I’ve heard the statistics before, but I’ll never get used to them. 71% of high school dropouts come from fatherless homes. 71% of pregnant teenagers come from fatherless homes. And 85% of teenagers with behavioral disorders, 90% of homeless and runaway teens, 85% of youth in prison, and 63% of youth suicides come from fatherless homes.
As scholar Peter Wehner noted this week, “In 1970, 12 percent of children lived with a single parent at any given time; over the next 40 years, that number increased by 124 percent, rising to 27 percent of children in 2010. Over the course of their childhoods, as many as half of all American children will spend some time in a single-parent household.” In most cases the missing parent is dad and the numbers paint a clear picture of the horrific toll his absence takes on his children.
In the new documentary film Irreplaceable, Tim Sisarich, executive director of Focus on the Family New Zealand and father of five states the problem: “It used to be all about the family, but times are changing…. Society doesn’t see family the way I do.”
The film documents Sisarich’s travels across the world seeking to understand how Western culture sees the family while clarifying his own Christian view.
Through interviews with experts such as Eric Metaxas, Roger Scruton, John Stonestreet, Nancy Pearcey, Elizabeth Marquart, and Helen Alveré, Sisarich shows how the devalued sex of the hook-up culture results in a string of greater dangers.
Devalued sex leads to marriage being devalued from a permanent bond between one woman and one man to a relationship that’s whatever you make of it “for as long as you both shall love.” Parenthood—one mom and one dad— was traditionally the primary reason for marriage (companionship coming in second). Today parenthood is devalued to a lifestyle choice we can take or leave. Even the gender of the “parents” has become variable with the belief that men and women are wholly interchangeable, a fallacy that neuropsychologist Dr. Anne Moir puts to rest when she tells Sisarich that she can easily tell a man from a woman by glancing at their brain scans.
And so children have been devalued from a gift and blessings to an expensive, time-intensive consumer choice. And if we opt for a child, we don’t accept just any child. It has to be the right child—wanted, arriving when convenient, the right gender, and completely whole. The rest we abort in the name of autonomy, which, the film points out, is too often really abandonment.
Thus birthrates in the West are far below replacement. This lack of desire to have children, points out Jonathan Last author of What to Expect When No One’s Expecting, marks a sick and probably dying civilization—dying both figuratively and literally.
Early in the film, BreakPoint radio’s John Stonestreet relates the famous story of G. K. Chesterton, the great Christian author and commentator of the early twentieth century. When a publisher proposed the question “What is Wrong with the World?” Chesterton reputedly responded:
G. K. Chesterton.
The problem with the family is, as Stonestreet puts it, not “out there,” but “in here,” in every human heart. And Sisarich begins peeling back the layers of his own heart looking for the problem with family.
This leads him to St. Petersburg, Russia and the Hermitage Museum where he stands before Rembrandt’s painting, The Return of the Prodigal Son meditating on the meaning of a father’s love. He underlines the need for every Christian and all people of good will to re-embrace the traditional meaning of sex, marriage, parenthood, children, and family. The solution to the problem of the family begins with each of us.
Irreplaceable is part of a larger project at Focus on the Family called, appropriately, “The Family Project.” Focus is convinced that “As God’s people are transformed by a better understanding of His plan for families, we’ll be better able to show His love for humanity.” Creating Irreplaceable is just the beginning.
On May 6, Irreplaceable will be in theaters across the country for one night. Church groups, small groups, engaged or dating couples, moms and dads, teenaged children, college students, and anyone concerned or interested in family can order tickets online.
“It used to be all about the family,” says Sisarich early in the film, “but times are changing.” Times are always changing and as God changes our hearts, it can be all about the family once again.