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Fathers Raising Sons to be Good Fathers

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Fathers give the gift of existence when their sperm penetrates the mother’s egg. While the mother begins nurturing her child immediately, whether the father does so depends on the couple’s “mode of living” up to that point: their own family-of-origin culture and beliefs, moral norms, and their guiding insights and beliefs on life, sexuality, family, the complementarity of the sexes and on marriage.

Let us jump forward fourteen years from this moment, when the baby has just come into existence to the time he has reached puberty and is now biologically capable of becoming a father. His father began to prepare him on matters sexual four years earlier when they had “the talk” introducing him to sex — a task the father denies to anyone else, for that is his and his alone —so that his boy knows how much he owes his existence to his father, and how and why.

Even though he was trained to honor the privacy of his mother and sister — “the talk” began the development of “awe” of females, the father made sure that his mother had her “talk” with him a few weeks ago— to introduce him to the wonders and changes of the female body once the egg accepts the sperm. Having this taught him by his mother changed his idea of girls forever.

His father then began to form his capacity for future marriage: to be an affirmer, a protector and a provider. He had earlier started the formation of affirmation of the women in his life: his mother, and especially his sisters. Now he begins to tutor him in observing and listening carefully so that he gets to know more about who the young women he meets at school and at play and to understand them as much as they permit him to. He teaches him how to be a recognizer of inner beauty. He tutors him in how to listen and how to evaluate — with kindness and understanding when facets become obvious that are not so beautiful or good. He reminds him constantly that every woman is to be honored. By teaching him how to affirm women his father is developing his criteria for selecting a wife.

Having protected him from pornography many years ago — another talk — the boy is used to battling internally with sexual temptation that images that arouse lust (making of a woman an object to be used). The boy has seen its effects on some of his classmates and how their attitude to girls changed mightily. He makes sure his sisters never associate with them. This all led him to a shocking conclusion — that in the adult world he is entering males can be quite predatory.

His father told him how he won this internal battle and still has to win it constantly (how to wipe images away from the mind immediately; what happens when a man does not and how to recover).

But his father also taught him that women too can grow dragons within —slayers of the innocent— and that he had to learn to differentiate between the young women he meets so that he could avoid the trap of a “slayer” in disguise. His son thought this a bit harsh but his father insisted that clear understanding is necessary if he is to be savvy on selecting a wife.

He further instructed him that forgiveness is possible and he tutored him in the need for it — even of the best woman in the world (the one he hoped his son would select) — for her faults and failings will emerge as his future marriage progresses out of the intense romance stage to the long phase of working close together in raising their own children. He will need a wife who will forgive him for his faults too.

He gently advised his son:

“Son, when you are ready we can talk about what your major weaknesses are likely to be so that you will be readier to ask your wife’s forgiveness.”

“When your girlfriend questions you — if she questions you — about your sexual restraint and how you pulled it off — tell her the truth – most of it comes from you and I being close – close enough to have had these conversations over the years. Most young men don’t have that experience so they don’t have the “strength of their father in this area”. You do! It is my gift to you — and to her —– and to your children — my grandchildren.”

“Find the girl who is as close to her mother and father as you are to me and your mother.”

“Choosing who will be your wife and the mother of your children is the most important decision of your life…it will shape the rest of your existence as nothing else will… except your relationship with God. But you know that already even though you are still early in learning about your relationship with Him. There is no severing the connection between sex, egg and sperm, new life and existence and God. Well there is severing but it is disastrous. Just look around and look at the data.”

“Though my guidance is always there for you it is even better that you learn the silence in your heart that is necessary to have conversations with Him so that you get His guidance instead. That will be your strength: Inner certainty arising from inner silence. Without that silence the only voice you hear will be your own —- a bad advisor compared with YOU AND HIM together. That is where I get my deepest affirmation.”

“The other capacity you need to have — being a provider—in some ways it is the easiest part, in others it is the toughest because of the long hours of work. But you have learned to study hard so you already know how to work hard. For hard workers there are loads of job opportunities. But you must learn to save from your very first paycheck… If you can learn to live on 90% of your take-home pay you are doing well. Better still if you learn to do it on 80%… you will never have to worry about money if you learn to live below your means… and you won’t be tempted by money if you do.”

