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The Father Factor


The Father Factor in the Aurora Shooting

aurora resized 600In four of the most recent high-profile mass shootings (the D.C. Sniper, Chardon High School, the Tucson shooting, and the Norway terrorist), we wrote about how the killers had damaged or nonexistent relationships with their fathers and how that factor contributed significantly to their horrific actions.

As details of the Aurora shooting emerge, it appears as though the killer had a relatively “normal” upbringing. We will continue to monitor the situation as more details emerge, as we know there is a father factor in crime. For example, children whose fathers were incarcerated are 7 times more likely to become incarcerated themselves.

However, there is another fatherhood story that has emerged from the tragic events in Aurora. In this article, Hanna Rosin writes about how, by and large, men protected women when the gunfire began, often getting shot themselves to save their girlfriends, children, and/or wives.

But one line in particular stood out: “Several women were at the midnight showing with infants and toddlers, presumably because there was no one else at home to watch them.”

I don’t know if I have much more commentary on this statement other than to say how sad it is.

Recent data published on the New York Times website shows the troubling explosion of the out-of-wedlock birthrate in our country, across all races and education levels. Note in particular how rates among white women have nearly doubled, more than doubled, or even tripled, in all categories. We know from research that these children will inevitably live in father-absent homes, because even in cases where mom and dad are living with each other at the time of the birth, 1 in 3 of those cohabiting relationships end by the time the child is only two years old. By comparison, only 1 in 17 marriages end by the time the child is 2 years old. In other words, marriage is more than 5 times more stable than cohabitation.

There is so much commentary out there about how marriage is an “obsolete” institution, and “healthy relationships” matter, not marriage. But this commentary rarely analyzes things from the perspective of what children need. And social science research isn’t sophisticated enough to measure something like, “what percentage of infants and toddlers with unmarried parents will attend midnight showings of PG-13 movies compared to their peers with married parents.” Those “intangibles” are hard to measure, but they matter greatly. And they matter to children. 

I am not saying that all single parents take their children to the movie theater late at night. But I am saying that in this case, had these children had someone “else at home to watch them,” they would not have been in that theater. That’s how it works in my marriage. When I want to do something late at night, my wife stays home with our toddler. When she wants to do the same, I stay home. Very little “coordination” is needed because, a) she lives in the same house as me, and b) via our wedding vows, we have already committed to doing things like this for each other.

This is not about criticizing single parents and idolizing married parents as individuals. It is about being honest about how institutions, not individuals, affect children. The Aurora shootings have provided another example of how the institution of marriage confers benefits upon children that should never be undervalued.

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Chardon High Shooting: Symptoms of the Father Factor

Image by Aaron Josefczyk, Reuters.

On Monday, a teenage gunman shot five of his peers at Chardon High School. When this story first broke, my initial impulse was to skim the news for hints about the shooter’s family life, as I’ve become more aware that there is usually a “father factor” in these sorts of stories.

T.J. Lane’s motives for shooting his five classmates (three fatally) are still largely a mystery, and I will leave journalists to speculate on the mental processes leading up to Monday’s horrific events. However, I did discover that Lane’s story does indeed have a father factor. It would seem that the lifestyle choices of Lane’s father had a significant impact on him.

According to multiple news outlets, T.J. Lane was born to Sara Nolan, while she was in a relationship with his father, Thomas Lane. Sara and Thomas’s relationship was tumultuous and eventually ended in divorce after repeated incidents of domestic violence. T.J. stayed with his mother, and it’s unclear if he had much contact with his father afterward.

It’s reported that his father went on to marry another woman and started a family with her. But he was repeatedly abusive to this woman, and went on to get in trouble with the law for assault, kidnapping, and attempted murder.

Clearly, having an uncommitted and unstable father was a significant part of Lane’s story.

The knowledge that his father acted violently toward the women in his life must have had an impact on T.J., and the absence of an involved father probably left T.J. craving affirmation, acceptance, and without a clear idea of what a healthy relationship between a man and a woman could look like. T.J.’s Facebook page shows that he was dating a girl from his youth group, but that she recently broke up with him to date someone else. The new boyfriend is reported to be one of the victims of Monday’s shooting.

T.J. Lane is ultimately responsible for his own actions, but I have to wonder: would he have done this if his father had been positively engaged in his life? Would these three high school students be dead today if T.J. had a dad who cared about him and modeled healthy relationships with women? Would T.J. have shot his ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend if his own father wasn’t abusive to T.J.’s mom?

