“And I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty” (2 Corinthians 6:18). Prior to this promise recounted here from Leviticus, God says he dwells among and walks among those who believe in Him or are “his people.”
“My people,” God calls his family, often a description we use to describe our own earthly families and extended relations. I remember my first understanding that God had created families to give us a picture of who he was and how he viewed his relationship with his children. I was a pre-teen, the youngest of five siblings who deeply loved my family; and one day while meditating, I suddenly got the connection. It was God who created parents, a father and mother, who were entrusted to care for their children and raise them and nurture them—ultimately representing and teaching them about a Heavenly Father, who did that on a much larger scale and whose love endured forever.
“ 'And I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.' (2 Corinthians 6:18) ”
God’s desire is that earthly parents model their role after his own parental heart. That desire was greatly marred when sin entered the world and parents’ natural instincts in everything, not just parenting, became centered more and more on their own selfish desires. Still, the Heavenly Father’s love never diminished, even though earthly parenting has continually resembled the Creator’s love less and less. The father’s role today by our society’s standards has been so misconstrued and misused—we are left with vast numbers of stories like Saundra’s (link). The eternal Father has been forgotten.
According to a recent Pew Research Study from 2019, the “United States has the world’s highest rate of children living in single-parent homes.” Nearly a quarter of our children under the age of 18 live in homes with only one adult, compared with seven percent of children around the rest of the world. Research from the same study showed that in the American homes, this statistic remained the same whether or not the children lived in homes that professed Christianity or in families that had no religious affiliation.
“ The 'United States has the world’s highest rate of children living in single-parent homes.' ”
Another study by National Kids Count, says the percentage translates to nearly 16 million American children or one in five children. Statistics for these fatherless homes show some serious consequences. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, these children account for:
63 percent of youth suicides
90 percent of homeless and runaway youths
85 percent of all children that exhibit behavioral disorders
71 percent of all high school dropouts
70 percent of juveniles held in criminal detention centers
75 percent of adolescent patients in substance abuse centers
75 percent of rapists motivated by displaced anger
Fatherless families are at greater risk for poverty and its effects, which include lower life achievements and lower educational achievements. I remember preparing for volunteer training at the pregnancy resource centers where I worked and learning that the largest percentage of clients coming to us with unplanned pregnancies were from homes with no father present. That was a nationwide statistic which I always saw accurately represented in the local centers where I served over the years. I must also add here, that though we didn’t necessarily keep statistics for the fathers of our clients’ babies, I believe they would also reflect that the majority came from absent father homes.
“ Fatherless families are at greater risk for poverty and its effects, which include lower life achievements and lower educational achievements. ”
It is appropriate here to point out the past and current U.S. birth statistics. In 1970, according to Pew Research, there were 26 births per 1,000 unmarried women; in 2016 there were 42 births per 1,000 unmarried women. Birthrates for married women showed a decline over the same period. That does not mean that babies being born to unmarried mothers are necessarily going to homes where no father is present. However, it does mean that if a father is present, there is not a committed relationship—and chances are higher that eventually the home will have only a mother present.
While these statistics can be skewed when married versus unmarried are factored in, what is clear is that the number of single parent homes continues to rise. Only a small percentage of these homes are headed by fathers—just eight percent according to National Kids Count. Our focus in this article, though, is on homes without fathers.
However, let us not forget the number of homes with fathers living in them whose children grow up feeling unwanted and unloved—even though this number can hardly be quantified. Again, I sadly suspect that the numbers between these emotionally absent fathers who profess Christianity and those who don’t, are nearly equal.
According to https://exploringyourmind.com/healing-wounds-absent-father/, “growing up with a father figure that, despite being physically there, is unable to fully provide affection or recognition, creates a void in the heart of a child who is trying to learn how to build their world.” The article cites three adverse ways this may affect children long term. They exhibit high degrees of anxiety. They often grow into untrusting adults. And finally, children that wait and hope for some kind of communication, interaction, or affection and in turn receive nothing, are left with nothing defining to build on in their own lives. Often this leads to repeating the same emotional distancing in adulthood relationships, including with their own children. There is no impetus to do things differently. No insight or knowledge of how to break the cycle and promote change.
“ ...let us not forget the number of homes with fathers living in them whose children grow up feeling unwanted and unloved... ”
When boys and girls are not seeing what God’s intended roles are for either parent—but more commonly their fathers—they face a variety of obstacles. These children often have low self-esteem. They often suffer from depression and/or show signs of overly aggressive behavior. Growing up without a dad shapes every fatherless child, affecting who they are as children and who they become as adults, says McKenna Meyers. She writes about growing up without a dad in “Fatherless Daughters: How Growing Up Without a Dad Affects Women.”
