I have a rather iconic picture of the American family ideal. Some might even call it old fashioned. It is a picture of a man standing on the porch of his home. His wife and children stand just behind his shoulder.
The man is steadfast and resolute. With shotgun in hand he wears an expression of defiance. It is an expression that says, 'Attempt to harm my family at your own peril.' I believe men should be guardians of family and community.
This of course is not the real world — or so I was reminded repeatedly during the promotional tour for my book, He Talk Like a White Boy.
A typical reaction was that of a woman in Minneapolis who admonished me, "My mother was a single parent and she raised my brother and me and we turned out just fine."
Understood. Although it is also true that everyone who smokes does not die of cancer. In fact there are those who smoke every day for years and live long, healthy lives. That, however, does not negate the mountains of evidence that smoking is dangerous for your health. Nor does it discourage the larger society's campaign to stop people from indulging in the habit.
This may come as a shock to some, but I am well aware that this is the real world, and in the real world stuff happens — relationships fail, people have sex outside of marriage and have babies out of wedlock. However, just as we can't avoid the real-life consequences of smoking neither can we ignore the cost of the rise in out-of-wedlock births, divorce and the concurrent steep declines in marriage rates.
According to research done by the Family Research Council at Rutgers University, preschool age children growing up in non-intact families are three times more likely to suffer emotional and behavioral problems. As they grow older and begin attending school, young people from non-intact families have higher rates of absence and tardiness and are more likely to drop out of school.
Teens from non-intact families are more likely to smoke, use drugs and alcohol and are more likely to engage in sex at an early age, and thus more likely to become single parents.
The effects of family breakdown do not end with children. A majority of single mothers suffer lower standards of living, higher rates of physical abuse and shorter lives. There is more, of course. Like the research on smoking, the information — stacks of it — is there for all to read and digest.
The reasons for many of the ills of the real world families and communities are varied, but ultimately the buck stops with men. Women predominate in single-parent households, and thugs do not run neighborhoods because women have failed. Evil lurks in dark alleyways because men have discarded notions of duty and honor and embraced the new school mantra of self-actualization.
In our rush for self-fulfillment we abdicated our duty to family and community. We have failed to be husbands, failed to be fathers, we have failed to pick the shotgun up off the mantel, stand at the entrance to our homes and neighborhoods and dare the devil to step across the threshold.
I am rather fond of my old-fashioned family icon — it has served humanity well for millennia — though admittedly in the years since my own marriage it has been realigned. In my home, as I imagine is true with most marriages nowadays, my wife stands by my side. We are partners in the raising and nurturing of our children, and we are both accountable for the safety of our family and neighborhood.
In the real world we are not successful unless I am by her side, shotgun in hand.
Joseph C. Phillips is an actor and writer based in Los Angeles.