Good dads are an endangered species. Bad dads are an epidemic.
Tonight, roughly 40 percent of kids will go to bed without a father.1 For the first time in America’s history, the majority of children born to women under thirty are born out of wedlock.2 As a dad to three boys and two girls I love with all my heart, I find it devastating to think that the normal childhood for children going forward will be to have no father. Making matters worse, some who do have a father have a bad dad.
There are various kinds of bad dads. Some dads abuse their authority by being harsh and even violent with their children. Some dads avoid their responsibilities by not providing for the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being of their children. Some dads abdicate their responsibilities and are just bums you can’t depend on for much of anything. And some dads abandon their responsibilities by walking out on Mom, expecting her, the grandparents, the school, the foster care system, the church, the treatment center, or the legal system to correct and raise their children.
The Bible often refers to the husband and father as the “head” of the family.* This does not mean he is better, superior, or the king. Rather, it means that God holds him firstly accountable for the well-being of his family. This does not imply that his wife and kids bear no responsibility for their sins and failures. Rather, it means that, to some degree, the father is responsible for his own sins and failures as well as the sins and failures of his family. This explains why, though Eve sinned first, God sought out the man, asking, “Where are you?”† And God has that same question for the bad dads today: Where are you when your children are being harmed, neglected, and not fathered?
The husband and father is the most dominant person in the family. Even if he is absent, his absence dominates the family system.
This is covenantal thinking. In covenantal thinking, the head of the covenant is responsible for everyone in the covenant. For a covenant family, this means that the mother and father are both responsible for the well-being of the children but that the father bears first responsibility and will give the first account to the God who reveals himself as Father and Father to the fatherless. Thinking covenantally means a man is not thinking about a good time as much as a good legacy and does not see children as a burden but rather a blessing. By God’s grace, covenantal thinking compels a man to try and be the kind of man his sons should become and his daughters should marry, as that’s likely exactly what will happen.
Christian dads who think covenantally and accept their responsibilities actually make the best fathers.3 To be a good dad means a man has to be tough and tender. He has to be tough enough to go to work, labor to provide for his family, protect them from harm, and contend against all the worldly influences seeking to undermine God’s plan for his children, such as sexual assault, drugs, alcohol, pornography, lethargy, and plain old folly. And he has to be tender enough that his daughters are deeply cherished without any fear of him and his sons are lovingly encouraged to become life-giving honorable men. In short, he should be tough for his family and tender with his family. A dad who is only tough breaks his family. A dad who is only tender allows others to break his family. So, a dad must be tough and tender.
Consequences of Bad Dads
The bad dad epidemic is having a profound impact on how newer Christians and younger people are seeing God and church. In a day when families are broken and people are constantly moving, nowhere feels like home and no one feels like family. I believe there is a correlation between the rising tide of bad dads and the rise in moralistic therapeutic deism among younger generations. This view of God is much like their experience of their earthly fathers—distant, uninvolved, and essentially having abandoned them to figure out life on their own. Bad dads and broken families mean that a lot of people have never had a family and had to in essence raise themselves, which results in immaturity, pain, and loneliness.
Today a single woman is more likely than her male counterpart to go to college, have a job, attend church, and have a driver’s license. Apparently, guys are increasingly more likely to ride public transportation than drive so they can play video games and download pornography, as their phones are now more important than their futures.
The New York Times magazine ran a story called “What Is It about 20-Somethings?” which looked at the new life stage of emerging adulthood.4 The article echoed what other recent studies are showing and something I’ve been saying for over two decades from the pulpit: the world today is filled with boys who can shave.
Between boy and man is a new, indefinite life stage called adolescence. Too old to be boys and too irresponsible to be men, those in this stage are just called “guys.” During this time, which can last from years to decades, a guy has all the benefits of being a man and none of the responsibilities as he avoids work, marriage, and children like they are diseases. These guys tend to laugh a lot, not knowing that their lives are the joke, and it ain’t funny.
The marketing sweet spot for many companies is young men ages eighteen to thirty-four. These guys don’t know what it means to be men, so marketers fill the void with products that help them to define manhood by what they consume rather than what they produce. But men are supposed to be producers, not just consumers. We’re defined by the legacy, the life, and the fruit that come out of us, not by what we take in.
What happens if you walk into a church and try to find out what a man looks like? First of all, you’re not going to find a lot of competent, responsible, single, godly young men ready for marriage and family in most evangelical churches. The least likely person you’ll see in church is a single twenty-something male. He is as rare at church as a vegan at a steak house.
In light of the increase of boys who can shave, it is not surprising that for the first time in American history, single adults outnumber married adults.5 That is part of a global trend across many Western first-world nations. And the results are numerous.