“This will also give you time for conversation in the family that other families will not have. Money and time are interchangeable. As we conquer material nature we seem to have less time — so become rich enough to have the time you need to have many conversations in the family. Protect your wife and children by keeping out the robbers of time – of conversation – of affirmation and understanding of each other.”

“Figure out first what you want: more money or more time. And choose a wife accordingly. If you choose time your children

will thank you. If you choose money they may curse you. They definitely will wish you had chosen time.”

“If you are an Affirmer and a Protector being a Provider comes naturally.”

In turn his son will respond: “But father so few of my friends have families like this!”

How true—that is the great task that confronts the world.

How to change the environment so that every child has such a habitat (a home). Solve this problem and all the others fall in place easily. Solve the other problems first and we will destroy what is left of the environment.

It is time for men to lead where only they can… in being fathers to the full.

Parenting

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Recently, I led a group of young parents in a case study designed to teach them how to handle a three-year-old when he is throwing a temper tantrum.  The parents in the case study were dealing with their first child and made several typical mistakes: one parent spanked in anger and one parent denigrated the other in front of the child.

We dissected the case: what happened, what went wrong, what they needed to do in the future, and how to get there.  Towards the end of the session we gained a bird’s eye view when someone pointed out that the underlying issue was one of trust.  The whole episode came alive again with new energy as we analyzed the case from that perspective.

The case parents were trying to form a habit of restraint in their child so that they could trust him to practice restraint in the future.  When he demonstrates that he can restrain himself their trust in him will grow.  If he does not learn restraint, however, they will trust him less.

Ironically, to achieve this level of formation in their child, they need to be able to trust each other to “do the right thing” when disciplining their child.  Though they agree on what Johnny needs to do they do not yet agree on what each of them needs to do. In this situation they cannot trust each other yet.

This problem will be solved when they can agree: “You can rely on me to do this in this situation.  And I can rely on you to do that in this same situation.”  When they can both look each other in the eye and each say this to each other the ground beneath them has shifted. Not only has trust been restored, but the foundation of their marriage has grown and they have learned how to deepen it.  When they have solved a string of problems in this way they are well on their way to being great parents and a great couple because they have learned how to grow trust.

No matter what way they discipline their child he will turn out strong because they know it is all about trust. “Johnny, you can rely on me to do this for you.  Can I rely on you to do the same for me?”  Johnny learns many good habits but, more importantly, he learns the value of being trustworthy.

Given the massive disruption in trust that the US is experiencing in all its institutions (family, church, school, marketplace, and government) it seems that fellow citizens who are opponents on so many issues need to begin their discourse with: “You can rely on me to treat you with respect in our conversations.  Can I rely on the same from you?”   Without a “yes” there is no point in having the conversation. With a “yes” the ground has shifted— a brick has been laid in the infrastructure we need most: trust.

If we adopt this habit a lot will change. Is there anyone in your orbit with whom you need to practice this?  A spouse?  A child? A relative?  A co-worker? A neighbor?

 

With an eye to the child, the future of America,

Pat Fagan, Ph.D.
Director of the MARRI Project
Catholic University of America

Religion and Politics

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Every election cycle there is often an exploration of the religious affiliation of the candidates running for office. This election cycle is no exception. The New York Time published an article this week entitled, “Donald Trump Attacks Ben Carson, and Highlights His Religion”, illustrating how crucial religious affiliation has become in politics, especially to Republican voters. However, it is not an issue just for Republicans and Republican candidates.  This week the Washington Post delved into the ambiguity of Democratic Candidate Bernie Sanders’ religious beliefs.

Some argue that religion should not play a role in the election process, while others will not vote for a candidate who does not share at least some aspects of their religious beliefs. This interest in religious affiliation is well grounded, as much can be inferred about one’s worldview and policy decisions from their stated faith. But perhaps the American people aren’t asking the right question. The question we tend to ask is, “what is your belief?” Yet there is a more revealing question, one that social science brings to the forefront: “How often do you attend religious service?” 

