Roland Warren, the former head of the National Fatherhood Initiative, when delivering the eulogy for his late father, said about the distant relationship he had with him as a child, “I was a little boy with a hole in my soul in the shape of my dad with unhealed wounds from years of feeling neglected and less than worthy.”
A recent research brief by Brad Wilcox and his colleagues at the Institute for Family Studies (IFS) on how the lack of an involved father impacts boys verifies the effects of that “dad-shaped” hole on boys.
In the brief, Wilcox reports that the percentage of boys living in homes without a biological father has almost doubled since 1960 – from 17 percent to 32 percent – resulting in an estimated 12 million boys growing up without a biological dad.
Wilcox writes, “Lacking the day-to-day involvement, guidance, and positive example of their father in the home, and the financial advantages associated with having him in the household, these boys are more likely to act up, lash out, flounder in school, and fail at work as they move into adolescence and adulthood.”
Thus, it quickly becomes evident how big that dad-sized hole can be and that hole can have lifelong implications, and often determines whether a boy will be a success or failure in life.
For example, Wilcox and his colleagues report that 35 percent of boys with a present biological father obtain a college degree, compared to just 14 percent of boys who do not have a present biological father.
While obtaining a college degree is not the only way to avoid poverty, a certain level of educational attainment is required if one wants to avoid poverty. But, according to the report, many fatherless boys are even struggling to achieve the most minimal level of educational attainment – a high school degree – which allows them to enter equipped for the workforce.
These young men are directionless, or as Wilcox and his colleagues write, “The daily life of these men is often marked by hours in front of a screen, vaping, smoking marijuana, or under the influence of some other kind of substance.” They are not contributors, but instead bystanders.
Secondly, our society plays a tragic price. According to the IFS brief, young men who grew up without a biological father are nearly twice as likely to be idle compared to those who grew up with an actively involved dad. In addition, they have significant anger issues which leads to legal problems as fatherless boys are about twice as likely to have spent some time in jail before they reach the age of 30.
It is not a coincidence that the tragedies of Columbine, Sandy Hook, Buffalo, and Uvalde are all tied to angry young men.
All of this is sobering enough. But there is another related problem. Growing up fatherless often makes young men poor candidates for marriage. Many women are aware of this. They can see the “holes in their soul” of the young men in their lives.
So often we hear from women – where are the good men who have a purpose in life, who want to be successful at work and in the home? Instead, they see a lack of emotionally mature and stable men who are stuck in perpetual adolescence because they lack the role model of a biological father to guide them.
Is it any wonder then that the average age of women getting married continues to climb as they see young men in their 20s still stumbling around directionless? It is a common lament we hear from so many young women, “I want to get married, but there are no men to marry.”
While not all dads are perfect, and there are some that are far from perfect, a father in the home still makes a major difference in the development of a boy into a man. A good father, in most cases, who invests in his son, ends up developing a successful man.
As Wilcox and his colleagues write, “If we wish to revive the fortunes of today’s young men, we must help fathers teach their sons how to prepare better for adulthood, relationships, and marriage … These steps matter, not just for renewing the fortunes of young men, but also for the sake of women for good partners to love, marry, and start families in the future.”
If we want a society of successful men who do not lash out in anger, who love and cherish their families, and are good citizens, those who are fathers must realize that it is our responsibility to pass those values on to our sons. If we are absent or distant, we do not only a disservice to these boys, but also to women, and society. If we take fatherhood seriously, we can raise a generation of boys with no “holes” in their soul and future generations will be better off for it.