The first anniversary of the Valentine’s Day Massacre-in-contemporary reality, the Parkland shooting on Feb. 14, 2018, brings memories of students-turned-activists and vows to end mass shootings. But mass shootings in the U.S. are now so common that our current rate of almost one-per-day in the ensuing year makes it clear that the lessons of Parkland are far from being learned.
What are the lessons? We can blame toxic politics, poor family values, violence in the media, violence in video games, access to guns, and mental illness. Each is a player. But our daughters live in the same homes, exposed to the same toxic politics, family values, the same access to the same guns, video games, and media, and similar mental illnesses. Yet our daughters are not killing. Our sons are. Why?
Aside from being male, almost all of these lone mass shooters has in common one other quality: dad-deprivation. That is, minimal or no father involvement. Dad-deprivation was common not only to Nikolas Cruz of Parkland, but also to Adam Lanza (Sandy Hook); Robert Bowers (Synagogue); David Katz (Jacksonville); Elliott Rodgers (UC Santa Barbara); Dylan Roof (Charleston Church); and, most telling, to the deadliest mass shooting in recent U.S. history by Stephen Paddock (Las Vegas).
How and why does dad-deprivation create such toxicity? One answer is that while both girls and boys suffer in dozens of ways from a lack of father involvement, the boys suffer more drastically than their sisters, and differently than their sisters.
Dad-deprived boys suffer not only from lack of a dad as role model, but also from the bonds good dads tend to create by doing with their children, whether via roughhousing, coaching, teasing, camping, chasing, skiing — not just watching the children while playing at the playground, but playing with their children.
The father-child bond dads are more likely to create — but which moms can also create — allows dads to enforce boundaries with less resentment and rebellion. Enforced boundaries is the pivotal preventer of the boy crisis. Enforced boundaries is a prerequisite for postponed gratification, and therefore an ability to complete homework or the practice necessary to excel in sports or other activities, and allow a child to have pride rather than shame.
Dad-deprived boys are especially likely to fail in the two biggest predictors of success — reading and writing — in all 63 of the largest developed nations. As survival is less of a problem, the largest developed nations give more permission for divorce, and for children to be raised without dads.
More counterintuitively, dad-deprived boys are likely to have less empathy and fewer social skills, and therefore fewer friends. Hence the loneliness of almost all the mass shooters.
Additionally, a dad-deprived boy is often overprotected and therefore sensitive, so he acutely feels the diminished respect from teachers and peers when he does not succeed at either school or activities. He is more likely to feel ashamed, depressed, and without real-life purpose, thus seeking dopamine fixes via addiction to video games, drugs, opioids or porn. Or, to escape the depression, suicide. A mass shooting is not just a homicide; it is also a suicide — either literally, or practically.
If a dad-deprived boy’s anger is great enough, a school shooting may direct his anger at those who gave him no respect, or a mass shooting at people or groups he feels are depriving him of respect. Middle-class families, with high expectations, magnify the internalized shame of failure in school and failure to launch in life. These mass shootings are usually by white males, often from middle-class homes.
In brief, these boys hurt. And boys who hurt, hurt us. Mass shootings are just a symptom. ISIS recruits are almost entirely boys with minimal or no father involvement. Dad-deprived boys riddle our cities with crime — thus while we have thousands of women’s centers, our nation’s men’s centers are called prisons. Among the 93 percent male prisoners, more than 90 percent are dad-deprived. The boys, going from a home with no dad to a school with no male teachers, are yearning for guidance, and vulnerable to the seduction of identity-by-gang leader or drug dealer.
Are there solutions? If dad involvement is a solution, we have to ask, “Do dads want to be involved?” When the Pew Research Center finally asked fully-employed dads whether they would prefer to be full-time dads or full-time workers, 49 percent responded that they would prefer to be full-time dads — but their family needed the money. When we honored boys who served in war as heroes, young men were willing to die. When we honor young men as heroes who serve their family, young men will be willing to be “father warriors.” Years after John Lennon joined a men’s group I formed, he told me that his decision to leave his solo career and raise his son Sean full-time was “the best decision of my life.”
What if the involvement of the biological dad is not possible? Involve your son in the Boy Scouts, sports, or a faith-based community. Schools can recruit male teachers for elementary schools, and revive recess and vocational school training.
Divorce is best prevented by communication, not legislation. Schools can develop curricula in communication from elementary school on.
If boys were prone to express the pain of their dad-deprivation, their hashtag might be #NoRoleModel. If they were to ask for what they were missing, it might be #DadToo.
Dr. Warren Farrell is the co-author of The Boy Crisis. He was elected three times to the Board of the National Organization for Women in New York City.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.