On the occasion of Father’s Day, we should consider that fully one quarter of households in the United States have no father present. On a per-capita basis, one in three children does not have his or her biological father present. Liberals will shrug at this unprecedented divergence from all past experience and say that it doesn’t matter, but it doesn’t take a genius to see that the consequences of fatherlessness are all around us. Whether we like to admit it or not, broken homes have a negative impact on our society as a whole.
In the Litany of St. Joseph, we ask “Joseph most just” to intercede on our behalf while in the Litany of Loreto, we ask for the Blessed Virgin Mary, the “Mirror of justice” to pray for us. This is not some coincidence. Both the mother and the father are responsible for teaching their children the meaning of justice, although they do so in different ways. In the Holy Family, the parents of our Lord and Savior provide us with an example for all parents as their children’s first teachers in the domestic church.
In the traditional family unit with a stay-at-home mom, the mother spends every day with her children, watching and nurturing them. When they misbehave, she teaches them patience and forbearance by withholding punishment, but at the same time warns them that such behavior will incur a penalty at the end of the day when the father returns home. Children should not fear their mother, but they must be taught to respect her commands.
On the other hand, the father is usually away from the home for most of his waking hours, making a living through his toil so that he can provide for his family. However, when he returns home, he is also the judge. He consults with his wife on the transgressions of the day (which hopefully are few and far between) and they discuss and agree on what punishments are merited given the circumstances. Then, after an explanation of what the child did wrong, the father administers the penalty [Note: I should clarify here that the punishment need not be violent and depending on the situation it may be better if it is not. More important is that the penalty is consistently applied].
Through this, the children learn that justice is altogether something different from vengeance. In single-parent families, the source of justice–such as it is–is the same person as the victim. If a child is acting out, there is no purpose served by the mother waiting to administer punishment, because there is no one else to do it. Instead of waiting for a non-existent father to come home from work, the haggard and overworked mother is likely to haul off and smack the well-deserving little brat upside the head right then and there. This is probably the worst possible thing she could do.
The importance of this distinction cannot be overstated. The idea of justice depends on our trust that the judge is an impartial third party who is neither an accomplice nor an accuser. As a result of this impartiality, the child learns that justice is not dispensed out of anger or cruelty, but is dispassionate and impersonal, while at the same time being consistent and inevitable. By being away from the home when children are at their most mischievous, the father maintains his impartiality and thus inspires a healthy fear in his children not of himself or of retaliation, but of just punishment.
Statistics show that the declining divorce rate matches the recent decline in adolescent crime. When children grow up in a traditional family with both a father and a mother present, they are blessed with an innate understanding of true justice, because they have always experienced it from the age of reason onwards. However, as more children are raised in single-family homes, we can expect to see more and more violent crimes being committed by adolescents. It should go without saying, but the health of our society really does depend on the health of marriage and on the special role of fathers in the family.