I remember an old saying that hung on the wall in my childhood home, “Anyone can be a father, but it takes someone special to be a dad.” I took note of this at a very young age. I analyzed and studied it as I looked at my relationship with my own dad and the relationship I desired to have with my future children. This quote was not referring to the title a child might give his dad, but instead was pointing to the importance and need for a child to have a male figure involved in his life.

There is a great deal of truth to this quote, but I am afraid we have a lot more “fathers” out there than “dads.” How do I know this? The statistics prove it and are staggering. According to the U.S. Census Bureau one in three children—a total of about 24 million—are being raised in fatherless homes. A father was certainly involved in the making of these children, but they never quite made the transition to being a dad.

Why is this important? Don’t we desire for women to be independent and free of the “need” for a man? This is what the culture would tell you, but the truth is in the numbers. The U.S. Census Bureau also stated that almost half of these single parent homes were living below the poverty line. In contrast, among children living with both parents, only 13% fall in this category.

I think most would agree that the ideal scenario for all families is one that includes a husband and wife raising their kids together in what we might call a traditional setting. Unfortunately the ideal is becoming the abnormal. More and more families are being started out of wedlock and in difficult situations. Financial issues, relational issues, housing issues, and educational issues place a significant burden on these moms, dads, and, most importantly, their children.

Many have pontificated and attempted to “fix” the broken model in front of us that is leaving millions of kids in limbo and in very unstable situations. There are differing opinions on the correction that is needed. I am not going to outline those here today, but I do want to discuss some options that could, at the very least, help get us as close to the ideal as we possibly can.

We currently live in a world that devalues the role of a dad. Sitcoms have spent years turning dads into bumbling fools. Feminists have spent years saying men are the problem and, in no way, a part of the solution. Men themselves have pushed this narrative by disengaging and deflecting their responsibilities in the home, with their partner, and with their children. We see this every single day at HOPE as women come alone and prepare to parent alone.

We are in drastic need of a pivot point. Celebrating the role of dads does not diminish the role of moms. Can we not, as a society, desire more for our kids? Kids at the very least need both mom and dad to care about them. Mom and dad may despise one another and in no way want to be together, but that doesn’t change the fact that a child is in need.

At what point do we recognize the damage that has been done and seek to correct it? Studies have shown and statistics point to the dire need for a change, but studies and numbers do not a change make.

I know there isn’t an easy or quick fix here. A change of this magnitude will take years to implement, an actual desire for change, and selfish parents to put their children first. Many make the decision to participate in the act of “baby making” but neglect the actual consequence of that action. Often times when people find out they’re pregnant they will say this, “I don’t know how this happened.” This statement is dumbfounding. We know exactly how it happens…it has happened this way since the beginning of time. Sexual intercourse, shockingly enough, frequently produces a baby.

We know this to be true. This is, after all, how we ourselves came to be. Now that we recognize the truth we must deal with the consequence of that truth. That means we must put differences aside at times and seek to raise children together.

I know some will read this and think I am arguing for one night stands to drive to Vegas and get married. I do believe that marriage, again, is the ideal situation for rearing children, but I am not naïve. I know that the ideal is not always reality. With this being the case we must, then, decide what the next step should be.

Should the dad ‘wash his hands’ of the situation? Should the mom keep the dad out of the loop? Should the baby never be considered a life and be disposed of? I am afraid that too many men and women refuse to even ask these questions, even though the answers could truly change the trajectory for millions of children.

The reason why the number of fatherless children is so high is because for so many, this is the norm and all they have ever known. This does not excuse a disengaged dad, but it does help explain their actions.

“Anyone can be a father…” This statement crushes me and dads should not be satisfied with this. Dads own the consequences of their actions. Dads understand their role is a valuable one in the raising of their child. Dads understand that their petty differences with their partner are not enough to drive them to neglect a life they helped make. Dads take pride in being engaged in the process.

Being a dad is hard work, but it is work that is life changing. My heart breaks for the millions growing up without a dad, but at some point our heartbreak must reach a level of action. Tell a dad today that you love them and appreciate them. I would also encourage those dads out there who are engaged in the process to find some of the fatherless kids in your community and stand in the gap for them. Your love and attention will go a long way to impacting them for years to come! Our present and future generations depend on it.

posted by Andrew Wood, Executive Director of Hope Resource Center