Imagine if we had good data, an empirically based rationale to develop a program that consistently:
1. Reduced levels of childhood poverty
2. Reduced infant and early childhood mortality
3.Reduced maternal depression
4. Reduced affective disorders in middle school students
5. Reduced juvenile crime for children of both sexes
6. Reduced likelihood of substance abuse
7. Reduced likelihood of early sexual activity
8. Reduced teen pregnancy
9.Reduced risk of child abuse
10. Reduced likelihood of substance abuse
11. Reduced likelihood of obesity
12. Reduced likelihood of dropping out of school
13. Increased likelihood of academic accomplishment
Imagine the clamor to put in place a program that did all these things. Well, it's been done. It's just that not everyone's on board with the program. It's called Fatherhood. You can read more about these studies here.
(Update: after I posted this piece earlier, I came across another site discussing some research about the benefits of dads. You can see that here.)
The fact that I have to write this--or that it might be controversial--is a sign of cultural madness. We all understand that correlation is not causality, but at some point, it seems that wise people might look at all this smoke and start to wonder if there is a fire.
Normally, I post a cheerful, warm reflection on fatherhood. But I've been noticing that more and more, the very idea of fatherhood, and the idea that it might be important, is becoming extremely unfashionable in many circles--we see everything from amused apathy to outright hostility.
Instead, however, of honoring good fathers and sending cultural messages that they are important, our culture is rife with examples of bad, stupid, and clueless fathers. TV commercials, movies, television shows have all somehow given in to the stupid-father cliche, or the fathers-are-unnecessary theme.
Yes, there are some counter-examples. But I would suggest that, culturally speaking, we have generalized bad/dumb fathers into our collective conscious, while reducing good fathers to isolated examples. That is, we grant that there are some exceptions to the dumb dad syndrome, but our general cultural bias, our unexamined cultural default setting, is that most dads are somewhere on the scale of benign idiot to abusive jerk.
Let's think about this for a minute. I wonder if we could try a thought experiment. I wonder if we could look for places in our society where there are large instances of fatherlessness--places where engaged fathers are rare. We might look at those places and see if they are places that most of us want to live. Most likely, they would be places with high crime, low educational opportunity and probably limited chances for economic advancement. We might also look for places where engaged fathers are more common and compare the quality of life and living conditions. Are there differences?
Discerning clear-cut cause and effect in complex human systems is difficult. But this seems like a no-brainer to me. And yes, obviously a child can grow up in a house without a father and be happy and successful. No one says that it's impossible for a mother to raise good kids alone. But if we are really worried about the kids, as opposed to various ideological agendas, then we have to be honest about what is the best way to maximize the likelihood of the best possible outcomes. I'm not a social scientist, but my understanding is that this is a case where the data are pretty consistently overwhelming.
It makes me sad to think that there are kids in this world who will not ever know the security of a father. The absolute, un-cool, possibly stodgy, old-fashioned, total security that comes from this unique role.
It makes me sad that there are kids who don't have dads and don't know any different--and who are absorbing messages from the culture that it's okay--that dads are lame or useless.
The producers of such garbage are doing a huge disservice to who are already vulnerable.
This is a problem all of us need to face. The health of our culture and the strength of families in that culture effect us all. They effect us in terms of tax dollars needed for educational intervention, in increased crime, in medical interventions for obesity and so on.
Our culture is the air that our society breathes, the way our collective values are both formed and expressed.
Dads are not moms. They do different things. They play different roles. They are not interchangeable. Like moms, dads make mistakes. They do things wrong. But these studies I mentioned above didn't rely on perfect dads. Some of them just demonstrate a benefit from the presence of a father. Some demonstrate a benefit from an engaged father. But they all show what most of us ought to just know and understand intuitively : having a father makes a profound difference in a child's life in ways that can be measured and in ways that have significant outcomes for society at large.
It's time that we start encouraging, cheering, and celebrating fathers. It's time we start teaching young men that fatherhood is a worthy aspiration and something to look forward to. It's time we teach young women that having a husband involved in her life and the life of her child should be the default setting. Sure, there might need to be some exceptions, and we don't want to ostracize and stigmatize--but let's re-establish the optimal situation and then figure out exceptions with kindness and support.
I am going to interrupt the hoopla surrounding the roll-out of my book, as well as the red-hot giveaway (with participants now in the low double digits :) !!!! Click here to be next!) to blog about something that was infinitely special, and to remind myself of a lesson I learned yesterday.
It started with an interruption.
