When Family Falls Apart – James Dobson on “Fatherless”

When Family Falls Apart – James Dobson on “Fatherless” February 6, 2013

Dr James Dobson has been one of the most recognized and influential evangelical Christian American leaders for over three decades. With a doctorate in child development from USC, he developed extremely popular parenting books and videos, and founded Focus on the Family in 1977. Through his organizational leadership, through his writings and radio broadcasts, and through his political influence and counsel to American Presidents, Dr. Dobson has served as a strong and consistent voice on behalf of the unborn, children, marriage, and the traditional family.

His new book, Fatherless, coauthored with Kurt Bruner, represents his first foray into fiction. Based on current projections and demographic trends, it tells the story of what happens to American society three decades hence when the old outnumber the young on whom they depend, when fatherlessness is epidemic, and when the traditional family structure is all but a memory. Promoted as dystopian fiction similar to 1984 or The Hunger Games, it tells the story of several characters, especially reporter Julia Davidson, who are striving to make their way in an increasingly dangerous society where clashing agendas threaten to tear the nation apart. What happens to a culture that’s forgotten what healthy family looks like?

I’m grateful to Dr. Dobson for this interview:

Lewis and Chesterton, among many others, sought to communicate Christian truths simultaneously through non-fiction and fiction works. To this point, I believe you’ve always written nonfiction works. What inspired you to write a piece of fiction? Does fiction give you an opportunity to flesh things out in a different way than you could otherwise? 

I’ve always loved reading fiction, but this is my first attempt to write it and I’ve really enjoyed the process. Sometimes a compelling story can shape the imagination better than non-fiction. Abraham Lincoln said a novel called Uncle Tom’s Cabin started the Civil War. We couldn’t be more excited about the potential of this new trilogy to embody themes on which I have been writing, speaking and broadcasting for decades.

Your critics often allege that you’re too political, or have moved Christian conservatives into an overly partisan position. What about this book? Is it a political piece, a partisan cannon-blast in the culture wars? Or does it reach to something deeper?

Who would have imagined that saying marriage is between a man and a woman or that human life is sacred would get you labeled political? Part of the problem is that people wrongly equate defending righteousness in the public square with partisan politics. Fatherless is not a culture war book. It is dystopian fiction similar to Brave New World or The Hunger Games. We wanted to create a gripping story set three decades in the future when our looming demographic crisis comes to fruition. Dramatically falling fertility over the past few generations brings with it breathtaking implications for the next. What happens when the old and feeble outnumber the young and healthy? What happens when the protective, nurturing presence of a father is the exception rather than the norm? Such questions motivated this series.

Christians like ourselves who engage in the public square debate on behalf of the unborn and on behalf of the traditional family structure often say that the family is the fundamental building block of society, and warn that the disintegration of the family precedes the disintegration of society. But it sounds very abstract. Is this book an attempt to flesh out what the breakdown of the family looks like, and what consequences it might have upon our society?

That is correct. These novels don’t predict the future, they simply project the trajectory of current demographic trends. The story is set in the year 2042 when the economic pyramid flips, with too few young bearing the burden of a rapidly aging population. These trends are already creating headlines around the globe. Japan, for example, has the oldest average citizen on the planet. Last year they sold more adult diapers than baby diapers — a trend coming fast to every developed nation in the world, including the United States. A few weeks ago the finance minister of the newly elected government said the elderly need to “hurry up and die” because they can’t sustain the social safety net.

Bleak? You bet. Where we’re headed? The best demographers tell us it is inevitable since we can’t go back in time and make more children.

And yet presumably you’re also hoping to tell a rollicking good story. How did you make sure that the characters and the story would be compelling?

My co-author, Kurt Bruner, has extensive experience with storytelling. He led the teams at Focus on the Family creating various dramatic productions including Adventures in Odyssey and such Radio Theatre classics as Les Miserables and the entire Chronicles of Narnia series. That’s part of why I found our collaboration so enjoyable. We’ve been gratified by the feedback from readers to date who say the story grabs them from page one. One reader told us he started reading Fatherless and decided to skip watching the Super Bowl because he couldn’t stop!

Whom are you hoping to reach with this book? How are you hoping it impacts the world?

