Jennifer Aniston and Eugene Scott Reflect on the Fatherlessness Epidemic

By Eugene C. Scott

In 2010 Jennifer Aniston became the spokeswoman for fatherlessness. In her movie, “The Switch,” Aniston plays Kassie, a self-assured single woman, who Aniston describes as “ready to have a child and she’s not in a place where she feels she needs a man to do it.”

Ms Aniston, I don’t believe, was intentionally promoting fatherlessness. She was simply promoting her movie. I don’t think she gave a second thought to the plight of the 24 million children growing up in homes without fathers in America today, at least until trouble-maker Bill O’Reilly brought it up.

I think about it though–maybe too much. I can’t really help it. Like the kid in “The Switch,” and every other fatherless child, I had no choice in growing up without a dad. My father died of a heart attack when I was 11. I often wonder what life would have been like, both good and bad, if dad had come home that night after welding bumpers in his best friend’s garage. I only know after that summer night in 1968, life got down-right hard. So much so if I had my way, no kid would ever have to grow up without a dad–or with a bad one.

So, Aniston really struck a nerve. “[Kassie] wants a child more than she needs a man,” said Aniston. Want and need are key words here. Kassie may not need a man to become a mother–maybe all she needs is a sperm-donor. But the kid needs a dad. And believe me, no kids wants to grow up playing baseball or dolls with just a sperm-donor.

But my argument against raising kids without good dads is not sentimental and anecdotal. My case is both statistical and personal.

  • Kids in fatherless homes are twice as likely to do time in jail. All of my siblings, including me, found ourselves in jail.
  • 63% of youth suicides happen in fatherless homes. I am alive because my mom–and God–intervened.
  • 71% of high school dropouts live in fatherless homes. Three of four Scott kids failed to earn a diploma.
  • Fatherless children are at greater risk for drug and alcohol abuse and mental disorders. Okay, so this is getting too personal.
  • Single parent families are more likely to live below the poverty line. I had to start working at age 13 and at 16 dropped out of high school in order to work full-time.
  • Children without fathers are more likely to beget kids to fatherless homes. This may be the most painful personal statistic. My sisters’ children grew up without their fathers and now several of their children (a third generation) have kids who don’t know their dads, though one family is motherless (equally painful). And the cycle seems unlikely to stop. How I weep for them.

Unfortunately these are just a few of the obstacles us kids without fathers have to contend with. There are myriad more.

Losing my father left a huge hole in my life. Fatherlessness is leaving a vast canyon in our culture. We gape at the hole and then try to fill it up or deny it’s there.

For many years I blamed my dad for his death, just as if he had flipped me off and walked out the door. After all, he smoked and ate fatty foods. There is always blame enough to go around. But that was simply a way for me to try to deal with the loss. Blaming my dad did zero to alleviate the pain and problem. Sure Hollywood, et. al. have exacerbated or glorified the problem by promoting what they think are funny or unusual stories for the sake of the box office. Or worse they have promoted an ideology that sounds progressive and wise, but is not. As a man, I get the feeling some think life would be better without men, much less fathers. (Responsibility is another issue and I believe men, no matter the contributing cultural factors, need to own their role in this epidemic. More on this next week). But blame. What a waste of time.

Denial is another way we try to fill the gap absent fathers leave in our lives and world.

My family often said we were better off without him. He was strict. Dad would have never let me grow my hair out like I had. Real men didn’t wear long sissy, hippy hair. Sometimes dad got really angry, especially with my oldest sister. Today he may have bordered on what we call abusive. And he made me mow the lawn and sweep out the garage and clean greasy car parts.

But even as we sat around the basement living in denial, my heart ached for my dad to yell down the stairs: “I told you kids to get to bed. Don’t make me come down there.”

If you tell yourself something untrue long enough, maybe that’ll make it so. It didn’t. Listen to pop culture on fatherhood and you will come to believe it is, at best, archaic, and at worst abusive. It’s not.

In his book “To Own a Dragon: Reflections on Growing up Without a Father,” Donald Miller relates how hard he tried to fill his father gap. To no avail. Not even God, the Father of all will fill it. When something crucial to our lives goes missing, God is not capricious enough to replace it with a stand-in, or even stand in the hole Himself. As it should, this is why grief lingers. Forty years after my father’s unexpected death, I look back at all the silly, hurtful, even beautiful things I tried to replace him with. I’m glad I failed. Now–mostly–I live with this hole in my soul willingly. I know now to fill it is to not acknowledge it.

