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It takes a dad to raise a man

We have a friend who is a doctor. Bruce is a family practitioner who, because of the smallness of the town in which he works, has quite a number of maternity patients.

One day he was tired but elated after having been up most of the night delivering a baby.

“A beautiful boy,” he enthused, describing the birth.

Bruce’s elation was unusual for a man who delivers a lot of kids. “Why are you so happy about this particular baby?” I asked him. “After all, you deliver a lot of them.”

“Yes, but when I deliver a baby to an intact two-parent home, it’s a double blessing,” he said. The circles under his eyes competed with his happy smile.

As a family-oriented Christian doctor, Bruce sometimes faces an ethical conflict in his practice. He also sees trends that others outside the medical profession might miss.

One such trend was exemplified recently when a single working mother and a caretaking grandmother came to him as a last resort, asking for Ritalin to control a young boy’s ADHD.

Bruce described the boy in his office as a typical recipient for Ritalin: rowdy, defiant, cruel to animals, malicious, a bad student, impossible to reason with and wantonly destructive. In short, a monster.

This was not the request of a radical feminist mother intolerant of boyish mischief or high spirits. It was a desperate plea from two loving women who could no longer handle him. The mother was working full-time to support them. They had tried everything else, including counseling and parenting classes, controlling his diet, exercise, bedtime and television viewing … and nothing had worked. His teacher, no doubt exhausted from trying to handle the boy along with her other students, had suggested medication.

After taking a history and doing an exam, Bruce prescribed the Ritalin. Then he went to his office, buried his head in his hands and wished for a different line of work.

Through 16 years of practice, Bruce says he has never – not once – seen a request for Ritalin coming from an adult, intact, two-parent home in which the father is employed and the children are theirs by birth or adoption. Not once.

The common factor in all these cases – either Ritalin for boys or antidepressants for girls – is the lack of a father.

I do not interact with large numbers of children on a daily basis. But teachers, doctors, counselors and other professionals do. Are they seeing the same trend?

Bruce thinks so. “When Dad is not there – ‘there’ as in living there in the home –” Bruce wrote in a heart-tugging article that appeared in the May 2008 issue of Touchstone Magazine, “something deep in a child’s psyche perceives a critical deficit, a desperate and frightening imbalance that preys on the child’s particular vulnerabilities, causing him to careen off into unhealthy extremes.”

Read that whole thing again. Desperate and frightening imbalance. A child’s vulnerabilities. Unhealthy extremes. I find this terrifying.

I know a sweet gentle woman (I’ll call her Jane) who had a baby out of wedlock. It was an “accident,” she tells me, from an affair she had on the rebound from a failed relationship. For better or worse, she didn’t give the baby up for adoption, but instead chose to raise him herself. (I give her huge credit for not having an abortion.)

Her boy is now 9 and, like Jane, is a sweet, gentle child. He loves to snuggle with his mother on the couch on Saturday nights, eating popcorn and watching a movie.

Because she is used to her son’s quiet ways, Jane speaks disapprovingly about a mutual friend whose son (of the same age) is a boisterous, rambunctious child. “He’s not well disciplined,” she sniffs.

What I have never said, but always wanted to point out, is that this other boy is just that – a boy. Boys are not girls. Boys are rambunctious and boisterous critters who can’t sit still. But he’ll turn out fine because his dad lives right there in the same house and keeps a strong rein on his son. This boy has a father to teach him to be a man.

Jane’s child doesn’t.

Jane is feeling a little smug at the moment because of her son’s docile disposition. But I’ll bet that in five years, teenage rebellion will hit like a sledgehammer and she’ll wonder what happened to her sweet little boy.

Unfortunately he’ll be gone, and a surly young male will be in his place. There will be no father to teach him how to tame the testosterone and grow up to be, not a male, but a man.

It’s been demonstrated again and again that boys need fathers to teach them to be decent men. Girls need fathers to teach them the right kind of man to marry … and not to seek out that man at too young an age.

To blatantly disregard the need for a father in a child’s life despite all clinical, societal, medical, psychological, historical and common-sense evidence is at best stupid and at worst evil.

And what message does this give our sons? That they’re expendable? Unnecessary? Is this the radical feminist rhetoric that will shape the future husbands of our daughters?

Yes, there are bad fathers out there, men who are abusive, addicted to drugs or drink, or prone to multiple affairs. (Please, ladies, choose carefully.) But to deliberately exclude a decent father from a child’s life will only result in another generation of males, not men.

Of course children have succeeded in life despite not having a father, but that’s a “despite” not “because of.” There will always be a hole in the heart of any child who grows up without a dad.

Life is messy. Things happen. Spouses cheat. People die. Addictions cause ruin. Poor judgment causes pain. I cannot and will not condemn those families in which fatherlessness occurs through human weakness or accidents or death.

But please – please – don’t do it on purpose.

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