The fa­ther fac­tor

Two-par­ent fam­i­lies make a stronger Amer­ica

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - By James Lank­ford and Rus­sell Moore

Fa­ther’s Day has come and gone. The grills are turned off and the gift ties have been put away. The leisurely fam­ily time is over and we are all back to the daily grind. But there is much work to do to strengthen Amer­ica’s fam­i­lies. We are reg­u­larly asked by peo­ple, in Washington, D.C. and around the na­tion what we be­lieve our coun­try’s most press­ing is­sues are. Most con­sis­tently, we of­ten re­ply: Amer­ica’s fam­i­lies.

As fa­thers, we can per­son­ally at­test that this job is one of the most re­ward­ing, but it is also ex­tremely im­por­tant to the health of our na­tion. It’s easy to see from the na­tion’s cap­i­tal that the fed­eral gov­ern­ment is of­ten con­fronted with do­mes­tic is­sues that stem from un­sta­ble com­mu­ni­ties and fam­i­lies who aren’t self-suf­fi­cient.

Peo­ple want fam­ily to work, they wish it would work, but care­less mo­ments and busy days have dis­tracted our na­tion from our fam­i­lies. In pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions, fam­i­lies lived nearby and gen­er­a­tions stayed con­nected. They taught each other, en­cour­aged work, pro­vided a safety net and passed on their faith. Now, we seem to have ev­ery­thing we want, ex­cept strong fam­i­lies. I be­lieve our na­tion and our chil­dren are poorer for what we have lost.

As fam­i­lies fal­ter, the gov­ern­ment has risen to meet the needs of the fam­ily. But gov­ern­ment is a poor sub­sti­tute for a com­mit­ted fam­ily. Just take a look at the fos­ter care sys­tem to find an ex­am­ple of this. When fam­i­lies fal­ter and chil­dren are abused, the gov­ern­ment main­tains cus­tody of vul­ner­a­ble chil­dren. Among fos­ter chil­dren who grow up and “age out” of the fos­ter sys­tem, one in five will be­come home­less af­ter age 18. One in four will be in­volved in the jus­tice sys­tem within two years of leav­ing the fos­ter care sys­tem. This shows in a very vivid way how chil­dren suf­fer when fam­i­lies break down.

Look at any com­mu­nity across Amer­ica and you will see the di­rect cor­re­la­tion. In com­mu­ni­ties with more bro­ken fam­i­lies and more ab­sent fa­thers, you will see higher crime and a weaker econ­omy. The op­po­site will ex­ist in com­mu­ni­ties with more stable fam­i­lies. To take stress off the gov­ern­ment, fam­i­lies must be­come more stable and self-suf­fi­cient.

An Oc­to­ber 2015 Amer­i­can Enterprise In­sti­tute eco­nomic study shows this dy­namic very clearly. The re­search in­di­cated that higher lev­els of mar­riage are strongly as­so­ci­ated with a bet­ter econ­omy, less child poverty, and higher me­dian fam­ily in­come at the state level in the United States. For states with higher mar­ried-par­ent fam­i­lies, you will find $1,451 higher per capita gross do­mes­tic prod­uct, a 13.2 per­cent de­cline in the child poverty rate, and a $3,654 higher me­dian fam­ily in­come. That same study shows that vi­o­lent crime is much less com­mon in states with larger shares of fam­i­lies headed by mar­ried par­ents. The eco­nomic data is clear — stronger fam­i­lies in Amer­ica would lead to a stronger econ­omy, safer neigh­bor­hoods and less poverty.

Ask any teacher why teach­ing is tougher now and they will tell you about be­hav­ioral prob­lems, lack of parental in­volve­ment and is­sues re­lated to home, be­fore they ever talk about bud­get re­al­i­ties. Talk to five men in prison and you will find only two who grew up in a stable two-par­ent home.

Go to a busi­ness owner or man­ager and ask what kind of em­ployee they want, and they will typ­i­cally an­swer: some­one who will show up and be com­mit­ted and work con­sis­tently, char­ac­ter­is­tics most of­ten de­vel­oped in a com­mit­ted and stable home.

Today, about 24 mil­lion chil­dren — or one in three — live in a home with­out the phys­i­cal pres­ence of an en­gaged fa­ther. Most re­search shows there is a “fa­ther fac­tor” in nearly all of the ma­jor so­cial is­sues fac­ing Amer­ica today, in­clud­ing poverty, ed­u­ca­tion, child health, in­car­cer­a­tion, crime, teen preg­nancy, drug and al­co­hol abuse.

Ev­ery state, ev­ery neigh­bor­hood and ev­ery com­mu­nity is cur­rently ex­pe­ri­enc­ing chal­lenges in the fam­ily. But in ev­ery neigh­bor­hood, in ev­ery com­mu­nity and ev­ery state you will also find great ex­am­ples of com­mit­ted fam­i­lies. Our fu­ture is not in­evitable, it is in our hands. Our great­est chal­lenge will not be solved by more gov­ern­ment, it will be solved by com­mu­ni­ties, non­prof­its, churches and fam­i­lies who care for each other.

Washington should fo­cus on pol­icy solutions that en­cour­age the com­mit­ment of fam­i­lies, in­clud­ing elim­i­nat­ing mar­riage penal­ties, cre­at­ing more fa­vor­able tax pol­icy for fam­i­lies, and us­ing pub­lic plat­forms to ver­bally pro­mote the ben­e­fits of fam­ily, es­pe­cially among young peo­ple be­fore they have chil­dren.

Our fam­i­lies are not be­yond re­pair; they are dam­aged, but redeemable. De­ci­sions must be made in each home about what is most im­por­tant and what is our first com­mit­ment. Fa­thers, let’s step up our game. Our kids and our na­tion are count­ing on us. Let’s build a strong na­tion by build­ing strong fam­ily com­mit­ments again. James Lank­ford is a Repub­li­can mem­ber of the U.S. Se­nate from Ok­la­homa. Rus­sell Moore is pres­i­dent of the Ethics and Re­li­gious Lib­erty Com­mis­sion of the South­ern Bap­tist Con­ven­tion.

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