There's an elephant in the room. No one will admit it's here, right in front of us. Social scientists, policy wonks and politicians walk all around the elephant without ever acknowledging it. They make policies and rules and advocacy organizations to address the symptoms caused by that huge pachyderm that's taking up all the space, but they don't even acknowledge it's there.
The elephant in the room is fathers — the absence of fathers in the lives of millions of children, particularly boys. This absence of fathers is the root cause of many of the social pathologies we see today, particularly in communities with large numbers of fatherless households. The absence of a father can lead to young boys without guidance and discipline. Many of them become angry, violent, disrespectful, depressed and misogynistic. They fail in school and in the workplace. Look at the discipline problems in public schools; you'll find the absence of a father in the home. Look at the school dropout rate; you'll find many in that statistic without a father. Look at the unemployment list — or the unemployable list. Again, no father present.
A few ambitious nonprofits have attempted to provide surrogate fathers, mentors who will work with young men, teach them the importance of being kind and respectful, of working hard in school and staying away from the "wrong crowd." These mentors can demonstrate some successes, but mentors can never fully replace a father — a man who will love the boy's mother and be at home every night, not just a few hours a week.
A Wilson audience learned of a frightening situation that is all too common but, since it's the elephant in the room, is rarely discussed. The Wilson Times reported:
The keynote speakers at the annual meeting, Ben David and Kip Blakely, spoke from their experience in Wilmington and Greensboro respectively in terms of programs they were a part of implementing to address workforce development.
David, the district attorney in New Hanover and Pender counties, acknowledged the multi-faceted cause of poverty and crime, noting they found only four dads for 253 kids in 87 homes in their target area of Wilmington.
Scary enough for you?
For half a century, the federal government has tried to solve the problems in households headed by single mothers. While some of these brave women manage to be both mother and father to her children, more of these single mothers are too young to make wise decisions about their own lives and cannot offer a successful role model for their children.
If we choose to face the elephant in the room, we should do several things:
1. Redouble efforts to teach young women good decision making, especially when it comes to having children. Emphasize the marriage-first, babies-later path to a more successful and fulfilling life.
2. Mentor boys, teach them in school, inspire them in church, but get the message through to them: Real men care for their girlfriends, and that means making their welfare more important than your own. It means avoiding pregnancy by whatever means necessary — abstinence, contraception, fear of failure — until both of you are ready to support and raise children.
3. Re-emphasize the Protestant Work Ethic. Go back to "idle hands are the devil's workshop;" make sloth and lack of ambition traits to be avoided, not emulated.
4. Make it clear that school is important, and hard work at school pays better rewards than a shot at a lottery drawing. Many single mothers are dropouts who did not have a good experience in school, and their anti-school attitude gets passed to her children and her grandchildren.
America has a crime problem, an educational problem, an employment problem, a morality problem, a violence problem. But at the bottom of all these problems is a problem in the home, where all of us learn what the world is like, how to treat other people, how to live, how to be responsible adults. Even the best school can't accomplish those goals in a few hours a day, especially if what is taught in school is contradicted at home. What almost nobody is talking about is the elephant in the room: there is no father in the home.