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Studies Show the Value of Fathers in the Home

In Abington, two teenagers carjacked an 82-year-old man at the Willow Grove mall. A fight near Upper Darby High School left a teen stabbed. A 16-year-old Bensalem boy allegedly shot a girl and asked for help disposing of her body over Instagram.

People shake their heads and ask, where are the parents? But the better question might be: Where are the fathers?

Rafael Mangual, head of research, policing, and public safety for The Manhattan Institute, a free market think tank, told DVJournal data reveals that having a father in their early childhood is key for boys to grow up to be productive, law-abiding people.

But the number of single-parent households, with the mother usually at the helm, keeps growing.

Mangual said, “There is a very clear association between the incidents of out-of-wedlock childbirth and delinquency and criminality in males.”

Two-parent households are “an institution whose primary path is raising and socializing children. Early childhood development is critically important.”

“One of the things the literature tells us is that when you have young boys around the ages of 5 to 7 who have developed conduct disorders, that becomes relatively predictive of future criminality in adolescents.”

But he cautioned, “The majority of those kids will turn out just fine. Those conduct disorders will get resolved either through psychological intervention or the passage of time.”

However, a. good portion of boys will develop conduct disorders that metastasize to anti-social dispositions, he said.

“One of the things we see in prison settings is a much higher rate of psychological conditions like substance abuse disorders or anti-social personality disorder” in men raised by single mothers, said Mangual.

Mangual noted that in the general population of men in the U.S., anti-social personality disorder affects between 2 and 4 percent. Depending on the facility, it is between 40 to 70 percent of men in prisons, a “massive disparity.”

The Pennsylvania Juvenile Court Judges’ Commission suggests being raised by a single parent predicts juvenile crime. In 2021, more than 80 percent of every youth in juvenile court lived in a single-parent household.

Of those, about 48 percent lived with a single mother. And 15.5 percent lived with both their parents.

Michael Chitwood, retired Upper Darby police superintendent and former Philadelphia detective, said he had observed the phenomenon during his years in law enforcement.

“Without a father figure or male figure in their lives, they don’t listen,” Chitwood said. “Fathers hold them accountable.” He saw “over and over” when investigating homicides or other serious crimes, “more often than not, it was one-parent families for those who committed serious crimes.”

“It’s a sad trend,” Chitwood said.

Mangual said, “It doesn’t just come out of the blue. It often starts in early childhood. That suggests a high incidence of out-of-wedlock birth, and high rates of single-parent homes in which fathers are absent means that you are increasing the likelihood of the socialization process breaking down in early childhood.”

In Pennsylvania, 35 percent of children are raised in single-parent households, and in the U.S., single-parent family numbers have been rising since the 1950s and now stand at 34 percent.

The towns with the most single-parent families headed by women in the Delaware Valley are Bensalem in Bucks County, Pottstown in Chester County, Norristown in Montgomery County, and Upper Darby in Delaware County, according to the estimated U.S. Census five-year report.

Asked whether having other male role models like uncles or clergy can mitigate the lack of a father in a boy’s life, Mangual said, “There is some research that supports that. Neighborhoods with higher rates of potential role models have lower rates of crime. The problem is the difference between an uncle, or a pastor, or a teacher, and a father is, the father is in an ideal situation. He is going to be there all the time and will be there for those really important moments.”

Asked about how fatherless girls fare, Mangual said they are more likely to engage in self-harm, like eating disorders or other psychological disorders, rather than turn to crime and violence.

Mangual said anti-social personality disorder “is a lack of remorse, a lack of regard for future consequences, a lack of regard for other people, a very high sense of entitlement (in the clinical sense).”

What can be done to reverse the single-parent trend?

Mangual said it is more complicated than just encouraging couples to stay together. While, generally, two parents are better than one, “If one or both of those parents can be characterized by a history of anti-social behavior, then that can actually negate the benefits of two parents. Kids who have one parent might be better off if one of those two parents is anti-social in their disposition.”

