On the Dearth of Manhood

A new study argues that single parents cost American taxpayers $112 billion, in the form of welfare, education, prison, and other expenses. There’s also a pernicious estimate of foregone tax revenue, as if it’s unproductive fellow citizens that cost you and me, and not a cabal of Congressmen who spend our money like drunken New York governors at a hooker convention.

A problem with the study, notes an economics professor at Syracuse University, is that a large portion of the men in urban communities have been imprisoned, limiting their earning potential, and hence the positive economic effect of marriage. Other critics note that there is little evidence that marriage programs like those advocated by the backers of this study have any impact. We need better jobs, they argue, and better education.

It seems the hole is much deeper than either left or right is willing to fathom. Does anyone really think that the hundreds of thousands of children born in the worst urban areas without fathers in their lives are deprived of this necessity because these men can’t find work? Is it the presence of a job that makes a man live up to his responsibilities? Is it a college degree?

No, it’s moral backbone, and there’s no program that will implant one where it is absent. And so the cycle is now in a self-fueling frenzy — boys grow up without men to guide them, and girls grow up desperate for male attention, and when they meet, a new crop of neglected children is produced.

Better jobs wouldn’t hurt, nor better schools, nor perhaps even programs designed to promote responsible parenting. But this madness will end one life at a time, one man at a time, each willing to set aside his excuses and enter the daily grind that is parenting.

I’m still sorting out, in my own life, what it means to be a man. But I’m certain that you can’t be one if you’re not willing to care for your children. You can kill the enemy in war, score forty points a game, become CEO of your company — but none of it will make you a man. There are a great many fathers in our country, but significantly fewer men. And given an illegitimacy rate nationwide that is approaching 40 percent, and one closer to 90 percent in the inner cities, this ought to be a topic every pastor covers on a regular basis.


  1. Jim Ratajski

    Sometimes I wonder what kind of man I am. Do I truly love God? Love my family?

    How can I compare to those Hero’s of WWII?

    But every night I tuck my children in bed with bedtime prayer, hugs and kisses. Pour glasses of orange juice in the morning and share laughter in the face of springtime.

    I don’t know. But I am known.

    I trust that if in life whether or not I accomplish anything of merit, I will hear “well done” because I have been a father.

  2. Tim F

    Maybe this is just semantics, but I think that all you need to be a man is two testicles and a penus, but being a father/husband takes self sacrifice and the moral backbone. Part of the problem is that boys are “trying” to be a man, but they have had no one tell them that being a man is purely biological, and have seen too many wrong examples of “manhood”. (CEO, athletic/sexual prowess etc.) Maybe if we had more men tell the young men in this country that you are men, now go be fathers, husbands, providers, it would remove some of the wrong headed ideas about what it is to be a man.

  3. ruralcounsel

    Just to clarify, because one is a single parent doesn’t mean the other parent isn’t involved in their childrens lives. You seem to have conflated and confused the two issues.

    “Single parent” could mean never married, could mean divorced, could mean widowed, could mean separated.

    Supposedly, over 50% of marriages end in divorce. Failure of a marriage does not mean failure as a parent. Just makes it more challenging.

  4. Macker

    Another cause of failed parenting is when a custodial parent poisons the children into hating the noncustodial parent and everything they stand for. That noncustodial parent does everything in their power to remain a part of their children’s lives and tries to teach them right from wrong, only to be thwarted at every turn by a custodial parent who berates them, harasses them, and trashes them.
    Result: a 20-year-old son who quit school and stopped talking to his father five years ago and got furious when his father moved farther away to take a new job and a new career when nothing was available close by. That father will never know that he may be a grandfather down the road.

    That father…is me.

  5. The Sanity Inspector

    If you’re even wondering if you are enough of a man in your fatherhood walk, chances are you’re okay on that score. Sub-par people will harp on the good they do, whereas good people are scarcely aware of their goodness, but rather brood over their perceived shortcomings. Our children will grow up, hit an age where they look back and appraise the job we did raising them. All you can do is hope they’ll be merciful.

  6. Paul S

    I’ve come a year late to this post (via your recent post re: Columbine) but it is exactly right.

    I count myself hugely fortunate to have had steady men during my young life who demonstrated, daily, that manly love means obligation, patience, and cheerful (if curmudgeonly) endurance. It doesn’t need bravado, violence, or swagger: such stuff is a Man Hat. And of course: all hat, no cattle.

    I hope I can be half the father to my son, that my father was to me.

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