The horrible massacre of 31 innocent people a few weeks ago in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, was staggering for Americans. Once again, we witnessed ghastly multiple murders. It is happening regularly, with no end in sight. Though it is heart-wrenching to recall, we must not forget the slaughter of 20 precious kindergartners and 6 adult staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School, or the killing of 12 teenagers and 1 faculty member at Columbine High School, just a few miles from our home in Colorado. America watched through their tears another brutal bloodbath of 14 students and 3 teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and a Sunday morning mass murder of worshippers at a Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Twenty-six churchgoers died there. Another assault occurred in a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where 11 Jewish men and women were mowed down. Then, there was the vicious attack by a shooter standing in a hotel window in Las Vegas, Nevada, where 58 people lost their lives in a barrage of gunfire. Sadly, we could list dozens of more incidents.
It is impossible to overstate the anguish and grief suffered by hundreds of families and friends who have lost loved ones at the hands of wanton killers. And there are even more who are dealing with the trauma and pain of injury, both physical and emotional, stemming from these tragic events. Clearly, America is under siege, and the nation is rightly demanding answers. We all want to know what motivated the killers and how can we stop others from copying them.
Most of the explanations put forth by presidential candidates, many politicians, and liberal commentators have been inadequate and unhelpful. I think there is a more plausible answer.
Though each situation is unique, most of the murderers had one thing in common. They were boys or young men who grew up in dysfunctional families without caring fathers in the home. That is what Mark Meckler addressed in an article published in Patheos. These are his conclusions:
Yes, yes, and a thousand times yes.
Fatherlessness is a serious problem. America's boys have been under stress for decades. It's not toxic masculinity hurting them, it's the fact that when they come home there are no fathers there. Plain and simple. Add that to a bunch of horrible cultural trends telling them that everything bad is good (gang culture, drugs, misogyny, etc.), and we've got a serious problem on our hands.
This problem can't be solved by any policy or any sort of gun control. It is time to have a serious discussion about the degradation of our cultural norms.1
Suzanne Venker, in a recent FoxNews article noted that of CNN's list of the "27 Deadliest Mass Shootings in U.S. History," only one perpetrator was raised by his biological father since childhood. She wrote:
Indeed, there is a direct correlation between boys who grow up with absentee fathers and boys who drop out of school, who drink, who do drugs, who become delinquent, who wind up in prison, and who kill their classmates and other unknowing victims.2
Venker also concluded:
Parental absence and disconnection are rampant in America. Did we honestly believe it would have no impact?3
Retired Lt. Gen. William Boykin said in an interview with Miguel Moreno of The Epoch Times:
The fact is we have an epidemic of absentee fathers in the home and a disintegrating family structure in America. [It] is a major cause for what we see happening in these mass shootings. We have a generation of young people who have no mentors. There is no one to instruct and encourage them, or to help them on their path to manhood or womanhood.4
Psychologist Peter Langman, an authority on school shootings, studied a list of 56 school shooters. He found that 82 percent of the perpetrators grew up in broken homes with drug abuse, parental absence, and divorce.5
The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University found that children living in two-parent families who had only a fair or poor relationship with their fathers were at a 68 percent higher risk of smoking, drinking, and drug usage than teens having a good or excellent relationship with their dads.6 The influence of a good father can hardly be overemphasized.
Dr. William Pollock, Harvard psychologist and author of Real Boys, determines that divorce is terribly difficult for children of both sexes, but it is devastating for males. He says the basic problem is the lack of discipline and supervision in the father's absence and his unavailability to teach his son what it means to be a man. Pollock also believes fathers are crucial in helping boys learn to manage their emotions.7 As we have seen, without the guidance and direction of a father, a boy's frustration often leads to varieties of violence and other antisocial behavior.
Whereas, girls have a readily available model after which to pattern feminine behavior and attitudes (except when daughters are raised by single fathers), boys living with single mothers are left to formulate their masculine identity out of thin air. This is why early divorce is also harder for boys. Writer Angela Phillips believes (and I agree) that the high incidence of homosexuality occurring in Western nations is related, at least in part, to the absence of a positive male influence when boys are moving through the first crisis of child development.8 One of the primary objectives of parents is to help boys identify their gender assignment and understand what it means to be a man.
Numerous researchers agree that losing a dad (or never having had one) is catastrophic for males. Thirty years ago, it was believed that poverty and discrimination were primarily responsible for juvenile crime and other behavioral problems. Now, we know that family disruption is the real culprit. Despite all the red flags that warn us of the dangers, cavalier attitudes abound with regard to premarital sex and pregnancy, divorce, infidelity, and cohabitation. Don Elium, author of Raising a Son, says that with troubled boys, the common theme is distant, uninvolved fathers and, in turn, mothers who have taken on more responsibility to fill the gap.9
Sociologist Peter Karl believes that because boys spend up to 80 percent of their time with women, they don't know how to act as men when they grow up. When that happens, the relationship between the sexes is directly affected. Men become helpless and more and more like big kids.10
These findings confirm my deepest convictions about marriage and children. I have been warning about the implications of family disintegration for decades. I am convinced that the institution of the family is the ground floor of civilization. Everything of significance to the social contract depends on the stability of that foundation. If it is weakened or undermined, as we are seeing throughout Western culture, the entire superstructure can come crashing down. That is what we appear to be witnessing on every level.
All of our institutions are in jeopardy, and the social fabric is clearly unraveling. When that happens, children are the ones who suffer most. Furthermore, because males are inherently more volatile and aggressive than females, the presence of a strong, loving, wise father or father-figure is the best antidote to antisocial behavior of all types, which could even include mass murder. In addition to crumbling families, we are witnessing an environment of hate like we haven't seen since the Civil War. It is a recipe for disaster.
