Young People Ask . . .
Runaway Dads—Can They Really Run Away?
“When she said, ‘I’m going to have your baby,’ I was shocked. Who was going to care for the baby? I was in no position to care for a family. I felt like running away.”—Jim. *
“EACH year,” says a report from the Alan Guttmacher Institute, “almost 1 million teenage women . . . become pregnant.” As many as “78% of births to teens occur outside of marriage.”
In days gone by, men felt obliged to take responsibility for the children they fathered. But as the book Teenage Fathers says, “out-of-wedlock pregnancy no longer carries the shame and humiliation it [once] did.” Among young people in some communities, fathering a child may even be viewed as a status symbol! Still, few young men make long-term commitments to the children they sire. Many eventually walk—or run—away. *
But can a young man fully escape the consequences of immoral conduct? Not according to the Bible. It warns: “Do not be misled: God is not one to be mocked. For whatever a man is sowing, this he will also reap.” (Galatians 6:7) As we will see, sexual immorality often results in lifelong consequences for both girls and boys. Young people can avoid such consequences by heeding the Bible’s clear-cut counsel to avoid sexual immorality.
Walking Away—Not So Easy
Caring for a child involves enormous sacrifices of time, money, and personal freedom. The book Young Unwed Fathers notes: “Some young men are not interested in ‘taking care of somebody else,’ when to do so means having less.” Many pay a high price for their selfishness, however. For one thing, the courts and lawmakers in many lands have taken an increasingly dim view of men who fail to support their children. Once paternity has been legally established, young fathers may be required to pay up for years to come—and rightly so. Many youths are forced to quit school or to work at low-paying jobs to meet such obligations. “The younger the age at parenthood,” says the book School-Age Pregnancy and Parenthood, “the less formal education a father achieves.” And if one fails to make support payments, enormous debts can accrue.
Of course, not all young men are callous toward their offspring. Many start off with good intentions. According to one survey, 75 percent of teen fathers visited their child in the hospital. Still, it isn’t long before most young fathers are overwhelmed by the responsibilities of caring for a child.
Many find that they simply do not have the skill or experience to land suitable employment. Ashamed of their inability to provide financial support, in time they drop out of the picture. Nevertheless, pangs of regret can haunt a young man for years to come. One young father admits: “Sometimes I wonder what has happened to my son. . . . I don’t feel good about leaving [him], but now I’ve lost him. Maybe one day he will find me.”
The Harm Done to Children
Runaway dads may also have to cope with intense feelings of shame—the shame of having done harm to one’s own child. After all, as the Bible indicates, a child needs both a mother and a father. (Exodus 20:12; Proverbs 1:8, 9) When a man abandons his child, he exposes his offspring to a host of potential problems. Says a report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: “Young children in single-mother families tend to have lower scores on verbal and math achievement tests. In middle childhood, children raised by a single parent tend to receive lower grades, have more behavior problems, and have higher rates of chronic health and psychiatric disorders. Among adolescents and young adults, being raised in a single-mother family is associated with elevated risks of teenage childbearing, high school dropout, incarceration, and with being neither employed nor in school.”
Concludes the Atlantic Monthly magazine: “According to a growing body of social-scientific evidence, children in families disrupted by divorce and out-of-wedlock birth do worse than children in intact families on several measures of well-being. Children in single-parent families are six times as likely to be poor. They are also likely to stay poor.”
Bear in mind that these risks are based on statistical studies of groups and do not necessarily apply to individuals. Many children turn out to be fine, well-balanced adults despite disadvantaged family backgrounds. Even so, feelings of guilt can weigh heavily on the mind of a young man who has abandoned his child. “I’m afraid I’ve really [messed up] his life forever,” says one unwed father.—Teenage Fathers.
The Challenge of Rendering Support
Not all young fathers are runaway dads. Some young men rightfully do feel a moral obligation toward their children and genuinely want to help in their rearing. Often, though, this is much easier said than done. For one thing, an unwed father may have few legal rights, leaving the girl and her parents to control how much—or how little—contact he can have with his child. “It’s a constant jockeying for position to have some say about the child,” says Jim, quoted at the outset. Decisions may therefore be made that a young father vehemently opposes, such as adoption—or even abortion. * “It’s hard for me to let them just give him away to some stranger,” laments one young father, “but I guess I don’t have any other choice.”
Some young men offer to marry the mother of their child. * Admittedly, marriage would spare the girl some embarrassment and allow the child to be raised by two parents. It may even be that despite their misconduct, the young couple are genuinely in love. However, the fact that a boy is able to reproduce hardly means that he has the mental and emotional maturity needed to be a husband and father. Nor does it mean that he has the ability to support a wife and child financially. Studies show that marriages precipitated by pregnancy tend to be short-lived. So rushing into marriage is not always a wise solution.
Many young men offer to support their children financially. As mentioned earlier, it takes real determination for a young father to keep up such support over the long haul—perhaps for 18 years or longer! But consistent help along these lines can prevent the mother and the child from living a life of poverty.
What about sharing in the actual raising of the child? This too may prove to be a difficult challenge. Sometimes parents of the couple fear that there may be further sexual involvement and thus try to discourage—or even forbid—the couple from seeing each other. The girl herself may decide that she does not want her child to “bond” with a man who is not her husband. At any rate, if the father is permitted regular contact with his child, families are wise to make sure that visits are well chaperoned, in order to prevent further misconduct.
Desiring to get close to their children, some unwed fathers have learned how to perform some basic parenting tasks, such as bathing, feeding, or reading to their children. A young man who has gained an appreciation for Bible standards may even try to teach his child some of the principles of God’s Word. (Ephesians 6:4) But while some loving attention from a father is doubtless better for a child than none at all, it is simply not the same as having a father who is there every day. And if the mother of the child ever gets married, a young father may have to look on helplessly as another man takes over the job of raising his child.
It is clear, then, that fathering a child out of wedlock leads to much misery—for both the parents and the child. Besides the practical concerns, there is the danger of losing the favor of Jehovah God, who condemns illicit sex. (1 Thessalonians 4:3) While it may be possible to make the most of a bad situation like teen pregnancy, it should be clear that the best course is to avoid getting involved in immoral conduct in the first place. One young father admits: “Once you father a child out of wedlock, your life will never be the same.” Indeed, a young father may have to live with the consequences of his error for the rest of his life. (Galatians 6:8) Once again the Bible’s counsel has proved wise when it says: “Flee from fornication.”—1 Corinthians 6:18.
^ par. 3 Some names have been changed.
^ par. 5 See the article “Young People Ask . . . Fathering Children—Does It Make One a Man?” in the April 22, 2000, issue of Awake! For a discussion of the effects of unwed motherhood on young women, see the article “Young People Ask . . . Unwed Motherhood—Could It Happen to Me?” in the July 22, 1985, issue.
^ par. 16 See the article “Young People Ask . . . Abortion—Is It the Answer?” in the March 8, 1995, issue of Awake!
^ par. 17 The Mosaic Law required a man who had seduced a virgin to marry her. (Deuteronomy 22:28, 29) However, marriage was not automatic, as the girl’s father could forbid it. (Exodus 22:16, 17) Although Christians today are not under that Law, this does emphasize how serious the sin of premarital sex is.—See “Questions From Readers” in the November 15, 1989, issue of The Watchtower.
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It is best to avoid immoral conduct in the first place