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.

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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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