“My father didn’t love me. I never spoke that deep, dark secret, but it was always festering inside of me….Whether a dad was present but rejecting like mine or walked away from his fatherly duties entirely, his absence leaves an indelible mark on a daughter as she grows into adulthood,” McKenna says. She struggled with an eating disorder and found difficulty in building and staying in relationships.
As mentioned earlier, daughters without fathers are more likely to become sexually active earlier. Countless times clients at the pregnancy centers who sat before me had fathers who were absent or non-caring, causing them to launch their own search for male love and acceptance, jumping from one sexual relationship to another. It was not uncommon for a pregnant client to say she wanted her baby so that the baby would love her—having known nothing but parental rejection. Oprah Winfrey has said, “Self-mutilation comes in the form of promiscuity and […] it’s violence against yourself.” I agree.
“ God is able to redeem all situations. ”
But God is able to redeem all situations. He does not display his own kind, compassionate, and merciful Fatherhood without providing a way for earthly fathers to mirror those same characteristics. That way, of course, is Jesus. As the Bride of Christ, the Church knows this, but often in reality, tends to forget, becomes too distracted, or passes critical judgement, rather than resembling their most compassionate Father.
An article on Desiring God website (https://desiringgod.org/articles/absent-dad-present-father) by Calley Sivils, addresses her thoughts to believers in the Church. Growing up without a father, she says it has always been difficult for her to understand the word “father” even when it refers to God. “I don’t see a face; I don’t know a voice to associate with it. I don’t connect with it at all,” she says.
She advises church communities to choose their words wisely when discussing the fatherhood of God, pointing out that “the church needs to become a place of refuge and relearning for the growing number of fatherless sons and daughters….We truly, desperately need to cultivate a sensitivity, a compassion, and a longing for the thousands of children in our communities with little stability at home.”
She suggests several practical ways to do this for both men and women: inviting single moms and their children into your homes, older couples reaching out to these families as prayer partners, providing listening ears, and becoming spiritual mentors to both mothers and children. It is important for children to be allowed quality time in a home to see just how a Christ-following father and husband serves his family. It is wonderful for fatherless children and their moms to be included into church families for special events, activities, and holidays.
“ It is important for children to be allowed quality time in a home to see just how a Christ-following father and husband serves his family. ”
There were several men and their wives in my church who took on caring roles with my children after my husband left us. One practically adopted them as his honorary grandchildren, taking them deep sea fishing, employing them for yard work and office work, attending their athletic events, and always being there for them through both good and difficult times.
Sivils reminds us that grace is also a two-way street. It is hurtful to hear unkind remarks or be the object of unfair accusations by other Christians. She writes: “The people who make assumptions aren’t God and are therefore not all-knowing. Those who have not experienced fatherlessness cannot know or completely comprehend its consequences. Yes, their ignorant or careless words and assumptions can wound us, but we [should] stand ready to extend grace to those for whom Christ died.” Forgiveness heals not only the wounds of our hurt feelings from those who have not walked in our shoes, but it also must be applied to understanding our fathers and how their own childhood stories may have affected their parenting or lack of it.
One of my sons was an impressive football player for his high school team. I had sent his absent father a list of home games and he promised he would come on one particular evening. The school’s tradition then was that after a winning game, the marching band, cheerleaders, and fans would gather outside the locker room and cheer while the band played the school’s fight song. That evening, standing in that cheering crowd, I saw my son scanning the crowd for his father. When he saw me, he rushed over and asked me if his father had come. His entire demeanor changed from hopeful to dejected and a bit angry as I told him his father had not come.
“ God has turned scores of failing families toward himself and claimed them for his own. ”
Seven years later, that son and his siblings gathered around their father’s hospitable bed, expressing their love to him and praying for him. They maintained that posture for several days until their father slipped into eternity. A picture of forgiveness. That same son, as can be said of his other brothers, parent their own children compassionately and purposefully today, despite the inadequate father role displayed before them as children.
Statistics cannot be gathered to show God’s redemptive work in the lives of fathers. But we know from experience, that just as with Saundra, God has turned scores of failing families toward himself and claimed them for his own. Just as the fatherless children often beget more of the same—so has God multiplied redeemed generations.
“We are no longer fatherless,” writes Sivils. “In Christ, we have been elevated to the status of fellow heirs and are now true sons and daughter of God (Romans 8:16-17). And your Father’s love for you exceeds all of the abandonment and disappointments in your past.” This gentle, compassionate heavenly Father is omnipresent, unchanging and unfailing.