From a social science investigation, there is not as much that can be known from a statement of faith as the frequency of religious worship or practice. For example, individuals who attend religious worship weekly, compared to those who never attend religious worship, are most likely to be better educated, have fewer sexual partners, and be compassionate. They are also the least likely to use hard drugs, marijuana or commit adultery. In every category measured in the U.S. data system the more people worship the more likely they are to do what is right. This is likely to hold for politicians too.

When looking at candidates in the coming election, it would be prudent to ask, not only, “Do you believe in God?”, or, “What faith do you ascribe to?” but also, “How often do you attend religious service?”  Actions speak louder than words — across all faiths and denominations.

God and Romance

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Frank Fincham, from Florida State University’s Family Institute, conducted research on the effect of prayer on college romances. He found that prayer caused a decline in premarital sex and an increase in a sense of belonging.  This was found to be the case not just with  typical “self-report” measures but in blind ratings by outsiders. Read about this wonderfully designed piece of research by an eminent Rhodes Scholar.

Obergefell and Non-Profits

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The American philanthropic community is in danger. The recent 5-4 Supreme Court ruling in support of same-sex marriages creates the potential for vast and encompassing regulations to take hold of the most foundational elements associated with 501 (c)(3) non-profits; namely their tax exempt status. Without the ability to maintain a conscientious objection right, Christian non-profits and individuals alike will become a jeopardized segment of the population at large. While “promises” have already been made, stating, “the IRS does not intend to change the standards that apply to section 501(c)(3) organizations by reason of the Obergefell decision,” the writing on the wall indicates that 501(c)(3)’s could be stripped of their tax exemptions.

Dr. Henry Potrykus, a Senior Fellow within the Marriage and Religion Research Institute (MARRI) at the Family Research Council, is currently conducting a study that will examine the impact of regulations on the Christian non-profit community. The study, which will characterize the non-profits tracked by the IRS, especially the more than 84,000 Christian non-profits listed by GuideStar, will inform and empower efforts that are already well underway both inside and outside the philanthropic community to ensure Christian non-profits are afforded their tax exempt status. 

The Black Family

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Only 17 percent of African American youth who reach age 18 have always lived with their married mother and father. In the District of Columbia, this number drops to 9 percent. Any policy initiative or social movement to ameliorate the plight of the black community must first address the deterioration of the black family. Contrary to popular public opinion, violent crime, drug abuse, and mass incarceration among African Americans is not a matter of race, and positing it as such fatally distracts from the root problem of family breakdown.
Across every race, the non-intact family poses significant challenges and development barriers to youth. The prevalence of non-intact families in the black community is especially high. As shown below, the black family is the least intact of all races/ethnicities. Almost four times as many Asian adolescents are raised by their married parents as black youths. Because black youths are least likely to come from intact families, the public frequently confounds the role of race and family intactness in shaping adolescents. 

As Kay Hymowitz pointed out in her Atlantic article this week, although racism has significantly decreased since the 1960s family brokenness has significantly increased. Between 1950 and 2012, the percentage of black youth raised by their married parents was cut in half. Rather than rejection stemming from race, black children now face rejection stemming from their parents’ relationship, and resulting in their family being broken. Put a lot of these families together and you get a broken community. As shown in the Violence in Baltimore report, non-intact families tend to foster frequently detrimental environments for children. According to the Fourth National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect:

Compared to the intact married-parent family, the rate of physical abuse is:
    • 3 times higher in the single parent family
    • 4 times higher if the biological parents are cohabiting
    • 5 times higher in a married stepfamily
    • 10 times higher if one biological parent is cohabiting with a partner

Compared to the intact married-parent family, the rate of sexual abuse is:
    • 4.8 times higher in the single-parent family
    • 5 times higher when the biological parents are cohabiting
    • 8.6 times higher in a married step-family
    • 19.8 times higher if one biological parent is cohabiting with a partner
Children frequently respond to this rejection in externalizing behaviors like aggression and crime. State-by-state analysis indicates that, in general, a 10 percent increase in the number of children living in single-parent homes (including divorces) accompanies a 17 percent increase in juvenile crime. Compared with children raised in intact married-parent families, the rate of youth incarceration is 2 times higher in mother-only families, 2.7 times higher in mother-stepfather families, and 3.7 times higher in father-stepmother families.

