It is somewhat ironic that as Washington lawmakers and the Beltway media look back on the 50-year war on poverty, they overlook another equally significant 50-year anniversary that has actually limited the success of this effort: the sexual permissiveness of the 1960s cultural revolution.
That revolution championed a culture in which rules, responsibility and the traditional family were disposable. Building strong families is inexorably tied to eradicating poverty. Unfortunately, the revolution of the ‘60s has more effectively shaped our culture than the war on poverty.
Today, we are living in a world where most of the professed goals of the sexual revolution have been realized. We have experienced true sexual freedom. The millennials have coined the term “friends with benefits.” They can and do hook up at will. Unfortunately, we have found that what was supposed to bring freedom has instead shackled us to activity without meaning.
The seeming meaninglessness that accompanies sex without intimacy has entirely shifted our collective understanding of the most fundamental unit in our society — the family. Family has become disposable. Is it overreaching to link the breakdown of the family to a generation of teens that has become so jaded that they can take pleasure in so-called games like “Knockout” — knocking out a random stranger on the street with one punch? We think not.
It has been the most vulnerable, in particular children and the economically disadvantaged, who have borne the brunt of the consequences of this societal upheaval. According to the National Fatherhood Initiative, children from father-absent homes are significantly more likely to be poor and most at risk. This is the price of freedom without restraints. In this light, it becomes painfully clear that the casualties of the sexual revolution are still being counted.
We have spent our lives in the trenches of family triage. In a society where families are disposable, families on the fringe — poor families, families of the incarcerated — are especially disposable. Our organization, the Ridge Project, fights every day to stabilize and rebuild families who society has kicked to the curb.
So what is the answer? The first step toward any kind of recovery is admitting fault. For starters, how about a generational mea culpa? By and large, parents in America owe an apology to anyone born after 1980. We were wrong. We were selfish. Learn from us.
Truly, there is no such thing as a disposable family. There are no lost causes if we are willing to take action. It is time to restore families — to emphasize and teach the value of healthy relationships. Only then can we begin to heal, and to feel again.
We must have a serious conversation about robust policies that support and strengthen family bonds for the families most at risk. In Ohio, we championed a recent legislative initiative called the Forgotten Victims of Crime resolution.
This resolution established the month of April as a time to raise awareness of the plight of families of incarceration. There are more than 2 million people incarcerated in the United States, many of whom are parents and who have lived their lives in poverty.
According to a recent report by RTI, incarcerated fathers have half the marriage rate, nearly twice the divorce rate, but the same rates of paternity as men who have never been to prison. When a person is sentenced to prison, his family is kicked to the curb.
Given that the children of the incarcerated are statistically much more likely to become incarcerated themselves, it is not inaccurate to say that when we fail to support these families, we have begun the process of imprisoning these children. For our nation to not intervene to stabilize the most fragile families is both immoral and unsustainable.
We are sounding the alarm for the millions of children of incarcerated parents who are caught in the social injustice we created when we embraced the lie that there are no consequences for abandoning self-control.
The war on poverty was never intended to become the war on family. We are calling on our nation to begin here, to fight for the most disadvantaged families, to create radical changes to policies that have an entrance process but no exit strategy, that sentence families to generational poverty and entitlement.
We look to members of communities across the United States to uphold the value and dignity of families, and urge our fellow citizens to reclaim and restore healthy relationships and healthy families. It is time to admit that we were wrong: There is no such thing as success or liberty without healthy families.
Ron and Catherine Tijerina are co-directors and co-authors of the TYRO Dads curriculum and “High Five: Love Never Fails” (Dream Pump, 2013).