December 6, 2009

We Are All Orphans Now

We Are All Orphans Now
By Peter R. Breggin, MD

December 6, 2009

All of us realize that when a child is raised without adequate parenting that the results can be devastating. We know the hazards for children who don’t have parental role models or whose role models are inadequate, conflicted, abusive, or untrustworthy. We know they will find it difficult as adults to live by positive values and principles such as love and rationality, rather than by impulses such as anger, jealousy and hate. We know that they will have to work especially hard to overcome feelings of helplessness and instead to grow strong and confident.

The whole range of human personal misery results from being raised without the experience of parents who can be trusted to provide positive guidance. Children who are not imbued with confidence and values by their parents are vulnerable to drug addiction and alcoholism, crime, teenage pregnancies, broken families, aimless searching for meaning in adulthood, and a fruitless preoccupation with finding happiness. Of course some children will fight their way through the moral vacuum or chaos of their childhood and eventually find a meaningful life, but they begin with serious handicaps.

Nowadays Americans raised even in the best of families are likely to suffer from a special lack of adequate parenting and role models. Regardless of how well they have been raised at home, they are likely to be missing another kind of family connection. Most Americans struggle to make sense out of life without the guidance of their Founding parents—the great men and women who created this nation and gave us our most basic values, the values that distinguish us from all other nations, the values that have changed the world and that can direct and transform our lives..

Almost all of us are orphans who have lost our connection to people like George and Martha Washington, John and Abigail Adams and James and Dolley Madison. We do not know and love our Founding Mothers and Fathers, and we do not benefit from their wisdom. We do not know how they wanted us to live and so we must reinvent ourselves again and again.

I am not speaking abstractly or metaphorically but very concretely. Our Founding Parents can be as important to us as the parents who raised us. Our parents who raised us can provide us a degree of strength and sustaining values. But once we get out into the world, we have to face large questions about our identity. Why are we here? What is our purpose? Where are we going? What is our society and our nation all about? Does America have a special role and destiny in the world, and do I have a unique part to play? Is everything relative, and everything subjective, or are there eternal values that light the way to a genuinely good and happy life?

Answers to these questions come from many directions. From God, from religion and philosophy, from psychology, and from soul searching. But something will be missing—a great deal will be missing—if we do not grasp the unique qualities of the great American family within which we live. To understand our American family—its values and principles, its hopes and dreams, its unique place in history and, yes, its place in God’s plan—we must know and embrace the parents of this great American family. We must benefit from the wisdom of our Founding Fathers and Mothers.

I firmly believe that if I had developed a better understanding of the origins of America, and especially the lives of the Founders, I would not have undergone such a confusing and often stuttering development as I grew up and matured into a young man. I was constantly trying to find my way—to establish a firm set of values and ideals through which to live a happy and productive life. As so many others have done, through a painful process of moral trial and error, I eventually began to arrive at a rational and loving way of life that emphasized freedom and responsibility; but I came to it secondhand and indirectly, often by the seat of my pants, without realizing that the groundwork had already been built by those who founded our nation. I did not realize that there were already plans that I could understand and choose to pursue. I had no idea that the Founding Fathers and Mothers of this nation had struggled with the same conflicts as we all do, and that they had come to a shared view of life, a consensus of values and ideals, that would make America the greatest nation in the history of the world.

Of course each person must struggle to find his or her own way in the world. Even children of the best of families have difficulties and challenges to overcome. Each of us needs to learn for ourselves to respect both political liberty and the individual freedom of everyone in our lives. Each us of needs to learn to take personal responsibility at all times and under all conditions. Each of us needs to understand the importance of gratitude for what we have. Each of us must learn for ourselves how to love. But if we are going to make the most out of our own lives and especially if we are going to preserve America’s greatness for future generations, we need to know and embrace our Founding Parents who made a nation in which all of these things are possible. Toward the goal of reminding us about our magnificent founders and how to apply their values to both good government and the good life, I have written “Wow, I’m an American! How to Live Like Our Heroic Founders.”

Peter R. Breggin, MD is a psychiatrist in private practice in Ithaca, New York. He is the author of more than twenty books, including Wow, I’m an American! His books can be obtained on and on his website, He can be emailed at psychiatricdrugfacts@ and phoned at 607 272 5328.