Quick, think of a few companies you admire. If you are in business, include your own. Now, what social, civic or charitable causes do they support? Diversity? Environment? Cancer? Climate? Animals? Diabetes? Fairness? Veterans? Equality?
Similarly, what are key ministries at your parish or prominent issues in your Catholic newspaper? Hunger? Immigration? Youth? Homelessness? Evangelization? Clothing, diapers, jobs, furniture and other examples of compassionate outreach?
Thankfully, many businesses, churches and other organizations have the time, talent and treasure to devote to numerous causes. Many individuals generously support their own pet charities, independent of those supported by the organization to which they belong. However, I believe there is one cause which businesses, churches and individuals unfortunately overlook. It is directly related to children living in poverty, dropping out of school, getting arrested, going to jail, getting pregnant, committing suicide and other tragic outcomes. It is spreading, leaving hopelessness and despair in its wake. It is the epidemic of fatherlessness.
Very simply, too many kids are being raised without fathers. Yes, there are situations requiring mothers to raise children by themselves. Sadly, however, kids without dads are becoming more of the norm than the exception. The results are as disastrous as they are well-researched and documented.
- In the United States, 17.4 million children lived in father-absent homes in 2014, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.That is roughly the combined total populations of New Mexico, Arkansas, West Virginia, Mississippi, Nevada, Nebraska and Kansas.
- Children living in female-headed homes with no spouse present have a poverty rate of 47.6 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. That is more than four times the rate for children living in married-couple families.
- “Children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime; nine times more likely to drop out of schools and 20 times more likely to end up in prison,” then-Senator Barack Obama pointed out in a June 2008 speech.
Business leaders should take note. Why?
Let’s see. In building the long-term value of the enterprise, business people spot needs, manage risks, develop solutions and prevent problems from metastasizing. But what happens when children leave school early, develop no skills, and join gangs? Logic suggests they will not become the employees, customers and clients that businesses will need tomorrow. Should this not concern business people?
And a growing percentage of the workforce — single moms raising poor, undisciplined, inadequately supervised, and lonely kids at home — will be more distracted, stressed and unproductive on the job. Should not businesses be troubled, if for no other reason than their own vitality depends on adequate employee engagement?
What about churches and non-business organizations? To me, leaders of all stripes should be alarmed by what is at risk: the survival of our ideals of equality, fairness, public safety and civility. Indeed, should not all responsible and caring people, otherwise committed to charity, ethical practices and social responsibility, heed a root cause of what is fraying the fabric of our society?
I applaud businesses, churches and other groups for their charitable efforts to build a better world. In choosing what efforts to support, however, I suggest they considerfatherlessness, a driver of many of today’s most pressing problems. But despite its devastating impact, fatherlessness isn’t on many organizations’ short list of favorite causes. It isn’t trendy. It probably doesn’t comport with the politically correct tenets to which many business leaders cling. Nor, sadly, does it tend to register among the efforts that Catholic organizations and their leaders support.
Frankly, it would take courage to commit to reverse the erosion of fatherhood and restore fathers to the vital roles they have historically played in the lives of their children. But successful leaders, be they CEOs, bishops, pastors or parishioners, typically don’t succeed by being afraid to take on big challenges.