With serial child molester Jerry Sandusky tucked away in prison, the country’s attention has turned toward the cultural prosecution of those involved in the cover-up. Famed Penn State head coach Joe Paterno, along with the university as a whole, has come under fire for looking the other way (literally) while Sandusky preyed on his victims. Even football itself – the entire institution of the sport – is being called out as an across-the-board den of iniquity that gives cover to corruption.
So with seemingly everybody weathering a share of the blame, I can’t help but wonder: Aren’t the victims’ parents due, if not outright blame, then some responsibility?
It’s a question we aren’t supposed to ask, but I believe it’s a thought that’s crossed most of our minds. Where - in both a figurative and a literal sense – were the boys’ parents while Sandusky repeatedly and for a period of years molested the children? More to the point, where were the boys’ fathers? Fathers are, after all, a kid’s first and greatest protector and a family’s fundamental line of defense (look, there’s a football pun…).
The fact is that none – none! – of Sandusky’s victims’ fathers were much, if at all, a part of their kids’ lives. Which is of course not unusual in settings like the one in which these kids were harmed – charities and camps for disadvantaged children. Kids who are poor or disadvantaged or “troubled” live disproportionately in homes where there’s only a mom and not a dad (or, as commonly, households where there’s a mom and a revolving door of live-in boyfriends, but no dad).
I’m not just hypothesizing, either. If you want to see for yourself, do a quick Internet search for “disadvantaged kids and single-parent households.” The statistics are scary: By and large, fatherless kids are damned from the start.
Anybody who grew up with a caring, present dad understands why. The mere presence of a father is usually enough to scare off any bad guys, whether they be coach, clergy, or high school boyfriend. And of course the converse is true: The absence of a father is a green light to child abusers. That’s what most of us – we who aren’t pedophiles – don’t quite get. Pedophiles like Jerry Sandusky don’t simply target kids, they target kids with no dads. A fatherless child spends his youth with a bull’s-eye on his back.
Which is where things get political, if you’re so inclined.
With so many millions of kids without dads, we’ve come to expect “society” (actually a code word for government) to fill a father’s role as protector and provider. It’s no mistake that divorce rates, which skyrocketed starting in the 1970s, coincide with paternalistic policies and “nanny state” governance.
Especially in election years, we often wonder aloud when exactly it was that Americans became less family-focused and more community-minded. If you’re wondering why the U.S. has turned toward socialist policies, it’s because that’s the government’s way of filling the gap in an increasingly fatherless society.
Think about it. It was a government investigator who uncovered Sandusy’s crimes, a government prosecutor who put him in prison away from kids, and an FBI director who published the post-trial “Freeh report” on the abuse and the cover-up. And how much do you want to bet that there’s a coming push for increased congressional and state oversight of children’s charities?
Sandusky was undoubtedly a father-figure to his victims. And the government is a father-figure – protector and provider – to millions of dad-less kids. But kids don’t need “father-figures.” Kids need fathers.
Contact Mande Wilkes, a local cultural commentator, at firstname.lastname@example.org.