What is the biggest single issue facing this nation? This was the question I pondered when the ladies at The Conservative Woman emailed though a request to submit a special blog giving my particular take on the State of the Nation. Well there are a lot of issues out there, aren’t there? EU referendum, collapse of marriage, huge increase in state interference, egalitarianism, cultural Marxism, government debt, personal debt, sexual ethics, poor education, gargantuan welfare state, diabolical foreign policy etc etc etc. Which one is most pressing?

Actually, for me there is no dilemma. Press me on what is the single biggest social or political issue facing this country, and I don’t hesitate to say that it is the collapse of fatherhood. Almost all social ills can be traced back to this issue, if you follow the line back far enough, and addressing the problem is key to beginning to turn the country from its relentless drive to becoming a Third World Apple Monarchy (Banana Republic doesn’t quite fit the bill).

However, although I could write a piece just focusing on the problem, I’m not really interested in that, although problem-identification is necessary. We conservatives tend to be extremely good at pointing out what is wrong with the world, but generally not terribly good at proposing tangible solutions. I’d like to rectify that in this blog and another one on Wednesday, if I can.

And no the solutions do not include government at any level. That’s something we conservatives are also very good at doing; saying we want smaller government, but then unwittingly calling on the State to provide solutions. This is not to say that the State doesn’t bear a heavy responsibility for the current state of fatherhood today. With its encouraging of divorce, its dogmatic commitment to feminism and egalitarianism, and its creation of mass fatherlessness through the welfare system, it does indeed. But it is futile to look to the state to reverse these trends. As things stand, no government is going to reverse the easy divorce laws, egalitarian dogma or the gargantuan welfare system. And so we must look elsewhere.

The solution – and for me this is the foundation of proper conservatism – lies in grassroots solutions to major societal problems. If there is hope for a revival of the family, it lies in individual fathers going against the grain of the attack on fatherhood and the family, striving against all odds to become better fathers – ones who will begin to affect a real transformation firstly in their own homes, and then in wider society. So over the course of two pieces, I want to look at the issue of fatherhood, firstly the problem, and then in part two, offering some practical solutions.

Sociologists and politicians on the right of the political spectrum rightly tell us that fatherlessness is one of the biggest problems facing society. Often they will present the problem in terms of sheer numbers and statistics: “The number of households where there is no father present from the child’s birth has risen from X to Y in 40 years”. “The number of children entering their teens with their parents still married is now just X amount, compared to Y amount just 30 years ago”. “Children who grow up in homes where the mother and father remain married throughout are X times more likely to get better grades and be in employment than those children who grow up in homes where this is not the case”.

These sorts of things are perfectly true and valid. However, there is a danger with this kind of statistical approach that can lead us to believe that the problem is simply one of a lack of fathers. Or to put it another way, we can come to see the problem of fatherlessness as simply a quantitative problem – lack of fathers – and then tend to see the solutions in the same terms – more fathers needed.

Yet much as the quantitative side of the fatherlessness problem is true, it is not the be-all-and-end-all of the issue and in fact it only really scratches the surface of the fatherhood problem. In addition to the quantitative issue of fatherhood, there is also a qualitative issue that often seems to pass conservative analysts by. Of course a father is better than no father (unless of course the father in question is actively abusing his children, in which case the child will be better off in a home where he is not present), but there is more to it than this and we ought not to suppose that fatherlessness, per se, is the only problem that needs solving. Rather, there is also a much deeper issue of what fatherhood actually is.

I think it almost certainly the case that one of the many reasons we now have an epidemic of fatherlessness is that back in the day, when fatherlessness was not the problem it now is, many fathers failed to grasp what fatherhood should really look like. Certainly, most men grasped that being a father meant providing for their family and protecting their family – which is well and good – but unfortunately many men didn’t go beyond a superficial interpretation of what this means.

Now I have no desire whatsoever to defend feminism – it is a devastating ideology, not to mention a complete failure on its own terms, having succeeded in “liberating” men not women – yet it must be recognised that its advance did not appear out of a vacuum. It came from somewhere. Where?

Many answers might be given, and the role of Government and big corporations with their promises of a better life are certainly well worth a study or two in themselves. But behind all this, feminist ideology is at heart basically parasitical, feeding on the discontent of women. Where did this discontent stem from? Unfortunately, much of it grew out of the failure of many – perhaps even most – men to fulfil their roles as husbands and fathers, above and beyond the basics of providing and protecting.

As a general rule – and I do emphasise the word general – a woman who has a self-sacrificial husband, who loves, devotes and really gives himself to their children, is not going to be discontented enough with her lot to want to embrace an ideology that sees marriage and motherhood as a curse. Yes, there might be exceptions, but they will be rare. As I say, none of this is to defend feminism one iota, but it is simply to recognise that it has its origins in something, and that something is to a large extent due to the failure of men.

All this is to say that simply fixing the numbers, if that were possible, won’t work, although of course it would be way better than the train wreck we have now. Nor is there any no point in looking to statist solutions to fix fatherlessness either. The State is both parasite and host in all this, feeding off the discontent of women to grow fatter and fatter, and then devising numerous ways to provoke still further discontent.

No, the solution is to be found on the micro level and it involves every father out there striving every day to become a better father. It involves every father out there not contenting himself with being merely provider and protector on some superficial level, but rather having a deep desire to bless his children through his words, his character and his way of living each and every day.

Or we could put it this way: true fatherhood is costly. If you are a father, how much does fatherhood cost you? Generosity, benevolence, love, forgiveness, mercy and grace are far costlier than harshness, indifference, aloofness, coldness or absence. They require a daily struggle against sin. They require humbling ourselves to say sorry to our children when we’ve wronged them. They require listening patiently to them and taking pleasure in what for us may seem trivial, but what for them are really important things. And a whole lot more.

I don’t know about the fathers that are reading this, but I struggle with these things. They are not easy requirements for a sinful and selfish human being. Yet they are part of a struggle that all fathers should delight to be in the midst of, since victory in this struggle means blessing to your children. And if enough fathers engage in the struggle, ultimately it will bring blessing to our society too. In the second part of this piece, I will look in more detail at some of the practical issues involved in this high calling of fatherhood.

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