Linda Eyre, “The Turning”
Yes, America has some problems--crime, drugs, mental health, poverty, out-of-wedlock births, anger, lack of skills or incentive, I could go on. These are not new problems, but how could we best minimize them? We could counter them with more police, more jails, more hospitals, and more welfare. Or we could prevent the circumstances that allow them to come about in the first place, before they get further out of control.
In 1950, only 4% of births were out of wedlock. That number in 2008 was 40.6%. Currently, more than half of all births to women under thirty occur outside the marriage. Could this have anything to do with the problems I've mentioned? Could it be the fact that approximately one third of American children live without their biological father?
My book, The Power of Dadhood, was written principally as a mentoring book to help fathers be the best dads they can be. Secondarily, but very importantly, it is a book about repairing and preventing the ills of our society. It’s not that I have all the answers, but I think--very confidently--that I have the main answer. The answer, however, is a challenging one to be sure! That is, to do all we can to encourage and bring back the core family to prominence-- the core family being a father, a mother, and their children living under the same roof with rules all can understand. Since there will be dissenters, let me be clear that I understand other family situations exist that can work, but they don’t address the majority of the issues we face.
Here is a list of ‘what ifs’, pointing out what could be done to solve this most complicated of problems.
- What if, for two or three generations, children would be brought into this world with both a loving mother and a loving father, even if they are not biological parents?
- What if these parents had been brought up themselves by parents who had basic skills in how to successfully raise children?
- What if these parents started each day looking into their infant children’s eyes with smiles on their faces with constant chatter of encouraging words?
- And what if, as they grew older, these wonderful parents would challenge their children with new experiences and reward them for their successes?
- What if kids knew what was expected of them?
- What if there were rules, and the rules made sense to them, and the rules were strictly enforced?
- What if children knew they were loved and realized that the last thing they want to do is to disappoint those that love them?
Now I know there are limitations that make this scenario tough to achieve for many families, perhaps most families, but why? I have suggestions that, if they came to be, would likely turn the tide against the continued re-occurrence of many of today’s social issues.
It would help if:
- There were more emphasis in the core family. I defined the core family earlier as being a father, a mother, and their children living under the same roof. While it is politically correct in many quarters to support gay marriage and single mothers, which I understand, it seems politically incorrect to praise or encourage the idea of a core family.
- Religious or spiritual teachings were taught more frequently in the home. I have never been particularly religious because it wasn’t part of my upbringing. However, the idea of a higher power, the lessons of living a good life, the brotherhood of a common belief, and the simple knowledge of the teachings of the great religions will bring a spirit of love that will fill the voids that could potentially be filled with defeat, anger and hate.
- There were less of an emphasis on shock and profit and more on propriety. Because of the state of many families these days, rare are the barriers to keep young people from poor taste and impropriety. Therefore, behavior that should be unacceptable is acceptable by too many to be good for a respected society. Choosing an example, since impropriety exists elsewhere, segments of the music industry is rampant with lewdness, obscene language, and hate-filled lyrics making cop killing or degradation of women common themes. This music appeals to people raised without the “what ifs” mentioned above. They buy this message, share it with others who are also vulnerable to peer pressure; then those who sell this anger and hate profit from it and are therefore encouraged to sell more. I’m not so prudish as to deny adults their pleasures as long as they don’t affect others, but children should be protected at ages where their judgment is not yet sound.
- Social media made it easier for parents to block certain content from their children. I am a believer in free speech. I am not a believer in young people being exposed to pornographic language and hate filled rhetoric. Since free speech is essential to our liberty, it is up to the adults to control what children see and hear. This is admittedly a tough problem to control. The best tool is good parenting.
- There were something to intervene the cycle of despair. When a child is born into a situation with little support, everything about them suffers. Their confidence is weak, expectations are low, lessons are few, and there is acceptance of the circumstance they are in, which all contribute to them becoming just like their parent(s)-- this cycle repeating until something interrupts it. A few escape on their own--with just a little help. This is a goal of my book--to be a guide, a mentoring tool, or a reference to a father who doesn’t know how to prevent his children from continuing the cycle of despair.
- There were less divorces and separations. Of course this is a chicken or the egg problem. It would take less divorce and separation currently to make future divorce and separation less likely. Let’s at least encourage our youth to wait to both marry and to divorce.