We hope to remind readers that marriage and parenthood are honorable pursuits and that the natural family retains a resilient beauty and importance nothing can replace. We need to support those willing to make the sacrifices required to raise up a new generation of kids rather than making it more difficult for them to do so. We need to thank women who choose to bear and nurture children and honor men who model the heroic self-sacrifice of loving fatherhood. We need to do what once came naturally and remember what everyone understood: that the family is vital to the health and stability of the future. In short, we need to move from a fatherless world to a world filled with “bright spots” called mom, dad, sister, brother, grandma and grandpa!

Can you give us a glimpse of what’s coming in later installments?

The second book, Childless, will release later this year. The third, Godless, comes out in early 2014. Each storyline builds on the previous theme with an entertaining mix of political intrigue, spiritual warfare, futuristic speculation and educated conjecture about the kind of world our children will face. Kurt Bruner and I believe a happy home is the highest expression of God’s image on earth. There are forces that want to destroy that image, not all of them visible to human eyes. But the good news, as these novels show, is that the natural family retains a resilient beauty the most ardent forces of hell cannot destroy.


Dr James Dobson is the Founder and President of Family Talk, a nonprofit organization that produces his radio program, “Family Talk with Dr. James Dobson.” He is the author of more than 30 books dedicated to the preservation of the family. He has been active in governmental affairs and has advised three U.S. presidents on family matters. Dr. Dobson is married to Shirley and they have two grown children, Danae and Ryan, and two grandchildren. The Dobsons reside in Colorado Springs, CO. You can find Fatherless at Amazon.

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  • Tanya

    We are a planet of 7 billion and counting. If we stop protecting a white Christian majority, the US could allow immigration to avert a demographic catastrophe. (That is Japan’s problem — an unwillingness to allow non-Japanese to immigrate.) The rest of the globe sees an inverse of our problem — too many young, who can cause another sort of instability in their regions. Family planning could help them as well — but Christians like Dobson won’t talk about that.

    What Dobson can see is a future that won’t look like the one he has made into an idol. And he”ll never consider, “behold I am doing a new thing” as, quite possibly, the way of God.

    “Dystopian fiction” is the preferred art form of people like Dobson and LaHaye –they survive by spreading fear.

    • Charles W. Baldwin

      What if the U.S. was more fertile and started exporting white Christians to other nations? Would that be acceptable? European nations have imported non-Europeans into their countries, inviting unintended consequences, or as you say, “another sort of instability in their regions.” Why is the answer to the problem of not having enough kids inviting the neighbors in rather than just having more kids?

      What new thing would this be? Children out of wedlock? Fatherless families?

      I suppose “dystopian fiction” would be the preferred art form for Dobson to express himself by default, since the solitary type of fiction he has written has been of this genre. By the way, would dystopian fiction have been the preferred art form of Orwell because he survived by spreading fear? Do you not consider nonfiction an art form? It’s curious that a man can spend a lifetime extolling the virtues of and giving tips on family, marriage, and child-rearing, but if he writes one dystopian fiction book, it’s his preferred art form because he somehow survives by spreading fear. Instead of slandering the man, how about just saying that you disagree with his stance on “gay marriage” and abortion?

      • Crœsos

        “What if the U.S. was more fertile and started exporting white Christians to other nations?”

        Doesn’t this question implicitly assume that “American” means “white” and “white” means “Christian”?

        • Charles W. Baldwin

          Agreed. Was just using the terms Tanya supplied.

    • There is no end to the current stream of dystopic-themed movies. Recently sat waiting for a movie to begin and saw at least 4 trailers for upcoming films. The upcoming film AFTER EARTH is way darker than Dobson goes. If Dobson and LaHaye are spreading fear, they are joining an august club. Read THE MARCH OF FOOLS by Barbara Tuckman, and see how often in history, the voices that should be heard are ignored over the voices that should be ignored.

