Fathers are rapidly disappearing in Utah and across the nation.

This retreat is not an isolated phenomenon. Research from the Rochester Area Fatherhood Network shows that 34% of children nationally will go to bed tonight in a home where their father does not reside. Forty percent of those children have not seen their father in the last year. An estimated 19% of Utah’s children, or 1 in 5, live in single-parent households. That percentage is 27%, or about 1 in 4 in Weber County and 1 in 3 nationally.

The vast majority of these single-parent households (an estimated 80%) are single mother households. The disappearance of fathers, or the “father absence crisis” as it has come to be known nationally, is an escalating tragedy for our children and a social burden, the full impact of which we have yet to experience. Why is this happening? Let’s look at the myths that perpetuate this national phenomenon. 

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Myth: Fathers are replaceable

The truth is fathers are indispensable. Fathers are much more than substitute caregivers. Fathers parent differently, communicate differently, play differently, discipline differently. Fathers provide a unique, dynamic and irreplaceable contribution to their families and children. While mothers protect their children from the world, fathers prepare their children for the world by encouraging exploration and risk taking, instilling confidence and self esteem. The contributions from both parents are critical to every child’s development. 

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Myth: Mothers should be the primary caregivers for their children

Unless a child is breastfeeding, no evidence exists that an infant is better off or more secure in their mother’s than their father’s care. In fact, plenty of studies show that a child is harmed if they are not permitted to bond with father as well as mother.

In Utah, married fathers automatically receive parental rights to their child at birth, but unmarried fathers must petition the courts to receive parental rights. Joint legal custody is a rebuttable presumption in Utah, and yet 75% of Utah custody awards favor mothers. Utah ranks 37th of the 50 states in the percentage of custody awards to fathers.

Some explanation for this disparity may be that men are statistically more likely to engage in violent or criminal behaviors and to abuse alcohol and illicit drugs than women, but no justification exists where these factors are not present. 

Myth: Absence of fathers causes no direct harm to children

To the contrary, the absence of fathers is the cause of all the most intractable social ills impacting our children. The adage, “correlation does not imply causation” does not apply to the impact of absent fathers.

The research is resounding on this point. Children growing up in father-absent homes are 47% more likely to experience poverty and 279% more likely to carry guns and deal drugs than peers living with a father. Children from father absent homes are twice as likely to to be abused or neglected, seven times as likely to engage in early sexual behaviors or experience a teen pregnancy, twice as likely to suffer from obesity, four times as likely to suffer infant mortality, twice as likely to drop out of school. Children from father absent homes are more likely to have behavioral problems, experience depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation, more likely to commit crime, more likely to go to prison, more likely to become absent fathers and mothers themselves.

On the flip side, children with fathers in the home are more likely to avoid psychological and behavioral problems, more likely to succeed in academics and in life. 

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Myth: Children with a father in the home are not at risk

Although most of our children (70%) do have a father in the home, the pervasive problem is that many of these fathers are uninvolved physically, emotionally or spiritually in their children’s lives.

Fathers work long hours and come home from work exhausted. Their children are left to entertain themselves with video games or worse, while parents substitute material gifts for the time they no longer spend with their children. According to Gallup, 97% of us rank family as important to extremely important, and yet the average parent spends just five hours of face-to-face time with their children each week. 

Myth: Involved fathers will exclude mothers

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Studies show that mothers reap a host of benefits when fathers are involved in their children’s lives. When fathers are present, mothers are twice as likely to maintain a healthy pregnancy, less likely to suffer postpartum stress and depression or experience parental stress, and more likely to have leisure time and experience greater marital satisfaction and overall sense of well being than mothers of children with absent fathers.

Bottom line: The presence of fathers in the home has a positive impact on the lives of mothers and children. 

It is time we take a hard look at family structure as the precipitating cause of many, if not all of our most serious social problems. The benefits of fathers’ presence in the home are broad, significant, long-lasting and universally recognized. It is not too late to reverse trends, bring fathers home and bring these benefits to the rising generation. Understanding is the where we start.

Lorraine Brown is a Republican candidate for Utah House District 10, which includes parts of Weber County.

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