Fatherhood, Love, and Violence

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fathers and sonsThere are plenty of causes of youth violence, including (1) poverty; (2) drug and alcohol abuse; (3) violence on television, movies, music videos, and video games; (4) inadequate health care; (5) access to guns; (6) prejudice and discrimination; (7) poor education; and (8) lack of sufficient community services.

But one of the most important factors is a lack of strong and mature family ties, particularly, in many cases, the lack of guidance from decent, loving, hard-working fathers.

Some analysts suggest just the opposite, and place the responsibility for youth violence on the presence of fathers, blaming them for instilling male values of competitiveness, toughness, etc. These commentators would have us believe that children are better off being raised without a father in the home. Violence, they say, is the result of traditional masculinity, and it is this that has to change: men need to become more peaceful, more gentle, more like women. But in fact, while exceptions certainly exist, sons with fathers in the home are rarely the ones committing violent crimes. Fatherless boys commit far, far more.

To become a man, a boy must separate from his mother and attach himself to a man, preferably though not necessarily his father, who guides him into the community of men. When a boy cannot do this, he will often experience confusion as well as rage toward his mother, toward women in general, or toward society as a whole, though he probably cannot understand or articulate why he feels this way. Another common feature of this lack of male guidance, notes David Blankenhorn, is hypermasculine posturing: “the unrestricted aggression and swagger of boys who must prove their manhood all by themselves, without the help of fathers.”

Various studies demonstrate that children living apart from their fathers are far more likely to be expelled from school, to have emotional and behavioral problems, to have difficulty getting along with their peers, and to get into trouble with the law. This has nothing to do with race, and it has little to do with poverty. In fact, according to a 1990 study commissioned by the Progressive Policy Institute, “[the] relationship between crime and one-parent families [is] so strong that controlling for family configuration erases the relationship between race and crime and between low income and crime.”

Meanwhile, always in search of band-aids, conservatives are adamant about the need for more prisons, and liberals are adamant about the need for more social programs, but no one is adamant about the need for more present, loving fathers.