First, people are waiting longer to marry. For men, the median age of first marriage for those who do marry is around thirty. For women, the median age of first marriage is the late twenties. This is considerably higher than at any point in American history.6
Second, people are sexually active during their single years, using birth control and abortion to ensure they do not have children. Simply put, the issues of marriage, sex, and children are no longer related in our culture for most singles who spend their time dating, relating, and fornicating.
Third, people are cohabiting during their single years. It is estimated that about a quarter of unmarried women between the ages of twenty-five and thirty-nine are currently living with a partner and about half have lived at some time with an unmarried partner (the data are typically reported for women but not for men).7 Over half of all first marriages are now preceded by cohabitation, compared to virtually none earlier in the century. The most likely to cohabit are people aged twenty to twenty-four.8
David Popenoe and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, marriage experts with the National Marriage Project, say, “What makes cohabitation so significant is not only its prevalence but also its widespread popular acceptance.”9 In studies, nearly 66 percent of high school senior boys and 61 percent of the girls indicated that they “agreed” or “mostly agreed” with the statement “It is usually a good idea for a couple to live together before getting married in order to find out whether they really get along.” And three-quarters of the students stated that “a man and a woman who live together without being married” are either “experimenting with a worthwhile alternative lifestyle” or “doing their own thing and not affecting anyone else.”10
Millennials and Marriage
In the past year or so, I have had the joy of being part of an experimental research group. They are using very specific targeted data to understand the trends among millennial young men and women. What they have discovered is that two major issues matter most to them. One is marriage. They want to marry but are scared because they grew up in a divorced home. Two is parenting. They want to have kids but are scared because they do not feel prepared to parent, and have no idea where to get training and teaching on parenting. So, millennial young adults are wanting churches with multiple generations where they can learn from godly older families who have experienced some success in marriage and parenting. The Church of Jesus Christ now has an incredible opportunity. In the family of God, there is a God-given opportunity to help make up for what was missing in the family that people grew up in. And, if the Church misses this opportunity there is no other community poised to fill the need. Lastly, since God created marriage, family, and parenting and gives clear time-tested wisdom from His Word for husbands and wives, and parents and children, we have what we need to meet this massive cultural need by God’s grace!
This blog is adapted from the book “A Call to Resurgence” written by Mark Driscoll
* See Genesis 2:18; 5:2; 1 Corinthians 11:2-16; 14:33-34; Ephesians 5:21-33; Colossians 3:18; 1 Timothy 2:11-15; Titus 2:3-5; 1 Peter 3:1.
† Genesis 3:9.
* 1 Corinthians 11:7.
- David Blankenhorn, Fatherless America (New York: HarperCollins, 1996), 1.
- Jason DeParle and Sabrina Tavernise, “For Women Under 30, Most Births Occur Outside Marriage,” New York Times, February 17, 2012, www.nytimes.com/2012/02/18/us/for-women-under-30-most-births-occur-outside-marriage.html?ref=us
- W. Bradford Wilcox has conducted the most helpful research done on the difference active Christian faith makes in families. He is widely recognized as one of the most distinguished sociologists in America. Wilcox has undertaken the massive project of determining what effects religious belief and participation have for men regarding their wives and children. The research confirms that “conservative Protestant married men with children are consistently the most active and expressive fathers and the most emotionally engaged husbands” (Soft Patriarchs, New Men: How Christianity Shapes Fathers and Husbands, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004, 191).
- Robin Marantz Henig, “What Is It about 20-Somethings?” New York Times, August 18, 2010, www.nytimes.com/2010/08/22/magazine /22Adulthood-t.html?_r=0.
- For this and other statistics, see the “Knot Yet” report at twentysomethingmarriage.org.
- Sabrina Tavernise, “Married Couples Are No Longer a Majority, Census Finds,” New York Times, May 26, 2011, www.nytimes.com/2011/05/26/us/26marry.html
- David Popenoe and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, “Should We Live Together? What Young Adults Need to Know about Cohabitation before Marriage—A Comprehensive Review of Recent Research,” 2nd ed., The National Marriage Project (New Brunswick, NJ: The National Marriage Project, Rutgers University, 2002), 3.
- Larry Bumpass and Hsien-Hen Lu, “Trends in Cohabitation and Implications for Children’s Family Contexts in the U.S.,” Population Studies 54 (2000): 29–41. Quoted in David Popenoe and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, “Should We Live Together?”, 3.
- J. G. Bachman, L. D. Johnston, and P. M. O’Malley, Monitoring the Future: Questionnaire Responses from the Nation’s High School Seniors, 2000. Quoted in David Popenoe and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, “Should We Live Together?”, 3.