There are very few solidly pro-faith and pro-family films out today. There are not many professionally-made Christian movies around. Courageous however is all this and more. Above all, its message is the overwhelming importance of fathers and fatherhood.
And such a message is vitally necessary since fatherlessness is one of our most challenging and pressing social problems today. The evidence is all around us: kids growing up without fathers suffer big time, and only those with ideological blinders on refuse to face this reality.
This film tackles this issue head on. It not only graphically demonstrates what happens to kids who grow up without fathers, it shows how all this can be turned around. It is a clarion call for dads to take their responsibilities seriously. And it is a vivid reminder of the importance of faith, and the role it plays in courageous families.
The film centres on four sheriffs in America’s south who face dangerous situations on a regular basis. Courage is called for on this job, but the film drives home the truth that courage is needed everywhere: in our homes, our jobs, and our relationships.
The sheriffs see firsthand the effects of fatherlessness in their work. Gangs, crime and violence are all directly related to fatherless families. As has been known for years, children will join up with gangs simply as a substitute family. What they lacked at home – usually in terms of father absence – they try to make up for in a gang.
They want to belong. They want to have a sense of family. They want to have approval from other older males. What they really want is their dad. But that has been stolen from them in so many cases. So they resort to a surrogate family to make up for this major deficit in their lives.
The social science research on this is overwhelming. Indeed, for decades now the evidence has been abundantly clear: kids need their fathers. Without dads, they suffer immeasurably, and by every social indicator. This is true in overseas data as well as Australian data.
Back in 2003 a National Strategic Conference on Fatherhood was held in Parliament House Canberra. Headed up by Warwick Marsh of the Fatherhood Foundation, it presented a compelling case for the need of fathers. A 16-page booklet called Fathers in Families was presented there. Part of this booklet was a summary of the Australian data on fatherlessness.
With 43 footnotes, “The Facts of Fatherlessness” present a wide range of evidence on the damage done to kids when they grow up without a father. As the author of that document, let me here present its introduction:
“Fatherlessness is a growing problem in Australia and the Western world. Whether caused by divorce and broken families, or by deliberate single parenting, more and more children grow up without fathers. Indeed, 85 per cent of single parent families are fatherless families. Father absence has been shown to be a major disadvantage to the well being of children. The following is a summary of the evidence for the importance of fathers and the need for two-parent families.
“One expert from Harvard medical school who has studied over 40 years of research on the question of parental absence and children’s well-being said this: ‘What has been shown over and over again to contribute most to the emotional development of the child is a close, warm, sustained and continuous relationship with both parents.’ Or as David Blankenhorn has stated in Fatherless America: ‘Fatherlessness is the most harmful demographic trend of this generation.’
“Another expert puts it this way: ‘There exists today no greater single threat to the long-term well-being of children, our communities, or our nation, than the increasing number of children being raised without a committed, responsible, and loving father.’
“Bryan Rodgers of the Australian National University has recently re-examined the Australian research. Says Rodgers: ‘Australian studies with adequate samples have shown parental divorce to be a risk factor for a wide range of social and psychological problems in adolescence and adulthood, including poor academic achievement, low self-esteem, psychological distress, delinquency and recidivism, substance use and abuse, sexual precocity, adult criminal offending, depression, and suicidal behaviour.’ He concludes: ‘There is no scientific justification for disregarding the public health significance of marital dissolution in Australia, especially with respect to mental health.’
“A New Zealand summary of the data based on national and international research conducted over the past two decades also found major positive outcomes for children when fathers are present, and negative outcomes when fathers are absent. The report states:
“‘The weight of the evidence is that fathers can make unique, direct contributions to their children’s well-being. These findings held true after controlling for a range of factors, including mothers’ involvement, children’s characteristics, children’s early behavioural problems, family income, socio-economic status over time, stepfather involvement and family structure.’ It goes on to list the many specific ways in which fathers positively contribute to the wellbeing of children.
“And the importance of fathers is neither a recent nor a merely Western truth. The need and importance of fathers is an historical and universal given. As anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski put it, ‘The most important moral and legal rule concerning the physiological side of kinship is that no child should be brought into the world without a man – and one man at that. . . . I think that this generalization amounts to a universal sociological law.’ There may be cultural variations, yet ‘through all the variations there runs the rule that the father is indispensable for the full sociological status of the child as well as its mother, that the group consisting of a woman and her offspring is sociologically incomplete and illegitimate’.”
This film fully bears all this out in a moving and powerful dramatic presentation. But it also makes clear that this is not just theory: individual dads must step up to the plate and recommit themselves to their children. “Good enough fathering” is just not good enough.
We are talking about the well-being of our own children. With the stakes so high, and our children’s future at risk, we dare not settle for second best when it comes to fathering. We need to give 100 per cent. And as the film also demonstrates, we cannot do this alone. We need the help of others, and we need the help of God. Men’s accountability groups, and a deep faith in God, are both needed for this most important of tasks.
Most men reading this may well think they are pretty good dads. I encourage you to watch this film, and then think again. Are you really? Are you really courageous enough to put your kids and your family first in everything? And does God come first in your life and in your home?
For the sake of your own faith, your own family, and your own children, please watch this film. As Charles Colson reminds us, this film offers us real practical instruction: “In the movie, this teaching takes the form of twelve commitments within a Resolution for fathers. You can read them by clicking on today’s commentary at BreakPoint.org. Then, I hope you’ll go see Courageous, and — if you’re a father — sign the Resolution within own your family.
“Take it from someone who has witnessed the destruction of failed fathers for over three decades: you’ve got a duty to your children. And you can change the course of their lives and society. And if you haven’t been the father you’ve wanted to be, it’s not too late to start. Sign that Resolution today and change your ways.”