On an occasion when I was substitute teaching in a local elementary school, a little girl approached the teacher’s desk with a shy smile. I looked up at her and smiled back.
“Hi,” I said.
“Hi,” she answered. After a moment in which I wondered if that were going to be the extent of our conversation, she spoke again. “My daddy is coming home this weekend,” she announced.
“Oh? That’s wonderful!” I replied. “Where has he been?” I expected her to say that he’d been working or that he’d been sick and was coming home from the hospital or even that he had been serving in the military overseas.
“He’s been in jail,” she said matter-of-factly. “Well, I think he’s coming home. Mommy says he said so.”
I gave her a questioning look. “Do you think he might not get to come home?”
“He used to say he would before he went to jail, but he never did.”
“Well, that’s too bad for him,” I said. “It looks like he was really missing out on a very special girl. Maybe he’s smarter now and will make it this time. But even if he doesn’t, you’re still a very special little girl.”
She smiled and went back to her desk to finish her book in the class free reading time. Later in the day, I found a crayon-drawn picture from her on the teacher’s desk. It was a self-portrait of the little girl against a blue sky with a bright sun, green grass, and lots of yellow and red flowers. “To Mr. Mollohan,” it said.
The episode made an impression upon me, not because it was an unusually sad story, but because it was actually not so unusual. It was (and is) a repeated scenario among many her age in our community and across our nation. It seemed to underscore for me the point that there are many, many children who do not know what a stable and secure home is, let alone the love and acceptance of a father, and are therefore bereft of the sense of safety that comes from the surety a father figure in the background of life provides.
In many ways, it would be an absurd understatement to say that things are broken in our world today. It might even seem redundant to point out that things are becoming even more broken as time goes on. Child abuse and neglect are rampant; drug use is epidemic; teen “delinquency” is so common that it almost looks normal; and early sexual activity and teenage pregnancy are considered a typical part of growing up. It’s not the fault of any one person. It’s symptomatic of a confused and flawed system that has at its heart a spiritual bankruptcy. We have collectively departed from God’s Word in how we live our lives, how we run our families, and how we rule our land.
Fundamentally, the solution is simple. God says, “If My people who are called by My name humble themselves, pray and seek My face, and turn from their evil ways, then I will hear from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14 HCSB).
It seems that many know this, but feel powerless to try to implement such a humble return to God. Many churches beat the drum for repentance, many families earnestly seek a return to God, many women and children are hungry and thirsty for a renewed relationship with God, but are frustrated in their efforts. Why? Perhaps because those called to lead the way back to the Lord in are absent. Fathers should be key players in the spiritual conflict surrounding us and are intended to fill the roles of provider, nurturer, conveyer of correction and restraint, primary source of acceptance (along with mothers), and guardian.
But various social ills now plaguing our communities across America can be traced to the absence of fathers and their lack of leading in those six things. Consider these facts. Kids from homes in which fathers are not present are at least five times more likely to be poor (e.g., in 2002, 7.8 % of children in married-couple families were living in poverty, versus 38.4% of children in which dads were not present). Infant mortality rates are nearly twice that of babies born to married mothers. In a 2002 Department of Justice study, nearly 40% of 7,000 inmates came from mother-only households. A 2004 study of 6,500 children revealed that a lack of “father closeness” strongly corresponded with the number of children who regularly smoked, drank, and used pot. Another 2004 study revealed that teens without fathers were two times as likely to participate in early sexual activity and seven times more likely to become pregnant as a teenager. One study indicated that kids from fatherless homes were 77% more likely of being physically abused, at 87% greater risk of being harmed by physical neglect, 165% more likely of suffering notable physical neglect, 74% more likely to suffer from emotional neglect, at 80% greater risk of suffering serious injury due to abuse, and, in general, a 120% greater risk of being endangered by some type of child abuse. Along with that, the overall rate of child abuse and neglect in single-parent households is 27.3 children per 1000, whereas the rate of overall maltreatment in two-parent households is 15.5 per 1000.
Such data should reinforce the conclusion that we need involved fathers, particularly fathers who emulate Godly qualities. Fathers are intended to be God’s agents of His protective, nurturing, guiding, and providing qualities. When fathers are abusive, absent, or negligent, children grow up without an intermediary to shepherd them in life.
Does this mean that a child without a father is doomed to destruction? That a boy or girl growing up with an abusive or disconnected dad is going to be riddled with brokenness that cannot be overcome? No. It doesn’t meant that at all. It simply means that the Church needs to rally men to stand up in their roles as fathers who will faithfully lead the flocks of their families and that the Church needs to work at addressing the vacancies that many dads have left. How can the Church fill those vacancies? By encouraging Godly men to step up as mentors and spiritual role models for those who have no dad to look to.
But the ultimate service the Church can provide for the fatherless is by pointing to our Father in heaven. This is why Jesus taught us to pray to “Our Father” (Matthew 6) and this is why we’re told, “All those led by God’s Spirit are God’s sons. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption, by Whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father!’. The Spirit Himself testifies together with our spirit that we are God’s children, and if children, also heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:14-17a).
Dads, we don’t have much time in this world. Given the stakes, let us use the window of opportunity we have to invest in something that really matters. Stop worrying about what you can’t take to heaven. Be concerned with seeing your children getting there. Be focused on preparing them for eternity. Be available for those who don’t have earthly dads to look to and let God reach them through you.