America is becoming a land of absentee fathers and it is leaving generations of children unfamiliar with what a good dad looks like, and Rep. Bill Johnson says that is a national crisis that must be addressed.
The Ohio Republican is the author of “Raising Fathers: How Nurturing and Encouraging Fatherhood Helps Strengthen Families and Our Nation.”
The intensely personal book includes many stories of Johnson growing up in what he calls a dysfunctional family as well as his candid insights into the end of his first marriage and the unplanned pregnancy of his unwed daughter.
Recent government statistics show roughly half of all Americans births now occur outside of marriages. The out-of-wedlock birthrate in the black community is around 70 percent. For white Americans, the rate is near 40 percent.
Johnson says he wrote the book because countless young people are deeply deprived without a loving, stable father in the home.
“We’ve now got a couple generations worth of children that are growing up in fatherless homes. It’s undermining the strength of America’s traditional family, which is one of the underpinnings of our system,” said Johnson.
“It’s time we had a national conversation about the important role of fatherhood and how important it is that we get fatherly examples and role models for these generations of children that have never seen a father role model,” said Johnson.
Hear the interview:
Johnson would know. His father was an abusive alcoholic who often gambled away his meager paychecks.
“Not only do I understand this from a policy perspective and from a national values perspective, but I also understand it from a very personal perspective, the devastating consequences of not having a fatherly role model at home,” said Johnson.
“I can remember as a young boy, thinking to myself while hiding behind the sofa when the fighting and the anger was playing out right in front of me, worried that one of my parents was going to kill the other, or hiding in my bedroom thinking, ‘If I ever have a family of my own, my children will never, ever experience this kind of lifestyle,'” said Johnson.
Johnson says while his father was no role model, he benefited from the love of a grandfather, uncles and eventually superiors in the U.S. Air Force. He also credits God for carrying him through such a difficulty childhood.
“I would be absolutely, 100 percent remiss if I didn’t tell you that I believe that God spared me much of the trauma that comes with growing up in the kind of dysfunctional family that I did,” said Johnson. “It almost feels like God just wrapped me up in His hands and shielded me from the dysfunction.”
“It was like He set me apart and protected me from it. He became the father that I did not have in a natural sense,” said Johnson.
Johnson says America is foolish to shun the mention of God from the public debate or exercise faith as the galvanizing force in the home.
“We’ve got to get back to that, because without having that anchor, that central truth, to know that no matter what happens to us, that there is a heavenly Father that can rise above the chaos and protect us and shield us and strengthen us through the tough times,” said Johnson.
He also says he never blamed God for the trials he and his three siblings endured.
“I don’t believe for a second that God punishes His children into obedience. God will allow things to happen to us to strengthen us, to mold us and to reveal Himself to us so that we understand who He is and how really ultimately dependent upon Him we are as human beings,” said Johnson.
Johnson, who is now happily remarried, says he was blindsided by the end of his first marriage. In hindsight, he says his military career was focused on providing for his family in ways that his father failed to do, but that distracted him from his other family responsibilities.
“I had no idea that the provisioning part of my character was coming into conflict with the fathering and husbanding part of my character,” he said.
Noting statistics showing homes with a mom and dad have an exponentially lower poverty rate than those without a dad living there, Johnson says providing economic stability and character development are vitally important responsibilities for dads.
“If we start a national conversation about the value of the American family and the strength that it provides in terms of generating opportunities, not only for character growth but for opportunities for economic growth,” said Johnson.