The link between family structure and crime and abuse rates is well-established, and downplaying its significance is detrimental to our youngest citizens. As Ms. Hymowitz states, “Waving all of this away as ‘respectability politics’ ignores this history; it ignores anthropology; and it ignores many decades of research. It also risks neglecting the real suffering of black children and their communities.”

The Pope and the Family

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Pope Francis’s recent visit to the US and to Cuba was focused, repeatedly, on the family. Here are a few excerpts from different speeches:

“It is my wish that throughout my visit the family should be a recurrent theme. How essential the family has been to the building of this country! And how worthy it remains of our support and encouragement! Yet I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without. Fundamental relationships are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage and the family I can only reiterate the importance and, above all, the richness and the beauty of family life.”
“The family is, forgive me, a factory of hope, of life, of resurrection. God was the one who opened that path.” “We renew our faith in the word of the Lord which invites faithful families to this openness. It invites all those who want to share the prophecy of the covenant of man and woman, which generates life and reveals God!”
“I leave you with this question, for each one of you to respond to. In my home, do we yell, or do we speak with love and tenderness? This is a good way to recognize our love.”  “Like the warm supper we look forward to at night, the early lunch awaiting someone who gets up early to go to work.  Homely gestures. Like a blessing before we go to bed or a hug after we return from a hard day’s work.”
“Family is beautiful, but there’s effort involved, and there are problems. Husbands and wives quarrel, and end up badly, separated. Never let the day end without making peace. Let’s protect the family, because it’s in the family that our future is at play.” 
“In families, children bring headaches. I won’t speak about mother in laws. But in families, there is always a Cross. Always.  Because of the love of God, the Son of God opened up that way. But also in families, after the Cross there is Resurrection.”
“When one doesn’t live as a family, one will strengthen the part that always says: I, me, my, with me, for me. One totally centers around these things and doesn’t know solidarity or fraternity.” 

At the end of the event, it was announced that the next World Meeting of Families would take place in Dublin, Ireland in 2018. It will be the ninth time it has been celebrated since 1994 when Pope John Paul II launched the first event in Rome.

Divorce and Children

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Six-year-old Tiana made headlines this week as she asked her divorced mom and dad to treat each other as friends. In a video posted by her mom, which would go viral, Tiana said, “I don’t want you and my dad to be replaced and meanies again. I want you and my dad to be placed and settled and be friends.” This young girl’s plea to her parents exemplifies how impactful divorce can be on children.

Research has shown that, on average, children in divorced families receive less emotional support, have weaker relationships with their family, and have a weaker ability to handle conflicts, among many other negative repercussions. However, for those children who grow up in an intact-married family structure (raised by a mom and a dad), the benefits for the child are numerous. They are less likely to get into fights, less likely to have gotten drunk, less likely to have had intercourse at age 14 or younger, less likely to have had an unwed pregnancy, and almost four times less likely to have stolen from a store.

To read more about the effects of divorce on children, please read MARRI’s synthesis paper on the topic 

Religious Growth Projections

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Continuing our praise of Pew Research Center’s work on Religion and Public Life, we draw attention to their projections of the growth of different religions around the world between now and 2050.  Christianity does not grow by percentage (though it does in numbers) while the Muslim religion does in both percentage and numbers, with both being rather close by 2050.  If, in the context of overall Muslim growth, militant Islam expands as Christianity remains constant, it is worth pondering how this will affect religious liberty throughout the world. It is also worth noting that Pew Research projects that “Nones” (unaffiliated) will decline worldwide.  A few months ago Pew told us how our own religious affiliation has changed recently in the US: Christianity decreased while “others” increased