It was only a snow globe, but it mattered to me. For 24 years, a wedding present had sat next to my side of the bed, a snow globe with a red headed tux clad groom, looking adoringly into the eyes of a blonde haired bride. One day recently in a moment of carelessness, I bumped the snow globe and it came crashing to the wood floor. While the snow globe seemed small all these years, it apparently contained ten feet of glass and at least a gallon of glitter-filled water. After an hour of clean up, I thought about fixing it, but the headless groom and smashed glass told me that it was beyond repair.
I did not mean for it to happen, but the wedding snow globe was ruined forever because I did not pay attention for a moment.
When people ask me the biggest issue we face in America, I tell them the slow demise of our families. From my position in the United States Senate, I’m frequently confronted with domestic issues that stem from unstable communities and families who aren’t self-sufficient. People want family to work, they wish it would work, but careless moments and busy days have distracted our nation from our families. In previous generations, families lived nearby and generations stayed connected. They taught each other, encouraged work, provided a safety-net and passed on their faith. Now, we seem to have everything we want, except strong families. I believe our nation and our children are poorer for what we have lost.
Father’s Day is an appropriate time to evaluate parenting and the stability of the family in America and its impact on our nation. The rise of more stable families will address many societal and economic problems in America, often better than any piece of legislation from Congress.
As families falter, the government rises to meet the needs of the family. But government is a poor substitute for a committed family.
One example of this dynamic is the foster care system. When families falter and children are abused, the government maintains custody of vulnerable children. Among foster children who grow up and ‘age out’ of the foster system, one in five will become homeless after age 18; and fewer than three percent will earn a college degree by age 25. Seventy-one percent of young women who age out are pregnant by 21 years old; and one in four will be involved in the justice system within two years of leaving the foster care system. This shows, in a very vivid way, how children suffer when families break down.
To take stress off the government, families must become more stable and self-sufficient. Look at any community across America and you will see the direct correlation. In communities with more broken families, and more absent fathers, you will see higher crime and a weaker economy. The opposite will exist in communities with more stable families.
According to an October 2015 American Enterprise Institute economic study, higher levels of marriage are strongly associated with a better economy, less child poverty, and higher median family income at the state level in the United States. For states with higher married-parent families, you will find $1,451 higher per capita GDP, a 13.2 percent decline in the child poverty rate, and a $3,654 higher median family income. That same study shows that violent crime is much less common in states with larger shares of families headed by married parents. The economic data is clear – stronger families in America would lead to a stronger economy, safer neighborhoods, and less poverty.
Ask any teacher why teaching is tougher now and they will tell you about behavioral problems, lack of parental involvement and issues related to home, before they ever talk about budget realities. Talk to five men in prison and you will find only two that grew up in a stable two-parent home.
Today, about 24 million children – or one in three – live in a home without the physical presence of an engaged father. Most research shows there is a “father factor” in nearly all of the major social issues facing America today, including poverty, education, child health, incarceration, crime, teen pregnancy, drug and alcohol abuse.
Ask any employer what kind of employee they want and they will typically say, someone who will show up and be committed and work consistently, characteristics most often developed in a committed and stable home.
This is not a judging condemnation or a nostalgic longing, it is a question about priorities and our nation’s future. People look at our nation and wonder what they can do to help, here is my simple idea, especially to fathers: commit to your family. There is no substitute for a family that cares for each other. There is no better place to learn respect, conflict-resolution, honor, work ethic, pride, humility, curiosity and endurance than the family. Family is where the next generation sees that life is about more than money and selfie fame, it is about each other.
Every state, every neighborhood and every community is currently experiencing challenges in the family. But, in every neighborhood, in every community and every state you will also find great examples of committed families. Our future is not inevitable, it is in our hands. Our greatest challenge will not be solved by more government, it will be solved by neighbors, non-profits, churches and families.
Washington should focus on policy solutions that encourage the commitment of families, including eliminating marriage penalties, creating more favorable tax policy for families, and using public platforms to verbally promote the benefits of family, especially among young people before they have children.
Our families, unlike my snow globe, are not beyond repair; they are damaged, but redeemable. Decisions must be made in each home about what is most important and what is our first commitment. Fathers, let’s step up our game. Our kids and our nation are counting on us. Let’s build a strong nation by building strong family commitments again. Who will set the example for your children and your neighborhood?