  • Rick

    Evangelicals love to subscribe to the “everything is getting worse” view of the future, because it provides a nice slap at the present; the barely concealed message of their dreadful fictions is “your election of Obama in 2008/2012 paved the way for the rise of the secularist machines in the nightmare world of 2042.” Yet even a few minutes of research shows that cultural dysfunctions tend to move in cycles, rather than as a constant flat line downward. People wringing their hands over American divorce often fail to acknowledge that the divorce rate peaked a long time ago (approximately 1980). Teen pregnancy rates are going down; urban crime is going down; abortions are down considerably in recent years. Instead of acknowledging these points of optimism, the right-wing insists that everything’s going straight to hell because it helps sell their vision of the horrible ObamaNation that will surely bring healthcare death panels, gun confiscation, and the permanent elimination of the Big Gulp. He’s “written” a novel but it isn’t even fiction to him, because if his direct mail letters are to be believed, he really does see America turning into The Sarah Conner Chronicles if it keeps voting Democrat.

    • TraceyP

      Urban crime is going down (except in really bad urban areas) because government doctors dope them with opiates and other “riot control” drugs, both shortening their lifespans, and (when caught with drugs they’ve been addicted to but not longer prescribed) putting them in prison by the droves! Check out http://www.thelastpsychiatrist.com for a little eye-opening about why 17 yr old urban blacks get Percocets for a headache, while the rest of America gets freakin motrin 800. The site has charts and everything, if you give a damn. Gotta keep the riots down, eh?

      Why don’t you just go into the poor ghettos and mow them down all at once? That would take care of your crime problems without torturing people so long. Long-term (well, 20 yrs) genocide is still genocide. Double-dog-dare you to try to stop Medicaid docs in those ghetto medical facilities from giving addicting, riot-reducing drugs to people with the wrong zip code. Double-dog-dare! (Well, don’t… it’s a government thing, Medicaid, and you’d be wasting your time; plus, the current addicts don’t want to hear that most of America doesn’t get 3months of Oxys for a freakin headache.)

      This is a white people site, isn’t it? LOL.

  • Dr. James GODson cares about people as much as, if not more than, anyone else I have ever known! He has laid down his life as a servant to others. He has genuinely surrendered his allegiance to Jesus, and puts God and others above himself. “Only the Believer obeys, and only he who obeys, believes.” ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer Weary am I of hearing folks bash such an exemplary man as Dr. James Dobson, and willing am I to stand alongside him, taking some of the hatred meant for him.

  • BT

    Tanya is quite correct on Japan. Their GDP as a ratio per worker has increased right in line with most developed countries.

    Dobson is right that a slowdown in birth rates globally will bring certain challenges, but then again so would unbridled population growth.

    In the end, nothing to really push the panic button over.

  • Andrew Marais

    Be careful, Ginny! You just might be in danger of idolizing a man who doesn’t deserve it!

  • Wow, James Dobson writing fiction! Who’da thunk? Sounds grim but good.

  • rumitoid

    It is curious that most books about the future are a dystopian projection. This seems just to mimic the inevitable history of the rise and fall of Civilizations. And makes for a better story. Most of us have a morbid fascination with crisis and catastrophe; they hold our attention. And not only for the worse but also because it gives us an opportunity to be humane. The darker side is that we are too familiar with the fallen nature of man and the world’s systems. And a Utopian society seems to big a price to pay for our “freedom to be who we are.”

    When one phrases it “defending the traditional family structure” instead of denying the equal right for same sex marriage, one becomes automatically just and persecuted, the right-eous under seige from the wicked lefties. Martyrs by proxy! But this is not the case. Homosexuals are not telling them they can’t have a heterosexual marriage. There is as much sin going on with them, for all sin is death, as with the homosexual. A traditional family structure is not a sin-free zone or even necessarily wholesome, yet that is what they propose. The first marriage produced the Fall and a muderous son: a resilent beauty of the natural family? And what is the divorce rate like for Christians?

    Looking at what others are doing wrong helps us overlook what we are doing wrong, and by making it attack on our way of life, become Virtuous by proxy. No need for good works; “I am suffering for Jesus.” Paul tells us in Romans 13 that the One Rule for life in any country is love of neighbor, and we know that without such love we have nothing and we are nothing. This tells me that there is more truth in one loving touch or helping hand than in all the books of the Bible. Show more of this instead of finger-wagging and pointing and real change for the better is possible. But that doesn’t sell books.