I believe the future of Western civilization depends on how we handle this present crisis. We, as parents, are raising the next generation of boys who will either mature to be honorable family men, or they will be a liability at home and in their communities. Men are the bridges to the future. Nations that are populated largely by immature, immoral, weak-willed, cowardly, violent, and self-indulgent men cannot and will not long endure. These types of men include those who sire and abandon their own children, who cheat on their wives, who lie, steal, and covet, who regularly shout at or beat up their wives and children, who hate their countrymen, and who serve no god but money. That is the direction our culture, including the entertainment industry and video game manufacturers, is taking too many of today's boys. We must make every effort to interdict those dangerous influences, and to build within our young men lasting qualities of character, self-discipline, respect for authority, commitment to the work ethic, and an unshakable love for Jesus Christ. The pursuit of those objectives led me to undertake the writing of my book, Bringing Up Boys. It is my cause célèbre.
Repeatedly during my review of the professional literature for Bringing Up Boys, I came face-to-face with the same disturbing issue. Boys are in trouble today primarily because their parents, and especially dads, are distracted, overworked, harassed, exhausted, disinterested, chemically dependent, absent, abusers, lawless, or simply unable to cope. All other problems plaguing young males flow from (or are related to) these facts of life in the twenty-first century. Boys are the big losers when families splinter.
At the risk of being redundant, a father holds awesome power in the lives of his children, for good or ill. Families have understood that fact for centuries. It has been said, "No man stands so tall as when he stoops to help a boy."11 Another wise observer said, "Tie a boy to the right man, and he almost never goes wrong."12 They are both right. When asked who their heroes are, the majority of boys who are fortunate enough to have a good father will say, "It's my dad." On the other hand, when a dad is uninvolved—when he doesn't love or care for his kids—he creates an ache, a longing, that will linger for a lifetime. Again, without minimizing how much girls need their fathers, which we also acknowledge, boys are constructed emotionally to be dependent on dads in ways that were not understood until recently.
Let me illustrate this principle further with a finding from the world of nature. Other than dogs, which I have always loved, the animals that fascinate me most are elephants. These magnificent creatures are highly emotional and surprisingly intelligent. I suppose that's why it is disturbing to see them suffering the encroachment of civilization.
That is happening in the Pilanesberg National Park in northwestern South Africa. Rangers there have reported that young bull elephants in that region have become increasingly violent in recent years—especially to nearby white rhinos. Without provocation, an elephant will knock a rhinoceros over and then kneel and gore it to death. This is not typical elephant behavior, and it's been very difficult to explain.
But now game wardens think they've cracked the code. Apparently, the aggressiveness is a by-product of government programs to reduce elephant populations by killing the older elephants. Almost all of the young rogues were orphaned when they were calves, depriving them of adult contact. Under normal circumstances, dominant older bulls keep the young elephants in line and serve as role models for them. In the absence of that influence, "juvenile delinquent" elephants grow up and terrorize their neighbors.13
I know it's risky to apply animal behavior too liberally to human beings, but the parallel here is too striking to ignore. Let me say it one more time. The absence of early supervision and discipline is often catastrophic—for teenagers and for elephants.
What are we to do with the social crisis we are facing? Well, I hope I have influenced some overworked guys out there who haven't had time for their boys and girls. When you sit where I sit, you will regret pouring every ounce of energy into business or a profession. Don't neglect those kids around your feet. This might be the best advice you've ever been given.
I also want to offer a word of advice to mothers, especially those who are in what feels to them like a loveless marriage. You may be the wife of a good provider, a decent man, and even a solid moral Christian. But, alas, he's not romantic enough, and you're thinking about getting out. Seventy percent of those who file for divorce are women, many of them for the reason I've just described. Before you call it quits, think of your children. What is it going to do to those kids, both boys and girls, for you to bail? That may not be what you wanted me to say, but by sharing these thoughts, I might save some women from making a huge mistake. Think and pray hard before tearing your family in two.
To the single mother, I want to urge you to find a strong role model for your boys. You are not equipped to teach him how to be a man. Get your boys into a good program that offers Christian mentoring for them, such as Trail Life, or a good church program. Find a godly coach or another organization that is Christian through and through. One way or another, you need to locate a good man who can show your lad how a guy thinks and acts—a man with character and courage. He's out there. Ask the Lord to help you find him.
For the rest of us, continue supporting entities such as JDFI that believe in marriage and are working to preserve righteousness in a pagan world. The LGBTQ movement is closing in on the God-inspired and established institution of the family. If it goes down, our country will fall with it.
This has been a hard letter to write. I hope you found it helpful.
God be with you,
1. Of the 27 Deadliest Mass Shooters, 26 of Them Had One Thing in Common
2. The desperate cry of America's boys
3. Mother absence matters just as much as father absence
4. "Degrading Family Structures Contributes to Mass Shootings: Family Research Council" The Epoch Times.
5. School Shooters: The Myth of the Stable Home
6. Dobson, James C., Ph.D., Bringing Up Boys. Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2005; p.56.
8. Ibid., p. 58.
9. Ibid., p. 56.
11. Ibid., p. 57.
13. Ibid., pp. 59-60.
This letter may be reproduced without change and in its entirety for non-commercial and non-political purposes without prior permission from Family Talk. Copyright, 2019 Family Talk. All Rights Reserved. International Copyright Secured. Printed in the U.S. Dr. James Dobson’s Family Talk is not affiliated with Focus on the Family.