due to the lack of a father. Their horrifying actions can be seen as suicides. Few of the shooters survive their day of reckoning and their targets are others who look much like them. The killers are figuratively killing themselves, watching their own death before ending the day dead. Their act is one of deepest self-loathing.
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.
Fathers and mothers tend to parent differently. Typical fathering includes rough-house play that teaches the child his/her impact on others and plants the seed of empathy. Many fatherless kids are easy to spot. They’re the ones who don’t have a sense of boundaries, of where to stop, of what risks to avoid. And they’re the ones who don’t seem to care about others.
The problem of fatherless kids is far from new and yet we allow it to grow unchecked.
Since the 1965 Moynihan report, the breakdown of the American family has been hotly debated. Democratic Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s finding that fatherlessness would lead to poorer outcomes for African-American children was published at a time when only 25 percent of African-American households were led by a single parent. Today, 24 percent of white non-Hispanic families are headed by a single parent and the rate has reached 66 percent among African-Americans. If we don’t reverse current trends on marriage, the number of fatherless children will only grow.
That’s 53 years since Daniel Patrick Moynihan issued his report. That’s 53 years during which we’ve largely ignored the problem of fatherless kids. We now have mass slaughters of children occurring every few months that fairly scream for our attention, and yet still we, like Kao, barely notice what’s right in front of us.
What’s right in front of us is that fatherlessness doesn’t just happen, it’s caused. Fifty years ago, fatherlessness in this country was mostly a problem for the black community, and not much of one for it. Now it’s an enormous problem for the whole country. The problem has grown so, not due to any force of nature, but because of public policies that everywhere promote it and see it flourish.
How can we look at no-fault divorce, the wholesale denigration of fathers and men generally in every aspect of popular culture, family courts marginalizing fathers in children’s lives, a domestic violence industry that zealously opposes fathers’ access to their kids, an adoption industry that shuns fathers whenever it can, a child support system that drives fathers into hiding and jail while, along with alimony, encouraging mothers to divorce the fathers of their kids, and pretend to be mystified at the tsunami of fatherlessness that’s sweeping over this land?
We made this problem and we can unmake it. Sadly, Kao has little concept of the source of or the solution to the problem.
A good starting place would be to reduce the marriage penalties that have been built into our welfare system. A next step would be to elevate the contributions of ordinary men doing the extraordinary work of fathering. And if we directed 1 percent of the attention and media coverage we give to athletes, musicians, and movie stars toward fathers, perhaps more boys would grow up seeing them as role models.
That’s all jolly good, but it barely scratches the surface of what really matters – public policy. We can tinker with the welfare system all we like, and I think we should. But doing that while ignoring the various public policy issues I mentioned above is a sure way to do nothing about the problem while congratulating ourselves on our commitment and wisdom.
Face it, we need to change our laws and change the popular narrative about men and fathers. We need to start telling the truth about children’s need for two parents. And we need to educate public officials about the science on child well-being as it relates to their family arrangements.
Until we do those things, we’re just pretending. Sad to say, Emily Kao knows the gravity of the situation, but neither its source nor its solution.
“I can only tell you how much my renewed hope for National Parents Association has become. It was difficult to keep reading all the tragedy happening and had taken its toll on my heart. But with the focus on children and building affiliates, my spirit has been lifted to a whole new level.”