- There were less need for two-income families. We are driven to keep up with our peers. When that isn’t enough, both parents work. Our positions in the company for whom we work become more important than our parenting. A large part of our younger children’s hours awake are spent being tended to by strangers whose attention is divided among many.
- Extended families lived closer together. It used to be that most grandparents, aunts and uncles lived relatively close to each other. They were available for support and camaraderie. Now, corporations have no trouble moving their employees wherever they need them. Often, companies require you to sign a statement stating you are willing to relocate, or you will not be hired. Many choose to move away on their own, looking to climb the ladder of success rather than staying close to family—a fair choice but one that hurts family ties and cooperation.
- Government didn’t take over the roles and duties of families. Churches, grandparents, neighbors, the sister/brother down the block, etc. used to be there for families in need. Now the government more often is involved in “at need” situations. Governments, however, can’t be close to people like friends and family can. The caring, love, judgment, pressure or encouragement is no longer there from those that care. There is no longer the pressure or help from loved ones to get out of a needy situation, and scrutiny is not nearly as efficient as it is with friends and family.
What is scary is that this has all happened so quickly. Centuries of traditions are now disappearing and it seems to have taken place in the last 50-70 years, parallel to the rise in out-of-wedlock births. If the pace keeps up, we will have a society, not centered on families, but driven by governments and corporations. Here is a quote by the great Winston Churchill on families. “There is no doubt that it is around the family and the home that all the greatest virtues, the most dominating virtues of humans, are created, strengthened, and maintained.” When families become weaker, we all become weaker.
A Social Experiment
I think the answer, if this Utopian example were tested, is intuitively obvious. But what if we could apply all the “what-ifs” above, added the list of suggestions, and performed an experiment to see if society’s ills would, in fact, be eased to some degree? How could we do this? Is it possible? Maybe the experiment is already happening--not as controlled or as perfect a situation as we would like, but a real life approximation of the experiment? I have a thought.
If I were to choose an organized group of people who were, without a doubt, champions of the core or nuclear family, it would be the Latter Day Saints of the Mormon religion. I am not a Mormon myself, and whatever your thoughts are about the other traditions of the LDS, positive or negative, they do not matter in this live experiment. This real-life study compares various statistics of the state of Utah and compares them to the other forty-nine states. Utah is 70% Mormon, not all of course are strict or practicing Mormons. But it is enlightening to compare Utah and its Mormon-influenced, family culture, with the rest of the US. While this information comes from a Mormon source, I believe it to be true and accurate due to the original sources of their data.
- Utah is second in the nation among the states in high school graduates, first in college attendance, and eighth in college graduates.
- Utah is in the top three states in having the least occurrence of all major diseases!
- Utah has the highest birthrate and the second lowest death rate.
- Utah in in the bottom 20% of all states in major crime.
- Drug use in Utah is half the national average and it ranks in the lower third of states in alcoholism.
- Finally, Utah has 77 out-of-wedlock births per 1000 while the national average is 203 out-of-wedlock births per 1000.
This data may not prove the importance of my “what ifs” to you, but it is at least an interesting discussion. Utah is by far closer to the ‘what ifs’ lifestyle I proposed, and if it ever came to be, it would diminish a life of negativity and promote success, save private and taxpayer money, and most importantly, improve and save lives!
The Good News
There is some good news trends. Fathers who are in the home today are much more involved with their children than in days past. The number of stay-at-home dads has tripled in the last decade and companies are much more likely to offer paid paternity leave. Commercials and media are showing fathers in a more positive light, and there are conferences like Dad2.0Summit that get people together to talk fatherhood. And the problem isn't a secret. Ninety-one percent of fathers agreed there is a father-absence crisis in the county. Most father absences are in the lower social-economic families, but fatherly inattention can occur in any home.
In conclusion, it is my opinion, and that of others far more knowledgeable than I, that the major societal issues of today can be reduced significantly by focusing on, and supporting, the core family--where lessons are taught, love is abundant, and support can be found.
Note: For detailed and expert insights into the causes of the breakdown of the family and the solutions to change the tide, I highly recommend, “The Turning: Why the State of the Family Matters, and What the World Can Do About It”.
The data herein (other than the Utah data) was collected by the National Fatherhood Initiative.