The decline of fatherhood is a shocking tragedy in America and Britain

Yesterday was Father’s Day. People often comment that this particular celebration is an American import (rather like Trick or Treat at Halloween) and driven by commerce more than anything else. This is probably true but does it matter? At a time when fathers are regarded as less and less important as breadwinners and home-builders, we certainly need a day to remember their vital importance to women and children.

I have just read an article on LifeSiteNews entitled “Fatherlessness in America” by Leslie Grimard. It cites the usual depressing evidence of the decline of a father’s influence for good these days: in the US more than one in four children lives in a single-parent home. This sounds shocking and heartbreaking; shocking because it seems to me that the American administration is keener to redefine marriage than to build strong families based on traditional marriage between a man and a woman and heartbreaking because it means that thousands of boys are growing up without experiencing a loving father’s guidance.

The other statistic from the same source states that in 1960, nearly nine out of ten children lived with two parents. Some people see the social and community structures of 50 years ago as a kind of golden age; others scoff at this idea, suggesting we view the past with rose-tinted spectacles. Whatever one’s view, and by any standard, this statistic indicates that there has been a disastrous decline in “family values” – for want of a better phrase. Even the most advanced social engineer cannot fail to see that having almost all children living in intact households must be an improvement on the numerous fatherless families prevalent today. “Don’t stigmatise. Don’t judge”, liberals respond to those who venture disquiet at the evidence of social breakdown.

Well, you don’t stigmatise individuals – but you must be critical of a system which underwrites the mayhem and which does not privilege marriage as an institution uniquely suited to the better welfare of children.

Research shows that when children, especially boys, do not have a stable and hands-on relationship with their fathers, they are more susceptible to depression and are more likely to abuse drugs or to exhibit delinquency. Children in single-parent households are “also 82% more likely to experience child poverty”. An organisation called First Things First in Richmond, Virginia, is courageously trying to tackle this issue head-on: “By encouraging marriage in low-income communities, teaching adolescents and young adults the economic and social benefits of marriage, and reducing policy disincentives for marriage, more children can avoid the pain of absent fathers and the risks of poverty”, the article states.

Alongside this article I came across one about JRR Tolkien as a husband and father by Philip Kosloski in Crisis Magazine. Tolkien’s father died when he was very young and a priest of the Birmingham Oratory, Fr Francis Xavier Morgan, became his guardian and father-figure. The priest fulfilled this role in a generous and responsible way. When Tolkien himself later married and became a father, his many duties as an Oxford don and writer of fantasy tales never prevented him from giving time to his family. He involved himself in his three sons’ activities, talked to them, read to them and was openly affectionate towards them, even when they were adults. When they left home he regularly wrote to them. Despite its commercial overtones, Father’s Day is worth celebrating.