Missing fathers impact us all

Michael “Mick” McMahan

Michael “Mick” McMahan

“Of all the rocks on which we build our lives, we are reminded today that family is the most important. And we are called to recognize and honor how important every father is to that foundation. They are teachers and coaches. They are mentors and role models. They are examples of success and the men who continually push us towards it. But if we are honest with ourselves, we will admit that whatever too many fathers are missing – missing from too many lives and too many families. They have abandoned their responsibilities and behave like boys instead of men. And the foundations of our families are weaker as a result.” (President Barrack Obama, Father’s Day Speech, 2015.)

In Cook County, Illinois, where these words were spoken, only 25% of African American children grow up in homes with two biological parents. These children and others born and raised in single-parent homes are severely disadvantaged socially, economically and emotionally.

In her book, The two-parent privilege, Melissa S. Kearney, an MIT-trained economist and Harvard professor, details the depth of the long and destructive path we have seen in the decline of American families over the past seventy years. Families look different today than they did when I was a child. My father’s birthday is today, April 10, was tall and talented and a truly good man. For my brothers, my sister and me, his presence in our lives was both an anchor and a guide.

The harmful effects of growing up in a family without a father apply to both boys and girls, but for boys the damage is even more harmful. Having a father in the house provides boys with a role model to guide their behavior. A father can teach discipline, the missing ingredient in most boys’ lives. A father can also demonstrate through the activities of his daily life how boys should grow into men. But a missing father cannot affect the lives of their children, boys or girls.

Boys who grew up without a father are twice as likely as girls from single-parent homes to be suspended from school and four times as likely as boys who live in a home with two biological parents. Boys living in these circumstances are unlikely to go to college. Many do not graduate from high school. Their job opportunities are limited. Alcohol and drug abuse are common in their lives. They are more likely to end up in the criminal justice system and in prison than children raised in two-parent families. They are unlikely to get married, and so the cycle continues.

When I was in Vietnam, we rarely did night patrols. No darkness is darker than the night in the triple-canopied jungle. The few times we had to move at night, we discovered a small plant or fern that was phosphorescent and glowed slightly in the dark. Attaching it to the back of the helmet of the man in front of us created a small green light that could be tracked even in the complete darkness of the jungle.

My father was that light for me. He led me along a life path that showed what it means to be a good man, a faithful husband and a devoted father. Too many children have no one to guide them through the growing darkness that has engulfed America. More than five million children live in single-parent homes, many of them with mothers who lack the financial and emotional resources of a devoted husband. Many of these children are having a hard time.

The problem is enormous and complex. Solving this problem will require resources greater than any of us can muster. I believe that eventually it will take a spiritual awakening that will spread across our country and into the hearts of us all. But until that happens, you can help. I can help. Find a young child who needs an adult in his life. If you are a man, find a young boy. Offer him your most important asset: your time. Be a presence in his life. You can’t replace his father, but you can be like that little green light we followed into the jungle. If you help one and I help one and we all help one, maybe we can make a difference. Missing fathers impact us all. We can’t do everything that’s necessary, but we can do something. Are you going to try it? I will.

Michael K. McMahan is a resident of Gastonia, NC. You can reach him at [email protected]

This article originally appeared in The Gaston Gazette: YOUR TURN: Missing fathers impact us all