Tags: Fatherless | America

Fatherless America

Sunday, 20 January 2002 12:00 AM

My father was a respected physician and family man. All my life I have tried – with varying success – to live up to his example. But what if I believed he was a convicted felon who abandoned my mother and me? What if I had been taught since childhood that he was a worthless good-for-nothing?

My whole life would have been changed. I would have been deprived of my role model of a husband and father. I would have felt the need for someone or something to fill this gap – perhaps a gang or a cult. And like many boys whose fathers walked out on them, I probably would have been chronically angry – angry at men in general, and angry at authority figures in particular, including the ultimate one, God.

Much has been written about the harmful effect of fatherlessness on kids, especially boys. What I wish to discuss here is not the effect on individuals, but the effect on the nation as a whole.

There are exceptions, but having a real father walk out tends to have injurious effects on individuals. What effects can we expect if we come to believe that our Founding Fathers – our spiritual fathers – were slave-owning, racist, warmongering, genocidal, adulterous, money-grubbing bigots? What if we believed that the only principle they upheld was increasing their own wealth and power?

It seems reasonable to assume that these effects would resemble the effects of fatherlessness on individuals. Human beings are social. With rare exceptions, they prefer to live in groups. So what happens when the group believes itself to be fatherless and lacking any guiding principles?

The "Father of His Country" was George Washington. But he owned slaves. True, he freed them at his death, but he was still a slave owner. Doesn't that invalidate all the good things he did, and all the principles he stood for?

Lincoln held the nation together through the Civil War, ended slavery, and was murdered for his efforts. But he also expressed (by today's standards) racist views. Doesn't that cancel out whatever good he did?

Teddy Roosevelt was an inspiring leader and reformer. But he was also an avid hunter. Doesn't that mean he was a despicable killer?

Franklin Roosevelt overcame polio and led the nation to victory over Nazism and Japanese imperialism. But he had a mistress, and – worse yet! – he smoked cigarettes in public. Doesn't that make him a bad role model?

If our past leaders weren't perfect, does that mean they are unworthy of our admiration? Since no human being ever was perfect, this type of thinking destroys all role models, leaving young people with no one to admire and emulate.

For a few individualists, this may not matter. But for the great majority who need landmarks toward which to aim, this destructive process leaves only a confusing, bewildering vacuum. Vacuums tend to be filled with something. If we deprive kids of positive role models, they often will find negative ones.

Washington and Lincoln weren't perfect, but don't they make better role models than Adolf Hitler, the idol of the Columbine High School killers? Aren't they preferable to Osama bin Laden, the guru of John Walker? Aren't they more beneficial for kids to emulate than the local drug dealer or gang leader?

But we no longer observe Washington's or Lincoln's birthdays. Instead, we observe Presidents' Day. Which presidents? Millard Fillmore?

We are trying so hard not to produce super-patriots that we are producing no patriots at all. We are trying so hard not to produce fanatics that we are producing people who believe in nothing. We are trying so hard not to produce intolerance that we are producing people who tolerate anything.

And as if it weren't destructive enough to do away with our nation's "fathers," we went on to undermine and belittle the ideals they stood for:

So we now teach kids, and even law students, that the government endows us with rights. But what the government gives, it can as easily take away. If we have a problem with an all-powerful Creator, should an all-powerful government make us feel more protected?

Imagine the uproar if teachers referred to the "Holy" Bible, the "Prophet" Moses, or to Jesus as the "Son of God." Apparently the "wall" keeps out only Judeo-Christian beliefs, while any others pass through freely.

People who have no role models to emulate are, in a very real sense, fatherless. People who have no firm principles to hold onto in times of trouble are rootless. People who have no moral compass to steer by are likely to become lost. People who have no distant landmark to aim for are likely to stay lost.

If you teach a generation of Americans that the great individuals of the past and the principles they championed are without value, you do a great disservice to that generation, and to America as well.

If you convince me that my father was a worthless bum, you do me serious harm. If you then tell me that everything he believed in was bogus, you make things even worse. Who but an enemy would do that?

[I credit Rabbi Daniel Lapin for pointing out in "America's Real War" that belittling one's father can change one's life.]

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My father was a respected physician and family man. All my life I have tried - with varying success - to live up to his example. But what if I believed he was a convicted felon who abandoned my mother and me? What if I had been taught since childhood that he was a...
Sunday, 20 January 2002 12:00 AM
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