And Mangual said he believes this “cultural and social” problem needs to be solved by society, not the government.

Although, “to the extent that welfare policy penalizes marriage or cohabitation between parents, there’s some cases where a family might lose benefits if a mother and father get married. That’s certainly something the government can look to change.”

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COLEMAN: Children Need a Father’s Love and Support

The National Institutes of Health extensively studied father absenteeism and its effects on children. It found compelling evidence that a father’s absence negatively affects children’s social-emotional development, increases adolescents’ risky behaviors, negatively affects educational attainment, and affects mental health, which often persist throughout life.

Since 2020, violence among children has increased across the nation. In the U.S., homicides committed by juveniles acting alone rose 30 percent from just a year earlier. Crimes committed by multiple youths increased by 66 percent. The number of killings committed by children under 14 was the highest in two decades. The number of juveniles killing other juveniles was the highest it has been in more than two decades. While there are certainly several factors for the previous statistics, part of the problem lies with the absence of fathers in the lives of children.

I grew up with a father whose alcoholism overwhelmed him by the time I was 12. My mother, sister, brother, and I fled the house after a particularly violent outburst from him, where he punched me in the face and left my nose bleeding. We went to live with my grandmother from that day forward. The trauma of the physical violence in our home, and later, my uncle’s betrayal of my trust in him, left me distrusting other older men who tried to mentor or become father-like figures to me. It is a distrust I have been overcoming all my life, reminding myself not to assume nefarious motives when an older man’s behavior or words remind me of my father’s or my uncles’ words and behaviors. My father was in and out of our lives from that day forward. It left me angry with him because I felt he had betrayed his family.

“Fathers, don’t stir up anger in your children, but bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). “Stir up anger” means to provoke, to irritate, to exasperate. Here is a summary of the California Department of Education’s page on the mindset of children ages 9-14:

“I may be eager to become an adult. But remember, I am still a child, so don’t expect me to act like an adult. I still need adult help. One day, I am as responsible and cooperative as an adult: the next day I’m more like a six-year-old. I think more like an adult, but there’s no simple answer. I like to talk about issues in the adult world. I like to think for myself, and though I often feel confused, my opinions are important to me, and I want others to respect them. But I still need reasonable rules set by adults.”

The English poet Samuel Coleridge talked with a man who did not believe children should be given any biblical or religious instruction. That man claimed a child’s mind should not be prejudiced in any direction, and when he became older, he should be permitted to choose for himself. Coleridge said nothing, but after a while, he asked the man if he would like to see his garden.

The man said he would, and Coleridge took him into the garden, where only weeds were growing. The man looked at Coleridge in surprise and said, “Why this is not a garden! There is nothing but weeds here!” “Well,” answered Coleridge, “I did not wish to infringe upon the liberty of the garden; I did not want to ‘prejudiced it in any direction,’ I just gave the garden permission to express itself in any way it saw fit, and here is the result.”

Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go.” Fathers play a crucial role in children’s lives that others cannot fill. Studies show that when fathers are present and when they are affectionate and supportive, it positively affects a child’s mental, behavioral, and social development. Girls model their relationships with others and often look for husbands based on their father’s character. Boys model themselves after their father’s character and tend to be the husbands their fathers modeled.

I was determined to be the father who did not stir his children to anger. A father who would be present, supportive, affectionate, and loving to my own two girls. But also a loving and supportive husband to my wife, in part so that my girls could see what marriage is supposed to look like.

My father passed away nearly 20 years ago. I am grateful we were able to have a heart-to-heart talk a few years before he died. I learned that his mother was an alcoholic and that her father was an alcoholic. My dad’s father was in and out of his life. My father continued that tragic legacy. I am grateful that I am the one who broke it! It hurt my heart to hear my father’s story, and it made it easier for me to forgive him. I had the opportunity to take him to a Dodgers game (his favorite team), and I was the preacher when my father walked down the aisle and gave his life to Jesus Christ.

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