Once every year we dedicate a day to remember our fathers. I'm glad we do. The role of a father is irreplaceable.
My own dad has been a priceless gift over the course of my life. I love him dearly. He's always been a safe place to run to; someone I could lean on when life was hard.
The sad truth is, not everyone has fond memories when their dad comes to mind. Some don't have any memories at all.
With every passing year in America, we are finding more and more families in a fatherhood crisis. The percentage of children living in homes without a father has more than tripled since 1960. We've seen this for ourselves at the Dream Center in Los Angeles, and it has affected people of every race and demographic across the board.
As a pastor, I am not shy about speaking up on the importance of fathers as leaders and protectors in the home. But the data alone is convincing enough.
Teenagers who grow up with uninvolved or absent fathers are an astounding 250 percent more likely to end up in prison than those who grow up with two parents in the home. We find that this is a common pattern with the teenagers in our Foster Youth Home, and even with the adults in our recovery programs. Conversely, a study in Ohio showed that kids were 64% less likely to be held back in school if they lived in a home with married parents.
The negative consequences for children and families with an absent father continue to mount up. Children without a dad at home search for love, leadership and belonging in other places. They are more likely to get trapped in a cycle of drug use, commit suicide, perform poorly in school, endure child abuse, join a gang, or end up impoverished and homeless than a child who lives with mom and dad.
The facts are clear: Dads, we can't do this without you.
Despite facing numerous challenges and financial hardship as an immigrant family, my siblings and I thrived in America because of our parents' sacrifice and commitment. My father showed me what was truly important as a family. He demonstrated love, protection, and trust. He taught me loyalty and perseverance. Because of his example, I grew confident in my identity and future. Even if we didn't live in the most affluent neighborhood, my father worked hard to give me everything I needed.
Families need dynamic, caring fathers if we are going to solve the biggest problems we're facing as a culture today. We need men to do what they were created to do and do it well. We need their time, their dedication, their strength, their grit, and yes, their tenderness and their love.
I realize that many absent fathers had absent fathers themselves. They don't know any better, and a vicious cycle continues.
The generational chains need to be broken. The best way to do that is to tell the truth. Tell every father you know that they're needed, they're wanted, and that life is harder without them. If we're going to turn things around, then we must express to men directly, and without hesitation, "We need you."
If fathers step up, take ownership of their role and fight for their children, it's clear that poverty, violence, substance abuse, and a whole host of issues would significantly improve. It all starts with men understanding there is no replacement for their provision, their care, their sacrifice, and their love.
And dads, I promise you, you'll get a 10-fold return for every effort you make. Of every job and title you'll ever hold, the most rewarding one will be fulfilling your role as dad.
Caroline Barnett is the Executive Director of the Dream Center Foundation, and Co-Pastor of the Los Angeles Dream Center and Angelus Temple Church alongside her husband Matthew Barnett. The Los Angeles Dream Center is a faith-based non-profit dedicated to transforming the lives of individuals and families in the City of Los Angeles through residential and outreach programs. What started out as a desire to serve those in need, has now grown with their leadership into a global movement of love and service with nearly 100 Dream Centers helping communities worldwide. To learn more about the work of the Dream Center, click here.