These questions deserve serious consideration. As this shooting and its aftermath plays out in the media, I’d urge you to remember that the news stories we read are often just about the symptoms of deeper issues.

Many heinous events like these have a father story behind them. We’ve noted before how the D.C. sniper situation in 2002 was largely cause by two men with deep father-needs, and how the Tuscon shooter last year was affected by his negatively-involved father. And just this summer we saw a mass murderer in Norway whose life was marked by his absent father.

An involved father makes a significant positive impact on the lives of his children, and you never know what might be averted by ensuring that you are a positive and loving presence in your children's lives.

The tragedy of the Virginia Tech shooting: five children left fatherless

Heartache and unanswered questions abound after yesterday's on-campus shootings at Virginia Tech. A close friend of mine was directly affected by the shooting that killed 33 in 2007; yesterday's incidents awoke painful memories of that tragedy for all connected to the Virginia Tech community. The campus activated security measures implemented after the 2007 massacre and went into lock-down for several hours after a police officer was shot and killed by a gunman, who later took his own life.

Little is known about the shooter at this time, except that he was not a student of Virginia Tech. However, we do know several things about the police officer who was killed. Most notably, he was a dad and husband. Deriek Crouse was a father and stepfather to five children.

Law enforcement officials will eventually find answers to many of the questions surrounding yesterday's shooting. Why would someone violently interrupt a routine traffic stop that he was not involved in? What connection, if any, did the gunman have to the police officer? As the investigations continue, activity on Virginia Tech's campus will quickly resume it's normal pace as students get ready to take finals and go home for the holidays.

Life, however, will never return to normal for Deriek Crouse's wife and children, and while answers may provide some sense of closure for his family, the pain will never go away. Our hearts go out to the Crouse family, especially the five children who woke up today without their dad. The death of anyone is always a tragedy; that tragedy is magnified many times when it leaves fatherless children.

Flash Mobs and Absent Dads

Many of you have probably heard about the recent spate of crimes that were driven by "flash mobs" organized via social media and mobile devices.

In case you don't know, a flash mob is "a group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual and sometimes seemingly pointless act for a brief time, then disperse, often for the purposes of entertainment, satire, or artistic expression."

Interesting that this definition (from Wikipedia) does not (yet) include "for the purpose of committing a crime."

But that, sadly, is just what is happening. In fact, a very high profile case just happened in the very town in which NFI is headquartered, Germantown, MD. had front page coverage of the incident here:

The county where NFI sits, Montgomery County, is, on the whole, a thriving community with great schools and safe neighborhoods. But a gang problem is starting to emerge in communities where rates of father absence are higher. These flash mobs are a symptom of that same trend.

Now, you are going to get all kinds of commentary about these crimes, but, as you can suspect, we here at NFI have a very simple question: where are the dads?

We already know that a disproportionate number of gang members and prisoners are from father-absent homes. This is no different; the youth causing this mayhem lack fatherly guidance at home. Sure there are other factors, but if there were involved, responsible, and committed fathers in these homes, these reckless teens would not be engaging in such senseless acts. In fact, most of the dads I have spoken to would not even let such troubled youth have a private cell phone, let alone use one to organize a crime.

So, is there a "father factor" in flash mob violence? You bet there is.

The Father Factor in the Tucson Shooting

"The family was contemptuous. It wasn't the son. It was the father."

Those are the words of a female neighbor of alleged Tucson shooter, Jared Loughner. As details about the Loughner’s family begin to emerge, a not unexpected picture is coming into focus. Apparently, Loughner’s father, Randy, was far from a positive force in the life of his son and family.

Another individual who used to spend a lot of time with the Loughners said the family's home was "cold, dark and unpleasant" and that he always felt "unwelcomed."

Most importantly, this same former friend said he never observed “a particularly loving relationship between the Loughners.” Finally, and sadly, Loughner once told this friend that he loved his dog more than his parents. More details are here.

This is not entirely different than what we learned about the D.C. sniper after his shooting rampage in the fall of 2002. As details of Lee Malvo’s family life emerged, it became clear that he did not have a close relationship with his father – he was, in fact, desperately yearning for a close relationship with his father and tragically chose John Muhammad to replace him.

Decades of research show that boys who have fractured or nonexistent relationships with their fathers are more likely to act out violently than sons who are close to their fathers. Unfortunately, our nation’s prisons are filled with men who had poor relationships with their dads.

Clearly, there were a number of factors that led to Jared Loughner’s heinous act, but to ignore the “father factor” is to ignore an important root. We will continue to monitor this situation as more details of his family life emerge. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families.

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