The tragedy of ‘systemic fatherlessness’

By Bill McCusker

In her 2016 address to the NAACP, Hillary Clinton said: “We need to recognize our privilege and practice humility rather than assume that our experiences are everyone’s experiences. We all need to try as best we can to walk in one another’s shoes, to imagine what it would be like to sit our son or daughter down and have the talk about how carefully they need to act around police because the slightest wrong move could get them hurt or even killed.”

It is not hard for me to imagine what such a talk would be like. My father sat me down over 50 years ago for “the talk” when I got my driver’s license. “If a cop stops you, you do what he tells you to do. You say ‘Yes, Sir’ and ‘No, Sir.’ And otherwise keep your big fat mouth shut.” Years later, I experienced “the talk” again, this time on the delivery side, when my kids started driving. If my wording was somewhat more delicate than my dad’s, the message was identical.

As I watch the looting, rioting, shootings and killings, I sense that too many sons and daughters sadly never had “the talk” – not the unfortunate discussion that racism makes necessary, according to Ms. Clinton’s lament, but the indispensable one that fathers of all races should have with their kids as part of teaching respect for authority, one motivated if not by values and principles than at least by common sense and self-preservation.

When we were discussing the traditional role of the father in teaching discipline, my friend Garry Cobb, the former NFL linebacker, observed what a tragedy it is when so many young men first learn the meaning of “You can’t do that” when confronting the police. He is right. But when the crisis of fatherlessness reaches epidemic levels – and is exacerbated by failed public policies and a popular culture seemingly hellbent on its own destruction – then some of the vital lessons that keep people safe and prevent society from collapsing just aren’t taught.

I will wager that most people of all races, religions and politics privately admit that the disintegration of the family and fatherhood is a primary driver of the chaos we see around us. It just may be the one belief on which a fractured country can agree. But while easy to recognize its consequences, fatherlessness is hard to discuss in polite circles. It is messy. So instead we thrash about for other causes and solutions. We “listen to” and “learn from” the wrong people. We blame racism, privilege and cops. We preach victimization and ignore the crime statistics about who is killing whom. We stoke fear of authority and encourage lawlessness. We make martyrs of the wrong people and levy blame where it does not belong. We attribute mistakes not to the individuals who made them but to the majority of society we are told is deplorable and systemically evil.

If we continue to bask in such delusions and distortions, Mrs. Obama will be right: Things will get worse. We desperately need to reexamine the fundamentals of strong fathers and families and the privilege they offer to every part of society. Let’s start by asking why we have undermined them. Then let’s do the hard work of reassembling what we have broken. Maybe we can even do it together. But we better start soon.

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