Let's not do away with headship just yet

H. David Schuringa

June 14, 2013

The issue with fathers in prison isn't that their families are missing headship. Those families are missing fathers. Families with both mothers and fathers in the home tend to do better statistically than those with only one or the other. It's not a headship issue, it's a parent-presence issue.


P.S. Did you really use the phrase "ragged on"? What does menstruation have to do with things here?

June 14, 2013

"Embedded in the structures of creation is the need for a father in the home. You can’t fight the structures of creation any more than you can fight gravity. When you operate contrary to the divine design, life won’t work right. No wonder so many families without fathers disintegrate into chaos."

Um, yeah, no. "The family" is not a structure of creation on par with gravity. Households and kinship ties are social constructs that vary across time and culture. Gravity isn't.

And didn't this kind of pearl-clutching analysis of social decline go away with the Promise Keeper's? Really, if manly men just manned up to lead the women and childrens like good manly men should, all would be well on earth as it is in heaven? No one needs that kind of blinkered reasoning, which is really just an excuse to reassert the fiction of male superiority.

If you honestly want to address broken homes and crime, maybe take a look at deeper threats like poverty and racism, among others. Trying to reboot patriarchy isn't going to help anyone, women or men.

Josh Larsen
TC Staff
June 14, 2013

Hi Tim,

Josh, TC editor here. David Schuringa is away at a conference today and unable to access our comment thread, but he did tell me that your interpretation of that phrase was not his intent. In his words, "Ragged on is not the same as 'on the rag' - which is a '70s reference to menstruation."

June 14, 2013

Thanks Josh. I was sure he didn't mean it that way, but also my understanding is they have the same etymological root.


Adam Jones
June 14, 2013

You've shown a correlation between missing fathers and prison, but I don't see a convincing argument for headship.

Furthermore, we must admit, as we do in logic classes, that correlation does not imply causation.

Whitney H
June 14, 2013

A lack of father is not the cause of a family disintegrating into chaos. Families break down due to the social economic pressures, racism and misogyny that have permeated every aspect of our culture. If our culture truly celebrated community, we would uphold all kinds of families. We would be the village that helped to raise the child. We would be the support for the single mother. We would be the stability for the parentless child. Growing up fatherless may create a hole in the heart but that hole need not be deep, dark and angry, as the author says. With guidance from the community that hole could be filled with curiosity, understanding and determination.
Crime and brokeness is not the fault of absent fathers, it is the fault of an absent society.

June 15, 2013

Hi Eric T,

Could you flesh out this statement: "If you honestly want to address broken homes and crime, maybe take a look at deeper threats like poverty and racism, among others"? To me, it seems that growing up without a parent is probably one of the largest, most holistic setbacks a human being can have--psychologically, emotionally, as well as practically. Also, it seems that the author has extensive experience dealing with prisoners and their families (see bio at the bottom of the post), so I think we should give him some credit here.

One last thing, if you don't mind--where does he was propose that if men "manned up" that all would be well? I think the author was trying to say that men have a crucial role in the family. And when something crucial goes wrong in any situation, there are invariably bad results. I'm pretty sure he'd say mothers play an important role in the family as well, but in this particular post he chose to explore the father's role.

June 15, 2013

Hey MJ,

First, about his credentials. Yes, he has experience working with prisoners and their families. But that doesn't make him an expert on the broader social patterns he addressed.

Second, no doubt growing up without two parents impacts a child in profound ways. But, as others in this thread have noted, the author goes too far in linking absent *fathers* with social decline--especially crime. And crime was my main focus the question you quoted. Many, many factors shape criminal behavior and social patterns of crime.

Last, the whole article is an argument for reclaiming male "headship." The example of crime and prison life is meant to show us what happens when fathers fail to "man up." But these quotes in particular support my point more directly:

"The fact is, though, that headship is here to stay whether you believe in it or not. The proof is in the prisons, which offer a picture of what happens in the absence of headship."

"When you operate contrary to the divine design, life won’t work right. No wonder so many families without fathers disintegrate into chaos."

"Instead of the prison picture of what happens without fathers, let’s imagine dads (imperfect as we all are) who embrace the spirit of Jesus and remain at their post."

Branson Parler
June 17, 2013

Agreed that families break down for all kinds of reasons. But it seems odd to praise the village that raises a child without simultaneously calling for the child's own father to raise the child (and castigating the father that doesn't). Further, it seems hopeful (but perhaps not logical?) to assume that a culture or society that produces a good number of fathers who essentially abandon their children is also somehow going to value others stepping in to fill that gap.

Also, this post proves the problem with any kind of dialogue about "headship," in that everyone simply assumes their own version of what they take "headship" to be and then proceed to interact with others as though their version is what is also in the other person's head.

Whitney H
June 17, 2013

In my work I meet many fathers who are unable to raise children due to current circumstances in their lives. Many are dealing with addiction, mental illness and/or FASD (among other things). For some, the journey is long, painful and potentially dangerous for children to be exposed to. Some of the children of these fathers end up in our prisons (addiction, trauma and abuse are cyclical).
Some fathers are able to have healthier relationships with their children once they no longer have daily contact. I ‘assume’ that there are many versions of headship and that this could be considered one.
It is in these situations that I am hopeful (yes, hopeful!) that the community would be an especially welcoming place to those children, mothers, foster and adoptive parents as they go forward. I am hopeful that communities and churches can help to break the cycle by stepping in to fill some of the void.

June 18, 2013

Is there a definition of "headship" that does *not* posit essentialized gender differences that support and are supported by various social hierarchies? The problem isn't with the dialogue; the problem is with the idea itself, no?

Marta L.
June 24, 2013

To say that the "proof" for your claim about headship is in the prisons strikes me as very... suspect, at least. I don't doubt many criminals and prisoners didn't have a father. I also don't doubt most of them are Afro-American or Hispanic. Does this mean being those races causes you to be more criminal? Of course not, because <i>correlation doesn't mean causation</i>. Both are associated with poverty and all that goes along with that - bad education, lack of opportunity, lack of stability, and getting the short end of the criminal justice stick by a long shot, among other things. I'm sure lacking fathers has an impact, but to say it's the only or even major cause? This post just haven't shown why I should accept that.

I find it interesting that this post starts out with TV shows (which focus on middle-class families and have what I affectionately call Doofus Dad, a man who doesn't know how to manage or relate to his kids among other things) and then slide into your discussion of the prison population, which is really an issue for lower-income families. In many ways, Doofus Dad is the natural outcome of headship: the man who works all day to provide for his family and provides discipline and order, but isn't really around for the more intimate moments. We need families where both parents are around to support their children not just materially but emotionally and spiritually. And with the economic realities of our world, the only way I see that happening is if both parents also contribute to providing the material things. We need both mom and dad around to help with homework and braid hair and tell bedtime stories, which probably means a more equitable division of other tasks as well. Not headship - parenthood. Actually, I expect when we send the message dads are to be obeyed and respected and be the king of their castle, <i>this</i> makes true parenthood harder because it just never matches the reality.

I have to admit, I was a bit taken back by your statement "<i>God adds a special measure of His grace to families whose dads are absent by no choice of their own</i>," followed up by your statement that when the father is absent through his choice (not the child's), the child suffers. This seems awfully convenient on the one hand since it keeps the focus on dads who choose not to support their families, and rather condemning of God on the other - if God is truly filling the gap in one case, why not the other? It is better to recognize, I think, that there isn't always justice on earth in these situations: sometimes other men (or other women!) step up to fill the void in the kids' lives, and sometimes they don't, whatever the cause of a parents' lead.

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