Perhaps that is what we, as a culture,  do too. Like bewildered people watching a fault line grow in the street before us, we deny, blame, anything but say, “Look, a terrifying hole. What are we going to do about that?”

Jennifer, Kassie may not need a man, but we all need a father. And it’s okay.

Eugene C. Scott writes the Wednesday Neighborhood Cafe blog.  If you’re reading this on Facebook and you’d like to join the conversation, click here. Eugene co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, CO.

P.S. See…/a/fatherless_children.htm for more stats and for more local Colorado stats.


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12 responses to “Jennifer Aniston and Eugene Scott Reflect on the Fatherlessness Epidemic

  1. WOW! Awesome post, Eugene. Informative, heart-felt, and thought-provoking. You should sell it to a magazine, because that’s publishable material. Thanks for sharing it!

    • You’re welcome, Mike. Thanks for the compliment. I have had this issue on my heart–all my life lol–since last August. I will look for another spot to publish it. You are a great ministry partner. Eugene

  2. Dad, I am glad that I have grown up with you as my father. I can’t wait to go mountain biking with you this summer.

  3. elna

    I lost my dad when I was ten. Amazingly it was after I became a parent myself that I had this epiphany that my dad would have chosen not to die. I had no reason to be angry with him for leaving us behind and leaving my mom lonely! Anger =fear.
    Great insight that God will not fill the holes in our souls. So many times we expect God to be a Band-aid, but He allowed certain things in our lifes. He put me in this place, in this family, at this time, and I just need to trust that even with all my ‘holes-in-my-soul’ God will still lead me through.
    I once did a bible-study and the only thing that stayed with me, was “what is the biggest thing you can do for your child as a mom?” “To love their father”

    God bless

    • Elna: In anger–but out of fear and sadness–I had told myself my dad did not love me and had abandoned the entire family. But he didn’t want to die. Then after my kids were born, I began doing and saying fun/good things with them (you know wrestling, uttering kooky sayings: “skin the rabbit” when undressing them for a bath) and I wondered where such things came from. Then I began to realize many were things my dad had said and done. I had a crisis of reality. How could he not love me when he did all of these loving things with me? The answer to that question was a big part of my continual healing.

      Thanks for your story too, Elna. And what a message from God. Instead of God telling you to do something for yourself or your kids, he tells you to love your kid’s father. That sounds just like God.

  4. Georgie-ann

    Wow. I just left a post above, where I alluded to tragedy in my life. I lost my father to suicide at 7 years old. Don’t ask. Bottom line: you are absolutely right. It is devastating. I was lucky to be blessed with a loving and honorable step-father who kindly adopted myself and my brother. Given A LOT of time and prayer and life and encounters with God, scripture, and prayer meetings, I have to say that even such a tragedy has come to have a very poignant and relevant place in my life and walk with God. First question (for me): would I have ever even searched for God and the meaning of my life, had I not had to face this huge hole in my heart, mind and identity, (given that my family promoted an intellectual atheism and was basically anti-religious, anti-god)? I know that my pain in facing this life was directing me to look elsewhere, whereas otherwise I would have been inclined to settle for a comfortable, non-reflective level of existence. Second effect: having experienced a loving and willing adoption process by a generous and upright step-father, when it came time to “understand” the New Testament spirit of adoption as sons (and daughters) of God, I felt like I already had an inside track! — I could “feel the love” and gratuitous acceptance of this connection to God, whereas many of my fellow spiritual travellers were still scratching their heads! Third: the passages through life’s stages and opportunities — the blessing of having two sons who may have resembled my father in some way; the wisdom of great Christian writers also leading me closer to God and deeper consideration of eternal issues; wonderful prayer meetings and Christian friends — have brought me closer to a healing and heart connection to what I thought was gone and would be missing forever, as well as a very deep connection to the existential pain, loneliness and alienation that underlies much of the modern person’s dry and godless “reality.” One of my favorite personal sayings is that “in God’s economy, nothing is ever wasted.”

