On Monday, Amanda Prestigiacomo wrote a piece for The Daily Wire highlighting the fact that the vast majority of mass shooters and school shooters come from fatherless homes. The trend is undeniable. And, sadly, it's just the tip of the iceberg. The problem runs much, much deeper.
Over 60% of youth suicides are from fatherless homes. Over 80% of youths in prison are from fatherless homes. Over 70% of high school dropouts are from fatherless homes. Over 70% of kids in drug abuse treatment centers are from fatherless homes. The fatherless home epidemic is a verified national emergency, and should be treated as such.
But the fatherless factor is just one part of the equation. The other part is that nearly all of the kids who fall into these statistics are boys. Pretty much every mass shooter in American history, with very rare exception, has been male. 93% of the inmates in federal prison are men. 90% of murders are committed by men. The vast majority of rapists and child molesters are male. Men are three times more likely to kill themselves.
Our culture looks at the picture as I've painted it and concludes that masculinity is a blight on the Earth. It then proceeds to fix the Boy Problem the way you fix a dog. It sees that boys are inclined to be aggressive, so it forces them to be mild. It sees that boys are likely to take dangerous risks, so it encourages them to take no risks at all. It sees that boys are wild, so it tames them. It sees that boys are boys, so it turns them into girls. The strategy has been a disaster. As we work to feminize boys, all of the problems listed above have only gotten worse. They are indeed enlightened problems for an enlightened age.
So, what can we do about it?
The solution brings us back to the beginning: fathers. Boys need to be taught how to be boys, and they need fathers to do the teaching. A mother can't teach her son how to be a man any more than I can teach my daughter how to be a woman. I can teach her how a woman ought to be treated, but I cannot shape her in her femininity the way my wife can. Likewise, my wife cannot form and harness our sons' masculinity the way that I can. Neither can we rely on TV or pop culture or the schools to do the job. They will not mold your son; they will simply obliterate him. Everywhere he turns, if he cannot turn to his father, he will find powerful forces trying desperately to drag him into despair, confusion, and self-loathing.
The feminists say that masculinity is "fragile," and they're sort of right. A boy's identity is a fragile thing. It needs to be protected, or it will be consumed. A boy is bursting with energy, dreams, and ambitions. He feels a deep longing to use that energy and take those ambitions and do something with it. He needs someone — his father, namely — to show him what that thing ought to be. Or else he will figure it out on his own, finding no help anywhere else, and the result may literally kill him — and dozens more, perhaps.
A girl needs guidance, too, but she has some advantages. For one, almost every home in America features a mom. For another, most schools are staffed and run by women. For another, our culture is extraordinarily focused on empowering and encouraging girls, and telling them how beautiful they are, how valuable and important and strong and wonderful, etc. For still another, the female instinct is (whether the feminists admit it or not) calmer, more relational, more domestic.
A girl looks for fulfillment in her home and in her relationships. A boy feels the indescribable, uncontainable urge to go out into the wild and find fulfillment in something, but he doesn't know precisely what. However far we have come (or fallen) as a society, we still have not escaped the simple truth: women want to make a home, and men want to go into the woods and hunt. The only question is what exactly they will hunt, and how.
To that end, I have a few ideas as to the kinds of things we fathers need to teach our little hunters. Obviously this is not a comprehensive list, but it's a good start:
1) We need to teach them to take healthy risks.
Boys will take risks. Now, will it involve drag racing at 2 a.m. or something more fruitful and less fatal? This is why the generally cautious voice of the mother needs to be balanced by a father who knows that a scraped knee and a busted lip can do a young man a lot of good. A boy needs his dad to say: "Go climb that tree." "Go hit that ball." "It's just a scratch." "It's okay to punch back." Even if his mom also says these things, he still needs to hear it from his dad.
These are the risks of early boyhood. But as a boy grows, he needs his dad there to teach him how to take different kinds of risks, fraught with a different kind of peril. He must learn to take intellectual risks by forming his ideas and principles and defending them. He must learn to take emotional risks by forging intimate bonds and friendships. And these will lead to the final risk of boyhood, which becomes the first risk of manhood: moving out of the house and entering the world.
If a boy is raised only by women, and his risk-taking nature is stifled by motherly caution, he will eventually break free and find the danger and adventure he craves. But it probably won't lead to a career and a wife and a fulfilling life. It will much more likely lead to prison or the morgue.
2) We need to teach them to protect the weak.
Boys are fascinated by violence. There's no use fighting it. The idea of a man using his physical strength to defeat and conquer another man is innately appealing to most every boy. The average progressive mother in today's society is scared of this instinct, so she smothers it. She forbids her son from playing with toy guns, and she keeps him away from any TV show that has a hint of violence, and she panics if he ever gets into a fight. She tries to redirect his energies into art classes or gymnastics or dance or whatever else. She tries to make a girl out of her boy.
A father must be there to say, "It's good to be strong. It's good to fight for the right reason. But if you want to be a cool, strong man like me, you should only use your strength to protect people who are weaker than you — never to hurt them."
I noticed that when my son was first introduced to the world of superheroes, he was just as fascinated by the villains as the good guys. I had to tell him that the good guys are the ones we root for, and the ones we like, because they help and protect people. I didn't teach him that violence is wrong. I taught him that violence against the innocent is wrong, and lame and bad and uncool. Now, while his twin sister draws pictures and brushes her doll's hair, he runs around the house pretending to fight off all manner of villains and monsters who, if not for his efforts, would surely destroy us all.
3) We need to teach them to worship God.
There are two things that every boy needs to see his father do: show affection to his wife, and pray. There are few images more powerful, more formational, for a young boy than the image of his father kneeling with his hands clasped. From the boy's perspective, his father spends all day telling people what to do, running the show, doling out discipline, and leading with firmness and purpose. But now here he is, on his knees, humbling himself, submitting himself, reaching out to some greater force; a force he even calls "Father."
The boys sees humility and obedience demonstrated by the same person who demands it of him. He is given, in microcosm, the same lesson Christ gave all of us when He came to Earth. And this is a scary thing for us dads. Our children learn about God through us. The image of God that they form in their heads will be shaped by our example. If we are cruel and distant, they will think that God is cruel and distant. If we are permissive and weak, they will think that God is permissive and weak. If we do not love them, they will think that God does not love them.
So, our job — an impossible job, if we are not praying constantly for God to help us accomplish it — is to give our sons (and our daughters) a window into the world beyond our own. We have to ground them in faith. We have to help them understand their vocation. We have to help them hear the voice of God. And, if we are successful, they will begin to comprehend that the restlessness they feel, the wildness, the longing, is really a thirst for the eternal. They are being called into the wild, and beyond it, to Home.