Of all the negative influences affecting today's dads, divorce is probably the most pervasive and most serious. The statistics about divorce and children are sobering in several ways.
Divorce affects a startling number of children. According to a 2002 report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one-third of first marriages last less than 10 years. And if the couple was cohabiting and not married, the chance that they'd stay together for even three years dropped to less than one in three. Second marriages were even less likely to last than first marriages.
A painful number of children will see their parents' marriage break apart, and many of those will watch their dad or mom try again at marriage, only to divorce a second time.
If there's any doubt that divorce leaves deep, lasting scars, consider these sobering numbers. In its current listing of US divorce statistics, the website for Divorce Magazine – with the motto, "help for generation 'ex' " – reports that fatherless homes account for:
- 63 percent of youth suicides
- 90 percent of homeless/runaway children
- 85 percent of children with behavior problems
- 71 percent of high school dropouts
- 85 percent of youths in prison
- more than 50 percent of teen mothers.
Divorce affects a significant number of children, and those effects last a lifetime, following children into adulthood and coloring their parenting efforts.
When Dad is Distant
Distance is an influence that leaves many men searching for their fathers and affecting their own parenting.
His father – actor Michael Douglas – was distant due to busyness and his own emotional issues, so Cameron Douglas struggled. "Cameron … idolized his father and did not want to be apart from him," wrote Diandra Douglas, even as she described her husband as an absent father. Michael Douglas admitted Cameron's drug use and poor life choices were because, perhaps unconsciously, he was looking for the father figure he did not have.
Children have a deep need to know their father, and to know a dad's love and protection. When that connection is missing – particularly due to rejection and emotional distance – a man spends much of his life looking … for acceptance, for affirmation, for encouragement, for significance. These men seek what they're missing from their dad through achievement, accomplishments and other people.
It's not hard to see why many younger people don't value marriage – it's an institution they've often seen poorly modeled. Those of us who care for the family must put more effort into helping prevent marital breakups, especially starting with younger couples. When kids grow up without a loving father, their lives are often filled with pain.