    • Georgie-ann:

      It is so good to hear there were others in your life whom God used to love you and nurture you. As you will see in today’s blog about this same issue, I did not have that blessing. But you brought up a fantastic point that I wanted to mention but it did not fit in the theme of the blog. A friend of mine said it this way: God never wastes pain (as you said below).

      God used my fatherlessness to entice me to let Him become my adopted (rightful) Father. I do not believe God took my father away, however, in order for this to happen. But God did allow it and then redeemed it.

      I gained Christ through my loss. I miss my dad still and especially wish he could have met my children–and them him. But I do not wish to change the past. God has worked wonders through it and I love God all the more for how He can take pain and turn it to beauty. May God continue to do that for you and all of us!

      Thanks for reading and commenting. Eugene

      • Georgie-ann

        Dear Eugene, I often feel that the fatherless (from early childhood) who do meet and share, can easily become a sympathetic and understanding family for one another. I still maintain a connection to a student I was tutoring years ago — (and his whole family) — whose father died in a solo plane crash when he was only 6 months old. How my heart went out to him!

        I firmly believe that if we let him, God will redeem the time and “give us back the locust eaten years.” When we surrender to his creativity, and become willing to participate in his plan, amazing things can develop.

        I have many many stories of very special things that have happened and developed, as a result of bringing these hidden woes and desires of my heart to my understanding and loving Creator God. Some are truly supernatural moments. Others are part of experiencing the on-going self-renewing fullness of my Catholic faith, which is dedicated to prayers for all (including those who have “gone on”), known as the Communion of Saints. It is so comforting and healing to have faith that our loves and prayerful (invisible) connections do live on, even though we can’t see, touch and hold on to them.

        Having been exposed also to various Protestant venues — I am an adult convert to Catholicism — I do realize that this terminology may seem weird to some. But we are adults having a conversation, and it would be dishonest of me to withhold relevant information which has truly become a meaningful part of my experience in this matter.

        God bless you! All for now!


      • Georgie-ann:

        I read this after I posted my response to you other comment. Your language is fine. Your heart is full and I appreciate how God has and is using your own story to bring his redemption to others. Eugene

  5. elna

    Question: does your prayers for the dead mean something to them? or is rather a way for you to make peace with them and their death?

    Asked as a nosy adult :))

    • Georgie-ann

      Dear Elna, I think I would have to say “both!” In searching for the “meaning” of my life and this dramatic loss that I had experienced — (it was very unusual in those days) — and even with all the good and kind things that people tried to do for me, I was still troubled and devastated inwardly. Nothing could satisfy outwardly, even though I was moderately successful at the things I did, and I was always searching for something to connect the loose ends, to bridge the gap, to find what was lost, to ease the pain.

      I absolutely wanted to find an answer in Reality. “Escaping from the pain” was not a viable option, because I knew that that would be running away from something, rather than finding something. Any temporary or artificial substitutes would not constitute the “answer” that I was looking for.

      I must have had some kind of “blind faith” that a true cosmic answer did exist. Gradually, step by step, piece by piece, God brought me to Himself through truly supernatural experiences, prayer meetings and Bible studies, the warm-hearted kindness of Christians, various church settings and teachings, and finally Baptism as an adult into the Catholic Church (over 30 years ago).

      The Catholic Church believes that every mass that is offered, is offered for the whole world, including the seen and the unseen. It is a generous offering of our prayers and love. In many Catholic Churches, this is repeated daily. I believe in the connection between us (our hearts) and things we love but do not (cannot) see:

      1. Hebrews 11:1
      [ By Faith We Understand ]” Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

      I know better than to intentionally try to invade this holy space for details of curiosity. It is enough to feel the connection, the love, the cosmic presence. I trust God with the details. We are all in a process of growing and evolving spiritually, the seen and the unseen:

      1. Hebrews 12:1
      [ The Race of Faith ] “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,”

      I believe that God always has our best interests at heart. This visible world is problematic for us at best. We will not find our own greatest happinesses solely in the offerings of this world, but while we are here, we can help God “redeem the time.” God hears our needs and prayers and will lead us in the way to go, if we trust Him to be our guide and if we faint not,…(and even if we do faint, as long as we keep turning to Him!)

      Isaiah 40:31
      “But those who wait on the LORD Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint.”

      We are “surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.” Our bond is love. Love edifies. That’s all I really need to know.

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