It's spring break, and I had hoped to do a LOT of writing: I have a new novel I'm trying to rough out, I wanted to get some posts in the bank for my gig on Mormon Mommy Blogs, and then I wanted to work on a plan for a book trailer for The Road Show. Promoting a book is almost a full-time job. Yesterday, I was going to be super productive.
But then Jeff, my three year old wanted to play Memory. I hate this game and have since I was a kid. The fact that my three-year old trounces me has not made me like it any more. Simultaneously, my seven-year old wanted to play Monopoly. I had Church meetings last night and I knew if I didn't get my writing done in the window I had, I never would.
But, I chose put the writing aside and go play with my kids. They're growing so fast and life is so busy that I don't get many opportunities to do that.
I've been sad lately to see Jeff start talking more like a child than a baby--saying his "r's" and "l's" and just growing up. I've been a little emotional about that--my baby is getting big. He's also not nearly as cuddly as he used to be.
I played Memory (and won!) and then started Monopoly. While we were playing that, Jeff started to get tired. He came and curled up against me and just stayed like that for a good hour or so--drifting off and dozing, and cuddling. In only happened because I was down on the floor and available.
We're so busy with all the kids, work, church and so on, and Jeff's so big, I don't know how many more opportunities I'll have to just cuddle with my little boy before he's too big and grown up to do that. So yesterday was a gift. I'll have plenty of time to write later. But those few moments will never come back. I've been reliving--and relishing them--ever since.
I'm so glad I paused to play the game. If hadn't interrupted my work, I would have a few more pages in my novel, but no memories of a cuddly, chubby three-year old on an afternoon in early spring..
It’s spring (almost) which means it’s time to start preparing for our spring concert at school. While going through options for the selections, I pulled out one of my favorite songs, “When You Believe,” from the movie, Prince of Egypt. As I started singing it in my mind, I was overcome with a rush of emotions and memories.
In 2005, I had just been called as a bishop of our ward and started a demanding, new job. At this same time, my program at NYU got a new director. He made it clear that if I didn’t have my dissertation finished in a year, he would kick me out. I had one year to get my proposal approved, a committee in place, go through the human subject approval process—and then to do the research and writing.
Somehow, I had to do all that on top of my time-intensive job and the responsibilities of my new calling.
That description sounds a little bland and tame. I don’t know how to capture the gut-twisting, cold-sweat, stay-awake-at-night worry that I felt.
This task was totally and completely impossible. The stress grew exponentially. One night I was reduced to complete hopelessness and near an internal breaking point. My wife, Meredith, cued our copy of Prince of Egypt to the song, “When You Believe.”
It’s a beautiful song and the moment in the film where it occurs is quite powerful. The main refrain is “there can be miracles when you believe.”
This gave me some comfort and I went back to plugging away. The song sort of became our theme song, during an impossible time.
I worked as diligently as I could during the school year, but got little done. Finally, summer came and school let out. I worked on the research every minute I could. This required hours and hours and hours of interviews, transcribing, analyzing and organizing data. I worked all day every day. Mere drove everywhere so I could grab precious minutes of work in the passenger seat.
By the end of the summer, I was done with my research and ready to start writing. My professor was pressuring me to be finished the Monday after Labor Day.
At the height of this rush to finish, Mere’s grandmother died. We felt like it was important for her to attend the funeral. So she left town for four or five days.
Zach, our youngest (at the time) was not in school yet, so I was responsible for taking care of him as well as the three older kids.
Zach watched a lot of DVDs that week. He was incredible and non-demanding. Somehow, I managed to get the work done by the deadline. There was a lot more work after that, rewriting and editing, but that was a key milestone and eventually, I graduated.
Fast forward to last spring. Meredith went out of town to take care of sick parents. I took some time off work, and stayed home to take care of our 3 year old. Given these circumstances, I couldn’t help but think back to the last time Mere left and I was in charge of the house and kids. But this time I was comfortable in my job and calling and I had no dissertation to do. It seemed like a piece of cake in comparison.
During this time, I went to our oldest son’s band concert. The last number was performed by the choir with the band accompanying them. It was, “When You Believe” from “Prince of Egypt.”
As I stood there hearing that beautiful song, this all rose to my mind, and then sunk deeply into my heart. I got chills and a little teary as I realized that there really had been a miracle.
“In this time of fear
When prayer so often proves in vain
Hope seems like the summer birds
Too swiftly flown away
And now I am standing here
My heart's so full I can't explain
Seeking faith and speaking words
I never thought I'd say
“There can be miracles
When you believe
Though hope is frail
It's hard to kill
Who know what miracles
You can achieve
When you believe
Somehow you will
You will when you believe”
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