We all should be absolutely alarmed by the current state of fatherhood in this country. It is terribly troubling that our society accepts fatherhood as a luxury, not a necessity. An involved, loving, active father has become the exception in this country, and it’s time we make it the norm again.
On the surface, there are some things that only a father can provide his children. Although a mother is vital to a child’s development, there are some activities that a dad just makes perfect. Shooting baskets or going ice skating becomes more than a bonding experience between father and child, it becomes a moment when boys learn how to carry themselves as men, how to strive for a goal, work hard and strengthen their male personality. It becomes a moment when daughters learn how a man should properly treat a woman, interact with males, try their best, overcome adversity and strive for their potential. There is little in life that can simulate these fathers — child moments that turn ordinary days into treasured lifelong memories.
Like most loving fathers, my father expected a lot out of me and my siblings. He constantly encouraged me and pushed me to reach my potential, but occasionally — and only when necessary — he would use his lash to get my attention. His stern face or grave words would let me know that my behavior or attitude was out of line. My healthy fear for him in these rare moments kept me focused on living a healthy, productive life. I remember his strong grip as he taught me to shake hands like a gentleman, I remember his huge arms wrapping me tight after tough family football losses, and I remember my father’s extraordinary courage to do the right thing regardless of the situation. I would never be where I am today without my mother, but my father taught me how to be a man.
An active father does more than help his son grow into a man or daughter grow into a woman. He provides the spiritual leadership that every family needs. My father taught me how to handle difficult situations by keeping perspective. He taught me that faith comes first, family comes second, then friends; after that, its education and vocation.
My father taught me to rely on God and trust that He would protect me as I walked through the "shadow of the valley of death" or faced unexpected hardships in my life. And more than just teaching it, my father lived it. I saw him read the Bible daily, pray habitually and attend and participate at church every Sunday. My father provided the spiritual leadership that the Bible calls for, and I believe this kind of leadership should ideally be handled by a man. Regardless of the religion, this cannot be done properly if the father is absent.
Kids can truly achieve so much more when their father is present and active in their everyday lives. Studies have repeatedly shown that a two-parent household with active parents is the key to a child’s development. Certainly many, many children of one-parent households have gone on to great things, but they shouldn’t have to. The idea that a father’s presence is a luxury needs to change. Even if the parents divorce, a father should be present for every sporting event, every school activity and all the ordinary moments that define a child’s early life. Divorce or separation is no excuse for a father to stay away or reduce his involvement in the children’s development. In fact, in the sad case of separation, a father should become more involved, because the children desperately need positive influences during divorce proceedings.
As we remind ourselves of the importance of a Father in the household, we should praise the men who are true fathers — the men who willingly involve themselves in their children’s lives. We should thank them for their love and dedication, and be proud of their achievements.
However, we must also call attention to the cowards who father a child but never become a true dad. We need to take a hard look at why these fathers run out on their families and abandon their children. We cannot lower our standards by ignoring these deadbeat dads and considering them the norm. We cannot overlook the problem or sweep it under a rug. Our children are too important, and they need their fathers. If they are to reach their highest potential, it will be with the help of their fathers.
Being a father is about much more than just bringing home a paycheck. Fatherhood is the basic means by which a family is brought into contact with the public sphere. This is not to say that mothers can’t or don’t do this in many cases. But especially in the case of young males, many of whom have been lost to the influences of street culture over the past two generations or so, having a strong male role model in the home is key to how these males will interact in the society at large. It is the key to how they will conduct relationships, interact with the law and perform on their jobs.
Fathers ultimately bear the responsibility for training ground for new leaders. As such fatherhood is a virtue that needs to be reawakened in America, not just for the poor and marginalized, but for all Americans regardless of their socioeconomic background.