The hid­den ex­pense of fa­ther­less fam­i­lies

Fa­thers liv­ing out­side the fam­ily unit end up cost­ing bil­lions

The Washington Times Daily - - OPINION - By Roland C. War­ren Roland C. War­ren is pres­i­dent and CEO of Care Net.

Sev­eral years ago, my youngest son and I be­gan a reg­u­lar prac­tice of pack­ing sev­eral back­packs with pack­aged food, toi­letries and small Bi­bles, and head­ing to down­town Washington, D.C. to pass them out to the home­less. Most of the peo­ple we met were men, and soon I dis­cov­ered some­thing that truly sur­prised me.

Most of these men were fa­thers.

I re­mem­ber a con­ver­sa­tion with one home­less fa­ther who was in his early 50s, like me. He told me that he had been liv­ing on the streets for sev­eral years. When I queried him about his fam­ily, I was stunned to learn that he had seven adult chil­dren who lived in the D.C. area. How­ever, he said he would not con­tact them be­cause their re­la­tion­ship had frayed badly over the years. You see, when he was a younger man, he es­sen­tially aban­doned them and their mother, just like too many men who fol­low the siren’s call to self-cen­tered plea­sure and ir­re­spon­si­bil­ity. And now, as a “prodi­gal” fa­ther, he could not find his way home. I sup­pose that his guilt about what he had done in the past and his pride to­day were sig­nif­i­cant stum­bling blocks that kept him on the streets with other fa­thers like him.

He was a fam­ily-less fa­ther.

To­day, more than 24 mil­lion kids live in homes ab­sent their bi­o­log­i­cal fa­ther, a so­cial phe­nom­e­non that be­gan in the late 1960s. In­deed, I was one of the first waves of kids to live in fa­ther­less homes. As the past pres­i­dent of Na­tional Fa­ther­hood Ini­tia­tive, cou­pled with my per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence, I am well aware of the im­pact that the cri­sis of fa­ther­less­ness has had on the eco­nomic, so­cial, emo­tional and ed­u­ca­tional well-be­ing of our na­tion’s chil­dren.

That said, as I spent time meet­ing and speak­ing with these home­less fa­thers, I was awak­ened to the fact that this tsunami of fa­ther ab­sence is go­ing to have a sec­ond wave. Mil­lions upon mil­lions of fa­thers are go­ing to grow old, on the streets or in iso­lated homes, with no con­nec­tion to their chil­dren and the so­cial safety net that these con­nec­tions pro­vide. Alas, these fa­thers have bro­ken the “so­cial con­tract” with their chil­dren that says, “I will care for you when you are young and you will care for me when I am old.” Be­cause these fa­thers weren’t there for their chil­dren, their chil­dren won’t be there for them, ei­ther.

Now, there is a temp­ta­tion to say that these guys are just get­ting what they de­serve — it is “jus­tice” for them to reap what they have sown. Be­side the fact that this per­spec­tive lacks the com­pas­sion that we af­ford to oth­ers who have erred, it is short­sighted as well. Un­less we have a big human eraser, we are all go­ing to be im­pacted by fam­ily-less fa­thers be­cause of the sub­stan­tial eco­nomic bur­den of car­ing for men who don’t have fam­i­lies who will ac­cept this re­spon­si­bil­ity. Of note, it is gen­er­ally less ex­pen­sive to care for the el­derly in­di­vid­u­ally than in­sti­tu­tion­ally.

Sev­eral years ago, Na­tional Fa­ther­hood Ini­tia­tive con­ducted a study called The Hun­dred Bil­lion Dol­lar Man that ex­am­ined the cost of fa­ther ab­sence in our na­tion. As the ti­tle sug­gests, the an­nual cost was $100 bil­lion, and this was just fed­eral spend­ing, not in­clud­ing state ex­pen­di­tures. More­over, the anal­y­sis did not in­clude the cost of the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem, which is cer­tainly an on-ramp for fam­ily-less fa­thers. So, given these facts alone, the cost of car­ing for ag­ing fam­ily-less fa­thers is sure to be in the bil­lions as well.

What, then, must we do about this? Well, the first step is to ac­knowl­edge that we have a prob­lem and to shed the per­sis­tent cul­tural in­dif­fer­ence to the fa­ther ab­sence is­sue. Un­for­tu­nately, too many peo­ple in our cul­ture and in po­si­tions of power view fa­thers as su­per­flu­ous; they may be nice to have around but they are not es­sen­tial to the well-be­ing of chil­dren and fam­i­lies. We must aban­don this per­ni­cious nar­ra­tive — which is con­trary to com­mon sense and reams of so­cial science data — and, in­stead, ar­tic­u­late a new nar­ra­tive that helps men un­der­stand their crit­i­cal roles as hus­bands and fa­thers, and then chal­lenge, ed­u­cate and equip them to take on those roles.

Fi­nally, we have to help prodi­gal fa­thers find their way home and, if at all pos­si­ble, help them re­store the so­cial con­tract with their fam­i­lies. This will re­quire re­pen­tance on the part of these fa­thers and for­give­ness on the part of moth­ers, sons and daugh­ters. As one whose fa­ther was ab­sent on a daily ba­sis, I un­der­stand fully how dif­fi­cult this can be to do. But do it we must be­cause to not act is a bur­den too great and ex­pen­sive for us to bear.

There is a temp­ta­tion to say that these guys are just get­ting what they de­serve.

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