Baker's Dozen: America's Dark Horse Problem

Ben Baker is a junior journalism major and writes "The Baker's Dozen" for the Daily News. His views do not necessarily agree with those of the newspaper. Write to Ben at

Ben Baker

Our nation is in trouble. 

Wildfires have ravaged our lands in the hills of California. Hurricanes have come knocking at our shores. Our capitol spins like a top every day as the investigation to possible Russian collusion continues. But here’s something that may surprise you; none of these are our nation’s most pressing issue. 

If we were to apply the “dark horse” sports analogy to the issues America faces, we might find an issue that is boiling underneath the surface of American society, threatening all of us. Based on this definition, my “dark horse” issue is the breakdown of the family unit. 

In order to better understand the scope of this problem, let’s look at some statistics. A 2015 Pew Research Center report on the state of the American family today says:

  • 69 percent of today’s American children are living in a two-parent household. This is an 18 percent drop from 1960.
  • Even though a majority of children are still growing up in this two-parent arrangement, less than half--46 percent--live with two parents who are both in their first marriage. This is a 27 percent decline from 1960.
  • Fully 62 percent of children live with two married parents, which is an all-time low.
  • The share of children living with one parent is currently 26 percent. That number was just 9 percent in 1960.
  • 54 percent of black children, 29 percent of Hispanic children and about one in five white children live with a single parent.

There are many more statistics about this topic that I could throw at you, but too many numbers hurt the brain. Instead, let’s explore the questions of why this breakdown of the family is occurring, what future implications this problem may have for our nation and beyond and what we as young adults can do to right the ship.

In his 2001 book “Bringing Up Boys,” Dr. James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, “a non-profit organization dedicated to helping families thrive,” suggests that behaviors such as alcoholism, pornography, gambling, and infidelity have seeped into the family’s bloodstream and negatively affected it. Also, many states offer some form of “no-fault divorce” law, which allows people to end their marriages by simply telling a court that their marriage is over. These laws, according to Dobson, result in “thousands of unnecessary family breakups.”

As you can see, there are all sorts of probable reasons for why the American family is crumbling apart. But for space’s sake, I shall move on to our second question: What future implications might this problem have for our nation and the world?

To answer this question, let’s turn back to Dobson. In the same book, he states his and my belief that “the future of Western civilization depends on how we handle this present crisis. Why? Because we as parents are raising the next generation of men who will either lead with honor and integrity or abandon every good thing they have inherited.”

Why does this matter? Because shortly after, Dobson lays out the grave future implications if we as parents fail to fulfill this duty. He writes: 

“Nations that are populated largely by immature, weak-willed, cowardly, and self-indulgent men (and women, I will add) cannot and will not long endure,” Dobson wrote. “These types of men include those who sire and abandon their children; who cheat on their wives; who lie, steal, and cover; who hate their countrymen; and who serve no god but money.”

Dobson states that this is the direction American culture is taking today’s children.

So this is Dr. Dobson’s take on what this problem might mean for our future, and I wholeheartedly agree with him. However, on a more basic level, this increasing lack of a strong family structure leaves many children wondering about what it means to be a responsible adult. When boys do not have a strong father figure they can turn to, they are left clueless about what it means to be a man. In order to find these clues, they have to search for them on their own. Often, this leads boys into less-than-desirable situations. 

Late rapper Tupac Shakur once said, “I know for a fact that had I had a father, I’d have some discipline. I’d have more confidence.” Shakur said that he began running with gangs because they provided things fathers give to children, but especially to boys: structure and protection. “Your mother cannot calm you down the way a man can,” Shakur said. “You need a man to teach you how to be a man.” Without disregarding the great efforts many single mothers go to for their children, I think that last statement Shakur made says it all. Without a strong male figure in their lives, children, but especially boys, will not know what it means to be a man.

So, what can we do to right the familial ship? Of course, there are possible policy solutions, such as making welfare less generous or providing more educational opportunities for single moms. Or perhaps it’s about educating people about the dangers that alcoholism, pornography, and gambling present to the family. 

But as a young man, I want to make a call to action for all the other young men reading this: As you go about your lives, think about the ways you could impact the lives of children in your life. What life lessons could you teach them that could improve the future lots of those children, and in what ways could you teach them?

Dobson mentions a quote in his book that I think is worth sharing here: “No man stands so tall as when he stoops to help a boy.” “Child” could fit there as well. We are men now, and although we may still occasionally act like boys (myself included), we’ve lived long enough to get a basic sense of what it means to be a man. It is our duty, now and for the rest of our lives, to teach children how to be responsible adults and citizens, especially if they live in broken families. If we can do this duty well, I believe the problem before us will begin to correct itself. The task is great, but the reward will be greater.

So let’s get to it. 


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